If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been planning for college since elementary school. You’ve had your major and minor picked out since 8th grade and known what activities you would so since the 10th. There is absolutely nothing that can mess up your plans. Unless, of course, you get sick.
Although I later realized I had been sick for at least a year, the first time I really became aware of it was this past July. I was at a birthday party with friends when I randomly felt the sudden urge to vomit. This began a three-month period of hell before I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease the day after my 20th birthday in October.
My school is on the quarter/trimester system, and I managed to finish fall term, which concludes the day before Thanksgiving. The mix of exhaustion and pride was absolutely surreal. Winter term didn’t start until January second, so I should have had enough time to physically recover. Unfortunately, however, this did not happen.
Almost a year before, I had signed up for a two-week trip to London during my school’s December term. In retrospect, I should have withdrawn once I was diagnosed, but I wanted to attend so badly. So, I went. Even though I had an absolutely amazing time in England, the trip was exhausting. I returned home sicker than ever.
I spent the last three weeks of Christmas break sleeping. I was exhausted from both the symptoms of the disease itself and my severe malnutrition (more severe forms of Crohn’s disease often prevent nutrients from being absorbed by the body). On top of that, I could practically feel the inflammation in my digestive system getting worse.
By Christmas Eve, it was clear to me that I was not ready to return to school. However, I resisted this insight with all of my might. I have been in school since the age of two. I literally cannot remember a time when I have not been a student, other than the traditional academic breaks. I was willing to sacrifice my health and attend school anyway until I couldn’t even get through Christmas Eve dinner without pain, nausea and exhaustion.
On New Year’s Eve, I finally plucked up the courage to inform my parents that I was not physically able to return to school. I had imagined they would be livid, but they were actually very understanding. My mom even told me that they were not going to let me return anyway because I couldn’t go three minutes without using a bathroom. We called the school together and informed them I would not be returning for winter term.
Even though everyone we talked to was very understanding, I felt as if I was a failure. I am a very goal-oriented person and not engaging in academics felt completely foreign to me. I spent days alternatively sobbing and sleeping. What would everyone from high school think of me, a former smart kid, at home during the school year? I was hysterical.
Being at home for three solid months was incredibly difficult. For one, it was very lonely. After the first two weeks or so, all of my high school friends returned to their respective colleges. I live close to my college so I had a few friends who were able to visit me sometimes, which was wonderful, but I still felt isolated. With my parents at work and younger brother in school, I was often alone. Even though I am an introvert, being alone almost all day for weeks on end plunged me into a deep depression.
On top of that, I was obsessed with the coursework I was missing at school. Even though, thanks to AP classes, I was (and somehow, still am) ahead of the curve in terms of credits, I felt like I was never going to be able to graduate. I felt like I would never succeed in life because I had to take one ten-week academic quarter off.
However, as time went on, I began to view things more clearly. I was so sick that there was no way I’d be able to sit through class. In addition, I would be too tired to efficiently study, so my grades would not be good— certainly not the A’s I had come to expect of myself. Yes, I was lonely, but I would be far too exhausted to spend time with people had I been at school. I was still depressed, rightfully so, but I things became more bearable.
Although I am still far from remission, I have been cleared to return to school, and am currently in my first week of spring term. It feels amazing to be back at school. I did not realize how little I appreciated school until it was taken away from me. Although my classes and commitments are stressful, they are not as overwhelming as they once were. I have been (and still am going) through so much with my own body that academics don’t seem to be as critical as they once were.
My term off was painful, dull and boring, but was ultimately for the best. I feel so much more mature than I did beforehand, as well as healthier. Even though I will struggle with my chronic illness for the rest of my life, I now feel more in control of it. My perfect college plan was interrupted, but I have emerged a far stronger and more appreciative individual, a silver lining in my ongoing battle with my health.
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