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What My 'College Experience' Is Like as Someone With Gastroparesis

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Gastroparesis, you’re really putting a damper on my plans.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship (mostly hate) with gastroparesis over the last three years. Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to go to a big college away from home and have that college experience everyone raves about. “It’s the best four years of your life!” The thought of going away to college and getting this “life-changing experience” is what got me through high school. Don’t get me wrong, I loved high school, but I was ready for change and ready to face the real world.

Senior year, acceptance letter after acceptance letter came and I had my pick of colleges. However, in the midst of senior year my symptoms ramped up and I began to feel sick every day. This really shut down the “you can go anywhere mentality” that my parents instilled at me at a young age. This meant turning down my free ride to a school in Florida and going somewhere closer to home. Luckily, Michigan State University wasn’t hard to settle for; however, there will always be a part of me that thinks, “What if I would’ve been able to go anywhere?” What other limitations am I going to face in the future? I was definitely unprepared for what was to come yet…

So much pressure is put on college students to get good grades, have a thriving social life, volunteer, work, be involved and so much more. However, when you’re chronically ill, you find yourself picking and choosing a lot. Going into freshman year, I did not know that the worst was still to come. I was in a really hard major and trying to balance everything, but mostly found myself going home weekend after weekend and being genuinely unhappy.

Last February, I was finally given my correct diagnosis of gastroparesis (my journey to a correct diagnosis is a completely different story). I remember waking up from my endoscopy and hearing the doctor saying there is “no cure.” How would this impact me now? I’m pretty sick right now – it can’t get worse, can it? Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Another diagnosis of POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), several doctors, four major changes later, and I have made it to my second semester of sophomore year! My gastroparesis is at the point now where I am on an all-liquid diet and struggle to get in 500 calories a day. More of my “college experience” has been taken from me. I am unable to go out for Chipotle with my friends, I can’t participate in “Wine Wednesdays” because I can barely handle apple juice and I can’t stand for too long because I am so fatigued from my symptoms. Gastroparesis means Uber-ing to class because I can’t walk and going to Starbucks daily for their high-calorie drinks. Gastroparesis means I am missing out on these “unforgettable college experiences” because I have to go home on the weekends for endless doctor appointments and tests.

However, I am getting my college experience my own way. I am still able to be a part of student organizations, such as my sorority. If I had not gone through recruitment my freshman year, I would not have the support system I have today. I still have made the best friends I always wanted who understand me, and I will forever be thankful for you guys. I have finally found a major I am insanely passionate for: Nutritional Sciences. I have found that I have a lot more fight in me than I thought. I choose to get up every day and go to class despite my horrible stomach pain and relentless nausea because I want to be a doctor and find a cure for this terrible disease. I want to help other kids like me.

For me, my college experience does not include blacking out on the weekends, pulling all-nighters at the library, running on Red Bull and eating pizza at 2:00 a.m. And I am OK with that. I know my limits. I push myself until I can’t anymore and I know when to stop. However, my college experience does include going to class on most days, being able to drink coffee every morning with my friends, being able to get dressed up and feel pretty and being able to serve on my sorority’s council. All of these are things I wanted to do three years ago when I was an innocent senior in high school. I still have goals and dreams for the future and I hope to be “normal” some day. But for now, this will have to do.

college girl holding a banner that reads 'go white' and standing in the bleachers at a football game

Being sick in college has taught me to appreciate the little things in life, such as finding a new coffee shop to study at, taking candid pictures with my friends and watching new episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. It has also taught me to not take anything for granted and that a “pretty” face can hide a lot of things. Despite my daily struggle, I try to handle myself with grace and be as “normal” as possible. So as other college students go out and drink cheap liquor, you’ll either find me on the dance floor or in my bed watching Netflix to conserve my energy to fight for the next day. This may not be everyone’s college experience, but it is mine and I’m embracing it.

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Originally published: March 16, 2017
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