If you saw me walking around campus, you would assume I am your average college student. I take five to six classes a semester. I eat at the dining hall. I am apart of a club. I’m an Equine Studies major, so I spend time in the barn riding and taking care of my care horse. I make sure all my assignments are completed on time and study for every exam. From the outside, I’m just a normal college student.
What people don’t see is my invisible illness. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at the age of eleven, eight years ago. For those who don’t know, Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease. My immune system attacks my gastrointestinal tract and it can occur in any part. It’s “sister” illness, Colitis is only in the colon, but has the same symptoms.
With Crohn’s, I have to watch what I eat. I mainly stay away from white flour and sugar. I eat grass-fed meat and dairy products. Free range eggs and wild caught fish are also apart of my diet. The only bread I can eat is sourdough. My vegetables must be steamed and fruit cooked or dried. Everything else has to be organic and all natural.
I control my illness with a medication called Humira. You probably saw the commercial about it. Yes, I am aware of the side effects. This medicine actually saved me from a very recent flare that caused bleeding and severe inflammation, so I didn’t argue when my doctor told me I had to go on it. I get a maintenance dose every week in either my legs or abdomen.
I also got iron infusions for a month and a half, which is when an iron infusion gets pumped into my veins through an IV. It only takes an hour, but I have to travel back home each time to get it done. Good thing I only live an hour and a half away!
On top of all that, I take multiple vitamins and a probiotic. I have a schedule to ensure I take them all on time. I can’t take the probiotic with the vitamins, so I have to schedule a specific time for that, too. I drink a lot of coconut water and eat pieces of pickled ginger on days my symptoms show up.
Despite all of this, I still have days where my Crohn’s flares up. I’ll feel more tired than normal. My stomach may hurt and I’ll go to the bathroom way more often. I’ll just be exhausted and want to sleep for the whole day. Most of these times, I can manage to go through my regular schedule and attend classes. However, I won’t do it with as much effort.
Luckily, I have accommodations through the disability services office that make my life at college easier. I have permission to take frequent bathroom breaks and have food and water during class, as well as preferential seating. The dining hall also prepares meals for me so I don’t have to worry about not having any choices when I visit. I live in an apartment on campus so I have my own bedroom, a bathroom that I only have to share with one person, a kitchen so I can cook some of my own meals, and access to air conditioning and heating.
I look like a normal college student walking around campus, sometimes with my headphones in and sweatshirt on. But, I also deal with a chronic illness. I have a solid handle on it. Although college is stressful and stress is a huge trigger for Crohn’s, I have my coping methods for reducing it and my accommodations help with that. Since I was first diagnosed, I refused to let my illness get in the way of life and I still feel that way today. Even though it gets hard to balance, I will continue being a college student because I love my major and have goals I want to accomplish.