When You're a Chronically Ill 20-Something

Right now, I am 22. By all accounts, my life should be about preparing for the future – studying in school, starting a career, maybe even taking the first steps toward creating my own family. Instead, I feel incredibly stuck. I don’t feel like I’m 22, not physically or in spirit. My body hurts. It aches and creaks and groans and limits my actions daily. I can’t do the things that most other people my age are doing.

I miss being in school. I loved being a student, and I was a really good one. At least, I was when I could make it to class and wasn’t too busy taking care of myself to do my schoolwork. Unfortunately, I found myself repeatedly unable to meet the credit requirements. Without credits to show for my struggles, I was just wasting my time and exorbitant amounts of money. So I quit, and I moved home with my parents. I pay a student loan bill every month, and my parents pay a parent loan bill every month. All the while, I keep trying to figure out a way that I could go back to school, get my work done, pay for my classes, and not be completely miserable while doing it.

I don’t have a job. I’ve had a few different jobs since being home. Some were better than others. I’ve learned that working in fast food, even part-time, is something that my body can definitely not handle. I’ve learned that working full-time, even if I’m off my feet for part of it, is also off the table. Without a degree, I’m only qualified for unskilled labor jobs. Most of those require a level of physicality that I simply cannot do. That leaves me with very few options. Even the jobs that I can find rarely work out for long. They certainly don’t pay enough to sustain me. I’m so lucky I have wonderful, loving parents who are willing to support me financially.

I don’t know how I’m going to be able to support myself. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to. I look to the future, and I want to cry. I wonder if I’ll always be dependent on my parents. What will happen when they can no longer support me? I never imagined that at 22, I would be seriously considering applying for disability. But I know that for someone like me, it would be a difficult process to convince them I really need and deserve it. Even if granted, it wouldn’t be enough money to really support me, and I would still have to depend on my family’s love and good grace to enjoy any sort of quality life.

I have been completely thrown off the path I was taking, the one I had planned and envisioned for myself. I can’t do what I wanted to do, and I’m not sure how to move forward. I am excruciatingly aware of all the ways I’m not like other people my age. I can’t do what they do. I can’t be who I’m supposed to be. But that’s an idea I’m working hard to combat, because it’s entirely unhelpful. No matter who I was supposed to be, or what I had planned for myself, or what other people think I should be able to do, this is my reality.

All I really have left is my resolve. Fortunately, that is one thing of which I have plenty. I am determined to go back to school and earn my degree, because I know it is the best shot I have at being able to support myself and not be a financial burden on others. I am getting better all the time at dealing with all the difficulties this syndrome throws my way. Armed with knowledge and experience, I keep living my life the best I can. After all, that’s all any of us can really do.

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