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I'm Young and Chronically Ill, Not a Dropout

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If I had a dollar for every complaint I’ve seen on social media from my college aged friends about finals, I could pay for their schooling they seemed so bothered by in cash. Now, I understand how stressful exams can be and they have every right to complain about this time in their education, but secretly I may be slightly jealous watching them take their college education for granted.

Growing up, there was no doubt in my mind I was going to attend college. The societal pressures of every individual going to college combined with my desire to learn, I always pictured myself as the student to hit the books and graduate with a perfect GPA.

Halfway through high school, my traumatic brain injury brought about the ugliest side of post-concussive syndrome. Struggling with bipolar, anxiety, chronic migraines, chronic fatigue, arthritis, and other frustrating aspects that came with a brain injury made it difficult to succeed in school. I never imagined having such difficulty receiving my high school diploma, but I miraculously finished in four years. When you have such a strong desire to succeed in life the way everyone else around you is succeeding, it’s easy to forget about possible difficulties down the road.

For me, college was going to be the best four years in my life and I was ready to go. Yet, I was still not healthy. For the first 3 months in college, I masked my illness like a Band-Aid and pretended to be normal. I was hurting, my migraines intensified, my mood was extremely unstable but all I knew how to say was, “I’m fine.” In the end, I fell apart right before Thanksgiving. In my own head, I became the world’s biggest failure not being able to be away from home for an entire semester. Instead of wanting to treat my illness, I was angry it was present. The illness was the obstacle in the way between who I wanted to be and who I was, which was not your typical college student. Watching all of my friends thriving put me into all four of the five stages of grief over the person I aspired to be. I was in denial, I was angry, I was bargaining, I was severely depressed, but I couldn’t reach the last step of acceptance. The last thing I wanted to do was accept my new self as the person that was chronically ill, not capable, and deemed as a loser in the eyes of society.

This is for every chronically ill patient who has ever told themselves they will not succeed. For every question you may receive this holiday season from relatives about how you could be so young and sick, you look perfectly fine!

Every other day, I wanted to jump back onto my feet, keep busy, and pretend the illness was not present. In the end the only thing that did for me was prolong my symptoms and make them more difficult to live with. Accepting that I was not healthy was one of the most difficult concepts to grasp for me, but that doesn’t mean I or anyone who is chronically ill cannot succeed.

The most important thing anyone has ever told me is, “Anything you put in between you and your recovery will not last.” Being chronically ill means that I will deal with my illness for quite possibly the rest of my life. That is another sad and unfortunate truth, but if I don’t let myself receive medical care and coping skills for my illness, it will do nothing but break me.

I will continue to watch all of my friends continue to thrive and sometimes fail through their college education. I may never have the same college experience as your stereotypical college freshman, but that doesn’t mean I’m on the track for failure, only a better opportunity for success. As a chronically ill individual, there are many things I may never be able to do, but in the end I have gained wisdom and life experiences other people my age have not experienced and may never have the opportunity to experience. From the exterior, one path may look more desirable than the other, but someone’s success does not equate your failure.


Getty image by Antonio Guillem.

Originally published: May 8, 2018
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