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What It’s Like When Chronic Illness and College Don’t Match

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I dread weekends on campus. I dread hearing the gaggles of friends walking towards the fraternity house as I lay on my heating pad. I try to remind myself that even if I could party like “normal” kids do, I probably wouldn’t even want to. But I still feel this heavy weight on my chest when the weekend rolls around because it continues the ever-present reminder that I am different. If it is not a flare-up, it’s an anxiety attack that leaves me too scared to even leave the house. It feels like a never-ending battle between myself, my body and the expectations of the world around me.

The movies make college out to be the best four years of your life, when you find your life long best friends and the love of your life, when you party all night with the people that know you the best, when you are carefree and have no responsibilities. That is what I want. That is what I so desperately wish I could have. I want to be carefree and have no responsibilities.

I want to say I hate college. The idea of hating something that I am putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into physically pains me. In reality, I hate the societal image of college. I hate the pressure I feel to live up to this imaginary and scripted narrative of the best four years of your life. I don’t have the friend group, the person I am going to marry and the pictures of nights I can’t remember. Instead I have phone logs of tearful calls to my mom, appointments with my therapist, appointments with my physical therapist and a never ending cycle of guilt and anxiety surrounding the image of college.

It feels like I am left out of an experience that is quintessential to the development of a healthy young adult. Since my freshman year, I feel like everyone else was gifted a guidebook on “how to do college,” and mine got lost in the shuffle. I feel like I am wasting a jaw-dropping amount of money to feel left out and isolated for reasons that are beyond my control.

College is designed for and by able-bodied and minded folks. It was not designed with chronic illness or mental illness in mind. This is what leads to the constant tug of war in my heart of understanding that these expectations are merely created by Hollywood to make money and feeling gut-wrenching anxiety of being left out. The logic aspect is consistently looked over when the self-loathing and disappointment kicks in.

Why can’t my body just work? Why can’t I just feel “normal?” Why can’t I just have something normal in my life? I hate my body for not working right. 

To all of my fellow chronic illness warriors that feel lonely on Saturday nights and alone in the mental tug of war, I see you.

Photo by _Mxsh_ via Unsplash.
Originally published: March 6, 2020
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