Two students share their struggles with chronic illness

Josie Gawrys

When I wake up in the morning, it’s not so different from what other college students do. I grumble about having to get out of bed and start the day. I didn’t sleep well and I’m tired. 

I don’t mean to invalidate the real exhaustion of other students. But they don’t understand the kind of tired that I am. But I have the most energy right in the morning, so I push through. 

The main challenge with mornings? Breakfast. 

Every meal is a challenge, but breakfast is the hardest by far. Like a lot of people, eating in the morning is just inordinately difficult for me.

After class, on a good day, I’ll do homework and respond to emails. 

But some days, I’m already out of energy. Exhausted as if it’s been 12 hours when it’s only been one or two. Think of a toddler who really needs a nap.

So sometimes, I’m back in bed and resting until I need to get up for my next classes and work. 

Honestly, I love going to work. It gets my body moving, and other than walking places on campus, it’s my only physical activity. And I’m lucky that I get to do things I enjoy with people I enjoy. 

But it takes a lot out of me. 

From 2-5, I will be doing various tasks, some tasks more physically intensive than others. As someone who already needs to ration energy, this proves dangerous.

On worse days, I cut my losses and take off work. I’m lucky that my boss is understanding. 

After work, it’s typically dinner at Huden, given that they’re not serving food I’m allergic to. Any trip to Huden is a gamble—I think every student feels that. 

And the moment I get back to my room? 

I crash. 

Now, if you haven’t noticed from my retelling of the day so far, you might be saying I haven’t had the chance to do much homework yet. 

And you would be correct. 

From around 6 p.m. onwards is a mystery period that heavily depends on how the day has been going. Sometimes I’m able to grind through schoolwork and then have a pounding headache later. Other days it’s straight to bed and that’s still not enough rest. The trouble with being sick all the time is that each day is wholly unpredictable, and that in and of itself is exhausting. 

I thrive off of schedules and routines. And unfortunately, because of my health, I have to be flexible. I suppose I’m glad I learned that skill, but the circumstances have rendered me bitter. 

I miss classes and fall behind on assignments. 

My teachers are all understanding, but they can only help so much. 

Playing phone tag with doctors and going to appointments every week feels like a waste. 

And on top of all this? No one talks about the shame and insecurity that comes from feeling “less than.” 

I watch my peers do things with ease that it takes me far longer to accomplish. 

There is still an inner voice calling me “lazy” when I know my body needs rest. 

I have this persistent idea that if I just “suck it up,” I could be so much more successful. 

But I’m learning to treat myself with compassion. And I think everyone else should learn that, too. 

Elizabeth Lalumiere

I wake up to the sound of my alarm going off. In my first attempt to sit up, I feel a wave of nausea and fatigue wash over me. NOPE. I lay back down and blindly turn my alarm off and set it to go off in another hour. 

So much for getting an early start today. 

By the time I’m up again, my first class is about to start. I grab my laptop from beside me and aim to stand up, which I of course, immediately regret. So, I sit back down on my bed and try to get comfortable. I have two desks in my room, and yet I’ve barely used one of them for schoolwork. 

I turn my laptop on and join Zoom, just as I realize I forgot to change. As the class goes on, I increasingly lean back further and further into my pillows for support. My cameras is on, as it should be for class, so I compensate by tilting the computer upwards, so the top of my head is barely visible. I keep shuffling around, as I can’t get comfortable. After my classes, I have a hearty brunch of swallowing my pills dry.

So much for my Unlimited Meal Plan. 

Every day is different. Some days I can walk for miles and do a plethora of assignments with minimal consequences, and others – on days like these – I can’t get out of bed until dinner or work, let alone sit up. I move around, trying to get comfortable. I meditate in an attempt to stop the weight I feel on my chest. New pains in addition to the all too familiar ones make everything harder. 

I attempt to work on some assignments and catch up, like I’ve been trying to do, but find myself unable to concentrate due to the constant discomfort, and eventually give up, opting to listen to music, hoping that this distraction would somehow stop the pain. 

So much for pushing through.

I send Snapchat messages to my friend, letting him know that I’m dead again. 

The hours tick by and I’m losing time and still not feeling much better. I attend Zoom meetings from my bed, and then I eventually can stand up and get ready for the … late afternoon. I make it to dinner with my friend, but I’m so tired. I attempt to pick foods that I can eat without feeling worse, but sometimes I have to cut my losses and pick pieces of onion and tomato or other foods from my meal. I get back to my room and decide to nap before doing an assignment due that night but end up lying awake for hours before succumbing to sleep. 

When I’m at work, I’m motivated to push through, even when I have to struggle to find a comfortable position to sit in. Working helps me feel like I’m being productive, and even helps me to get work done between rounds or extra duties. I begin to feel bad that I’m not able to easily distribute my energy between working, assignments, and extra-curriculars, but I can’t predict my illnesses, or when or how much they will affect me.

I am blessed to have supportive and understanding bosses, professors, Academic Support, doctors and co-workers, some who even help me to get medical care and medication when my incredibly patient brother, Peter, isn’t driving me to and from these places.

Despite feeling terrible about myself and terrible in general, I can’t help but be excited for the future; excited for the days that aren’t so hard. I still have hope that I will have more and more of these days again, that my illnesses will be more and more manageable.

So much for giving up.