They say that your college years are the years where you are supposed to figure out and find who you are. They say that your college years will be the best years of your life. But how are you supposed to find who you are during these years when your chronic illness or illnesses also decide to find their way into your life?
If you've been around for a while, you have probably seen my story either on Wave Rider, my takeover, my advocacy page, or my blogs; however, for those who are new here. I recently graduated a semester early with a bachelor's in Biology and a minor in health management. When I entered college, I was a "perfectly healthy" 18-year-old. An 18-year-old ready to see what life was like away from home, ready to explore, and ready to "find who I am without my parents or anyone telling me who to be."
My Crohns symptoms started towards the end of my first semester of college and I was not diagnosed until my second semester sophomore year. I was home most weeks for different appointments to figure out what was wrong. Often times this meant going to class Monday, driving home after class, appointments Tuesday (I did not have classes Tuesdays just because how I scheduled classes), then driving 2.5 hours back to school to be in class on Wednesdays. I would pull over at random gas stations or on the sides of highways to throw up, did stool samples in community bathrooms, missed school functions, missed sports practices, canceled hanging out with my friends, etc.
By the end of my college career, I had 3 autoimmune conditions that had surfaced and were diagnosed. I spent all of college planning my life around my illnesses and doctor's appointments. I would literally schedule my classes to have days that I could go to appointments if I needed to. I didn't go out with friends when bars opened up post-COVID because I was scared of getting sick with how weak my immune system is. I couldn't eat in the dining hall with friends. I couldn't do the things college students normally do.
Recently, I found out my Crohns is in remission. I still have three illnesses I am dealing with, but Crohn's is in remission. I have recently returned to being able to navigate what I think to be a "more normal, pre-sick life." However, with this new found freedom of one illness, I have realized that due to all these autoimmune conditions, I never figured out who I am. In college, when people asked me about me, my answer was "I'm a biology major and full-time patient." Which was true. All I had time for was school and appointments. Now, I'm in nursing school, so you would think my answer to this same question would be, "I have a biology degree, I'm in Nursing school, and I am a full-time patient." All of which are true.
However, I have recently found that since graduation, I don't know who I am without the friends I made in undergrad. The friends who helped take care of me when I was sick and at my worst. The friends who also knew me as a full-time patient or sick person. The friends who saw how hard I fought to get to where I am today. To be honest, college was not the best years of my life, they were some of the worst. Yes, I met some of my closest friends who will be my friends for the rest of my life, but the only thing "I figured out" was that chronic illness sucks and learned how to manage it as best I can.
Now I know what you are probably thinking, "Kaitlyn, that's huge. Learning to manage your illnesses and getting one into remission is a really big deal!" And you're so right. I agree. I know I am stronger because of my journey. I wouldn't trade it for the world because it has taught me a lot. However, there is part of me that wonders what I would have found out about myself or who I would have become if it weren't for these illnesses. Would I have gotten the GPA to go to Med School? Would I have the same friends I currently have? What would life had looked like? Who would I be?
Now that I'm out of college, I feel like I'm just now getting to the point where I can explore and find who I really am. Maybe that's normal. Either way, I'm proud of how far I have come and am finally getting to a point where I am happy and loving life again. Something I did not think would ever be possible again.