College | Coping | Daily Life | IBD
I am 25 years old and my life certainly has not turned out how I expected. The past 5 years have been shaped, in ways both good and bad, by my battle with Crohn’s.
When I was 20 years old, I was a full-time, commuting junior at Millersville University studying public relations. Initially, I was on track to finish my degree after “normally scheduled” 4 years, a semester early, and I was determined to make that timeline happen. I also had a cool part-time job, wrote for the university paper, and even had a spot as a DJ on the college radio station.
School had always been a love of mine, and I had done pretty well. So naturally, I loved college. I was driven. I was pretty sure I was born to be a college student. During my sophomore year, my Crohn’s (which had been under control for the decade prior) started to creep up on me. My inflammatory levels were increasing despite every doctor’s attempt to put out the flames in my gut. The fire just kept growing. I was scared, and I was sick.
However, it never occurred to me that I would have to drop out of college to focus on my health. I mean … why would it? I could just schedule my Remicade treatments and doctors appointments around school and work, and everything would be fine, right?
Slowly, but surely, I became more painful. It would start as a sharp, stabbing pain deep within my gut, and then spread to my back, and then throughout my entire body. I would race to school and park illegally just to run into the bathroom at the nearest building. Sometimes I would be on the toilet and then have to grab one of those small trash cans to vomit in as I sat crying in pain, sadness, and humiliation.
Sometimes, I cried out of loneliness. None of the other students seemed to be dealing with anything this intense. Of course, I had no real idea, but I felt alone in the struggle. What everyone else my age seemed to be able to do, I no longer had the energy.
It started out that I would cancel on friends because I just wanted to sleep. I put my usually active dating life on hold, so again, I could sleep. Then my work started to suffer as well. Instead of scheduling my Remicade treatments and doctor’s appointments around school and work, I would just beg for the next available appointment. They could write me a note for my professors anyway.
I was showing up for classes less frequently, and when I was there I was either running to the bathroom 2-4 times during an hour long class, or drinking from a bottle of Pepto-bismol. My worst fear had come true, my health had become the center of my life without me even realizing it.
One day, I was on campus working on a project. I was cold, and I was super hungry, so I attempted to eat a few bites of a chicken quesadilla, but quickly after, had to make an urgent stop to the bathroom. When I stood up from the toilet, I noticed that there was an excessive amount of blood and I was lightheaded.
I stumbled my way to a chair directly outside of the bathroom. I knew I just didn’t have the strength to walk any further. After about 30 minutes of just staring and thinking, I decided to drive myself home. With age and newfound wisdom, I know now that I should have just called an ambulance. I have seen learned that my hemoglobin was dangerously low, and driving was hazardous to myself and others.
A few hours later, I was screaming in pain, and collapsed in front of my mom at our apartment. She took me to the hospital, where I remained for days. I was never the same; mentally, physically or emotionally.
And that was just the beginning… of countless hospital visits, a blood transfusion, surgery consultations, and more resistance from me.
It soon became evident enough to me that I was just too weak to go back to school. I didn’t go back for months, and even when I did, I was never able to handle a full time load. Five years later, and I am still grinding away at my senior year, which seems to be lasting forever.
I will do it. I am still the driven person I was 5 years ago, except now I have depth, life experience, and I am a hell of a lot stronger. I am grateful for my experiences. I know now, that at the end of the day, even if I sometimes feel depressed, angry or bitter, those feelings are temporary, but my degree will be forever. And it will not matter if I received it at 21 years old, or 25 years old, or 65 years old. I know I will finish. I am not a quitter, and I will be a better person every single day I don’t give up.
Thank you for reading. This has been therapeutic.
Danielle Barlieb was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2003 at nine years old. In 2018, she underwent permanent illeostomy surgery. Barlieb currently resides in Lancaster, PA where she works in life enrichment at a retirement facility. She is also a senior at Millersville University where she studies speech communication with a focus in public relations. She also has a 1-year old son who is the light of her life.