Can’t ‘do’ college—it’s okay—you’re not alone by any means

Report by Heather S.—

A few years ago I went to college. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to continue due to my many medical problems.

This is something that stings my heart almost more than anything else that has happened in my life. I am the kind of person who always dreamed of going to college, I eventually wanted to earn a doctorate someday, but alas, my body would kill that dream.
It has been a few years since I had to drop out completely. It still hurts when people talk about going to college, or when I see people I went to high school having earned their masters. One of my best friends loves academics and has advanced very far in his academic career, even attending university over in England. I am so happy for him and am so proud of him, but to be perfectly honest, it really breaks my heart because I envy him… and I don’t want to feel that way.
I do not begrudge him or anyone their successes, I encourage and celebrate others successes. But, at the same time I am constantly in a state of heart break, grief and mourning about the death of my own, once shining dreams.
I would like to talk about my experience at college as someone with a chronic illness. Though it was a short time, I still have much to say. For three years I kept going to school, getting sick, ending up in the hospital and eventually having to drop out of the semester. In those three years, I managed to earn enough credits to become a sophomore. It broke my heart each time I had to leave school. I loved my classes and I was doing very well in them. I was even working hard and doing well in math, which is a subject I struggle with.

It was not my mind that failed me, it was my body. The physical exertion of just attending classes was enough to wear me down by the middle of the school year.
I had to do things differently than everyone else, and because of that I felt like a complete outcast. I felt like I didn’t belong with the other students because they were all so healthy, youthful, vibrant and full of energy. And, here I was, looking the same on the outside, but living with a body that can’t handle very much at all.

I barely made any friends because it was too exhausting for me to leave my room after classes. I had to put all of my books in a cart and wheel them to class everyday because I couldn’t lift the weight. I struggled with intense anxiety because I was afraid that people would look at me and judge me for what I looked like. I was afraid all they would see is a lazy overweight girl who didn’t want to carry her books.
When I did meet new people and attempted to befriend them, I constantly had to worry that something might happen where I would have to explain my entire medical history to them for them to understand. I knew that sooner, rather than later, I would “let slip” that I had medical problems because of the many adaptations I have to make in my everyday life.
It was emotionally exhausting being on campus. I would look around at everyone having fun and doing little things with ease, and I would get sad because it reminded me that I was not the same as them. I could barely do anything that the other collegiate did.

While they were out drinking and partying on the weekends, I was in my room trying to manage my pain with pain medicine, finding myself angry at them for abusing their perfectly healthy bodies. While they were at the dining hall, I was in my room heating up some Raman noodles because I couldn’t physically handle being out among other people. I was probably known by some as, “the weird girl who always stays in her room.” It was all I could do to get through classes and my homework, I didn’t have enough energy to go out and make friends even though that is what I wanted to do so badly.
I would walk the campus sometimes at night when very few people were out. I would look at the empty buildings, the Mustang statue shrouded in darkness and find it both serene and beautiful. I found myself wishing that I would feel that way during the day. The campus at night was full of opportunity, it was a time I could think about how much I wanted to learn and decompress from the hectic circus that was the campus during the day. I also found myself saddened by those walks because I would look around and know that it wasn’t going to last. In my heart, I knew that one day I would have to give up on my dream completely and that time was chipping away at my dream.

I am glad that I tried to go to college and don’t regret a single minute of it. I think everyone, if it is in their heart, should try to go to college. You might make it through better than I did, and even if you don’t, you will still learn valuable lessons about life.
One of the most valuable lessons I learned was the most painful one for me as well. I learned that dreams that seem so possible can, in actuality, be impossible. I learned that you have to let go of one dream for a new one to grow.
college student looking at poster on the wall about dreams

I let go of my dream of having a full academic career and now focus on my writing and my poetry. When I attended college I would never have shared any of my poems with anyone. It is remarkable to me what can happen in only a few short years.
Don’t ever stop dreaming. If one dream doesn’t pan out then search your heart and you will find another one. You could perhaps even find something greater than you ever thought possible before.
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