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The Reality of Being a College Student With Fibromyalgia

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I am 19 years old and I have fibromyalgia, a complex chronic pain disorder that causes widespread and/or focused aches and pains of the muscles and joints, and chronic fatigue syndrome. By looking at me, you can see I am cheerful, bubbly and always willing to have a conversation. But on the inside I am almost always completely exhausted and utterly drained.

I would like to address the misconceptions about chronic illness, and help you understand my life as a young person with these conditions.

With chronic fatigue, it is practically given that I will always be tired, even if I actually slept a full night of eight to 10 hours. Please do not compare our amounts of sleep. It is unlikely I will ever get the amount or the quality of sleep I truly need. So please do not give me cause to feel badly that you are fully functioning on three hours of sleep when I barely got seven and am still tired.

Know that I almost always want to say “yes” with the utmost conviction, but sometimes I just can’t. Please be understanding if I ever have to say “no” to doing something with you or pass on helping you with anything.

I am so passionate about so many causes and issues, particularly at Denison University, and I am trying to do everything at the expense of my own well-being. This challenge may be a “first-year problem,” but my conditions make it more difficult as I have less energy than the average person but so much passion.

I want you to recognize how extremely difficult it is for me to balance life as a college student and as a person with a chronic illness. I am so happy here, and I have finally found the sense of community I was not able to have before Denison. However, now that I have such wonderful people in my life, it is a constant battle of productivity and possibility before my body tells me I just can’t keep going anymore.

I tend to lose my train of thought a lot. This is due to the fibro fog that clouds my mind at the most inconvenient times. I promise that if I start talking, I do have something to say, but many times my brain will just lose the thought. It is so frustrating to know I have so much to contribute, but then feel like I am a fraud when I cannot remember what was on my mind mere nanoseconds ago.

Also, if I am absent from class more often than you, please understand that I want to be there with all my heart. I am dedicated to my classes and my academics, and I am so impassioned. Know there are times when I just do not have the strength to get out of bed.

I have been looking forward to college ever since I knew what it was, and I am not about to give up on that dream now. I want to have the college life, and yes, that is different for everyone, but I want to have the “normal” life I know I could have if not for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. I am not about to let chronic illness get in the way of my happiness, even though it seems nearly impossible.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: December 21, 2016
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