When most people search for a college they ask questions like, “Which department are they known for?” or “How much does their tuition cost?” and maybe even “Do they have a winning football team?” While some of these questions had crossed my mind, my family didn’t focus on these topics. We encountered questions such as, “How close is the hospital to campus?” and “Would I be able to easily return home on short notice in case of an emergency?”
You have to ask these kinds of questions when you have a chronic illness in college.
I have a rare auto-immune disease called Scleroderma. In medical terms, Scleroderma is a condition that involves the hardening and contraction of the patient’s skin and connective tissues that can occur locally or be spread throughout the body. In my mom’s terms, my skin just can’t stop healing what is already fixed. Normally when you go to doctors to find the answer or a cure that can make it go away, they tell you to just pop some pills and it will get better. Unfortunately, my condition doesn’t work like this. This meant constant monitoring by my parents, friends and anyone else who knew the extent of my disease. When it came down to make a decision, it wasn’t surprising that my family’s number one college was the University of Iowa.
Now graduated from high school, I prepared my life for transport. I visited all of my doctors at least once, refilled prescriptions at laughable proportions and ran through the basics of what to expect with my new roommate.
“If you notice that I’m getting a lot of migraines fairly close together you should probably take me to the hospital.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine… See you in a couple weeks,” I said. And my college life began.
I spent a uneventful first couple of weeks on campus. I mainly stayed in the dorm reading, watching Netflix and maybe did the occasional homework assignment. Around me people went out to parties or had fun exploring their new home. I could’ve joined them. I didn’t enjoy being the hermit on the floor, but my fear stopped me. Would I want to tell them why I couldn’t drink with the rest of them? Did I want to be that person who left the group at 10 p.m. because their new medicine made them tired? Nope.
I continued to stay in my isolated bubble.
A couple of months went by, and medically I was fine. I took my medication, documented any variations and put on my sunscreen before going outside—I was the perfect patient. But that was the issue. I became a patient living on a college campus and not a college student living in their dorm. I didn’t know about the campus events that were happening all around me, or the amazing literary events that appeared in downtown Iowa City. I had tethered myself to the safety of my pill bottle.
Then I got a text saying, “Hey, did you want to come to this ballroom dancing lesson at the IMU with me?” I thought, That means that I’d have to move from my futon. Isn’t 8 p.m. too late to do things? Before I could reply with a “Not feeling too well, maybe next time,” someone knocked on my door. Sliding from my futon I moved to open the door and there stood the ballroom enthusiast herself. With a smile seemingly plastered to her face, she persuaded me from my bubble and into the world.
After that night of music and awkward twirling with strangers, I realized that there was more to my life than the constant demand of my illness. From there, I went to explore downtown, attend readings at Prairie Lights and I made an effort to spend some of my nights outside of my dorm.
I still have to come to terms with balancing school and my illness when taking on the full college experience. I can’t always do as many things or take on as many projects as most students. Some weeks I need to settle back into my dorm room bubble because I’m getting more headaches or the joints in my legs are aching from walking all over campus. There’s a difference from being conscious of one’s health and being afraid of it.
And I refuse to be afraid ever again.