How I Confronted Lyme Disease in College

College is supposed to be this period of transition from school to the working life – a step closer to self-reliance. There are so many expectations, hopes, and fears attached to this experience. However, when Lyme comes barging into your life at this particular point, it is very easy for all of these hopes and expectations to change dramatically. I’ve met a lot of college students that are dealing with Lyme disease and its symptoms while having to juggle the dozens of responsibilities that college life often comes with. Many have had to put a full stop to their studies until their health improves. Hence, I wanted to share a particular challenge from my personal experience with Lyme during college and how I managed to confront it.

The one feeling that always loomed over my shoulder when I started undergoing Lyme treatment in college was that I was not a “normal” college student anymore.

It was so easy to compare myself not only with my friends and what they could do, but also with my “previous” self and what she could do – both mentally and physically.

Self-identity is a notion that you can struggle with in the face of a new chronic condition such as Lyme. Because chronic illness affects so many aspects of your daily life, it becomes part of your identity. Hence, it is important to know how to come to terms with it, so that your self-image is not affected negatively.

And although I truly believe everyone can get to this point, the reality is that you may face many setbacks along the way – you may have to face many instances that will make you think that you are not “normal” or that you don’t fit in.

Once instance in particular for me what when I moved to San Francisco (SF) for a semester away program offered by my college. Towards the end of the program, I was invited to a party. It was at a Hacker House, which is basically a frat house of geeky, cool coders in the heart of SF. While everyone was taking shots and passing around bottles, I held on to my yellow can of Guayaki Yerba Mate and tried to pass it off as a cool, new micro-brew, and I was happy with that.

However, as we were going on about our conversation, people who I met at the party kept asking me (continuously) why I didn’t want to drink with them. I just lifted my can over and over again and said, “I’m good.”

The discussion would eventually lead to the fact that I don’t drink, to which I would receive clear expressions of confusion, and very often, hints of disappoinment or disapproval. “You don’t drink?” blurted one guy. I would shake my head to say no, and then would have to explain that I have Lyme disease, and therefore can’t drink. To those that did not know Lyme disease, I would always get the same “but you don’t look sick” statement.

Most of the people I met in SF were not aware of Lyme, so then I would have to go and give them the long version explanation, or the short, depending on how sober they were. Some still proceeded to ask me if I wanted a drink to the point it was annoying.

This is just one instance of many. However, as I look back on it there were two possibilities to this scenario: I could have gotten stuck in the mentality of not fitting in and start on a downward spiral that would inevitably lead towards depression – or I could focus on my energy on appreciating all that was good in my life at the moment and just find the people that did so as well.

As I discovered the differences in what I could and could not do anymore, for instance, with sports and my studies, I had to learn to acknowledge my body’s limitations and set new expectations and goals.

You have to realize that just because your goals may have to be different, it does not mean that they have to be smaller.

Getty image by bernardbodo

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