How I Spent Freshman Year Trapped in the Bathroom

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I was the girl who kept any and all pain to herself. Whether it be a bad encounter with the door and my fingers, a slippery trip down the stairs or a feverish fight with the flu, I made it my silent vow to never complain. Especially not to my parents who already had to listen to my siblings’ issues on a daily basis. My mother and father had enough problems in their lives and I stubbornly refused to add to their stress.

I completed nearly a fifth of my life under that vow. It was only after nineteen years of living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome that I finally broke down, approached my mother and said, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic stomach condition that causes unimaginable pain and embarrassment for millions of people in America. Many go through life not even knowing they have it. For my entire childhood and teen years, I thought that I was simply prone to stomach aches. If it was my lot in life, so be it.

Imagine being unable to spend time with family because you are afraid that the moment you step out of the house, your stomach will clench up and twist in on itself, causing excruciating pain and a humiliating need to use the restroom. Now imagine you’re trapped in your bedroom–safely distanced mere feet from the bathroom. You hear your mother calmly explain to your little sister that you’re not feeling well (for what can only be the eight hundredth day in a row), and your fed up sibling exclaims, “She’s always sick!” Those three little words hurt.

My battle with IBS finally reached a breaking point a few months before the spring semester of my freshman year, when my stomach pain was so intense that I would remain in the bathroom for hours. There, in my claustrophobic dungeon with Pepto-Bismol and Extra Strength Tylenol being my sword and shield, my façade of saintly suffering deteriorated into feelings of self-defeat and depression.

Thankfully, my parents and I reached out for help. Help came in the form of a godsend diagnosis. For the first time in my nineteen years of confusion and anxiety, I knew what was wrong. And now, armed with medicine and instructions from doctors on how to live with IBS, I was ready for my college experience at University of Florida to actually begin.

With all the enthusiasm and hope of a fresh puppy in a pet store, I began my freshman year at UF. I thought I could finally experience college life, earn my degree and graduate without fear of one too many bathroom breaks. I walked the open streets of campus with wide eyes and an anti-spasmodic tucked inside my purse (in case of a gastrointestinal emergency). I attended my classes happily with any intestinal concerns taking a back seat to my day dreams about the boy in my First Year Florida class. And his dark hair, stunning smile, his gorgeous eyes…

Um, anyway, life in college was going great. So of course, right at the peak of my Pharell-level happiness, my IBS came back with a brutal vengeance. One early April morning, I was back in my dorm bathroom crying and calling my mother for support. It was the worst kind of tbt. This wasn’t exactly my dream ending to my first semester in college.

IBS can affect its victims if left unchecked and unmanaged. What is worse, to this day there is still no cure for this strange ailment that affects the lives of so many people. Doctors still debate over how the symptoms manifest in the first place.

And yet, when living on campus, attending classes and dealing with my stomach became too much, I once again turned to doctors for help. The day I went to UF’s clinic, I carried my insurance card along with a debilitating sense of hopelessness. Instead of meeting with defeat at the door, I met people who genuinely cared about my problems and suffering. I also learned that I was one of many students on campus who struggled with IBS. With new medicine, supportive medical workers and fresh determination, I survived my first semester in college and am currently halfway through my second semester.

I love college. I love choosing my classes, talking with my roommates, walking around the beautiful campus I reside in and admiring the surprisingly high ratio of good-looking college boys. I want to join the surfing club and be more involved with my fellow Gators in Gainesville. I’m a great student, roommate and friend who just so happens to deal with a condition that slows me down, but only when I allow it.

My IBS management  is nowhere near perfect. I still suffer from bad episodes of sporadic stomach pains, but they are becoming less and less frequent. I meet with a nutritionist to discuss how to live by a healthier diet, I see my doctor to talk about my overall health and I’m slowly but surely applying changes to my lifestyle.

A cure may not be found at the end of my long tunnel, but I– along with any twentysomething-year-old suffering from IBS– deserve a great college experience.

As well as that cute boy’s number from class.

Rocio Cosme is a sophomore majoring in English at University of Florida. She enjoys reading, writing, singing, crushing over fictional boys in her favorite books, and free hugs.

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