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Isolation and Friendship as a Disabled College Student

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This year, I am happy to say I started my freshman year at a large university and it’s been a wild few weeks. While there are parts of college I love, I often find I can’t keep up with everyone else because of the physical limitations of my Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

• What is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome?
• What Are Common Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Symptoms?

I wake up in the morning, three hours before everyone else to do all my exercises in order catch a 7:30 a.m. van ride to an 8 a.m. lecture which is all the way across campus from my dorm. I go to bed before 9 p.m. every day, because I am exhausted and can’t keep my eyes open a moment longer. I spend a lot of time in my dorm room with the door shut because when I go “home” for the day, I crash hard and am just too tired to socialize. As a result, my floormates have formed a community I’m not a part of.

I can’t have a roommate, because it wouldn’t be fair to myself or the other person to expect them to be on my schedule when a good portion of college life isn’t designed to fit with the timetable I operate on. The long drives to and from treatments, sometimes several times a week make it hard to adjust to college life. It sometimes feels like I’m never actually on campus. These various limitations stacked on top of one another can make socializing with people a challenge, and I often feel as if I am alone.

In the moments when I feel isolated from others, I have to remember that I’m not. I need to shift my focus from problem mode to thinking about all the people in my life that make me happy. I think about my group of friends I eat lunch with after every math class, the girl who sits next to me in English, the guy who came up to me on the first day of a giant 300 person lecture and just started talking to me like we were already friends. I think about how much fun I have discussing the forces in an atom, or other various scientific topics with some other girls in my chemistry class. I also know I have my friends I met during orientation, whom I hang out with on a regular basis. Oh, and don’t even get me started about the people I met at the board games club meeting I went to; they are the best!

Not only do I have people at college who care about me, but I have people at home too. I have my wonderful parents, who are both going out of their way, making numerous trips to come and get me. They bring me to this appointment, that appointment, and even come to campus just because they know I need something but decided I couldn’t wait a few more days until the next doctor’s visit. I also have my friends from home, still a year away from going to college, who are seeking out conversations with me. I have so many people on my team that even when it feels like all the odds are stacked against me, I am never alone and there are too many people who care about me for me to fail.

My advice to anyone starting college with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, or really any life-impacting condition is this: Maybe you won’t always do everything everyone else does, but that’s OK. Focus on what’s important to you, the people who make you feel good, and pretty soon you’ll realize you are never truly alone.

Getty image by Jacob Lund.

Originally published: October 3, 2018
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