Chronic Illness in College

This weekend I was in Southwest Virginia in a town called Blacksburg, Virginia where I spent four wonderful years going to college at Virginia Tech before graduating in 2015. I have family who currently lives in Blacksburg, family who grew up in Blacksburg and family who also previously attended and some who currently attend Virginia Tech.

Basically, Blacksburg is my second home.

Virginia Tech football

While I was there I experienced overwhelming nostalgia for my college years – having little responsibilities, living down the street from all of my closest friends, waking up & going to bed whenever I wanted, etc. However, my time in college was different from my peers in one particular way: I went through college dealing with chronic illness.

I had to adapt in certain ways my peers did not have to. Some nights I didn’t feel well enough to go out, sometimes my migraines sent me home early from football games, I usually had to skip out on hikes or long outdoor activities, sometimes I fell asleep in class even when I tried my hardest to stay awake (thanks, narcolepsy) and so many other situations during which I had to adapt to or avoid because of my chronic illness.

But the key word here is adapt.

I want to share some of my tips & tricks for adapting to college life when you have a chronic illness. I hope these can in some way help students who are preparing for college or who are currently in college who need someone to just understand for once.

For Classes

  • Speak with your professors at the start of the semester/year.
    • It’s important for them to know that sometimes things come up unexpectedly (like the surprise migraine) and if you speak with professors early on, you can work together on a plan for if that occasion arises. Your professors want you to succeed!
  • Sign up for classes, when you can, that have online lectures available.
    • If you can’t make it to the in-person lecture, maybe they have an online version you can watch so that you don’t fall behind
  • Schedule classes so that you have breaks in-between.
    • You may need time to rest in-between or extra time to get to class from class.
  • Don’t pull all-nighters.
    • They aren’t worth it!
    • Often times, when we deprive ourselves of sleep, it makes the pain so much worse and longer-lasting.
  • Schedule classes during times that are best for you
    • If you have narcolepsy like me, early morning classes are near impossible.

For Leisure & Student Life

  • Make migraine kits – one for at home, one to keep in your backpack
    • It’s always important to keep things like extra meds, water bottles, etc. in your backpack so that if your symptoms get worse while you are on campus, you are prepared.
    • Don’t underestimate the value of things like a sleeping mask & ear plugs (for if your roommates are having people over but all you want to do is sleep) or things like bedside meds (for when the pain is too bad and the thought of getting up to go across the room to find your meds is totally out of the question.)
  • Don’t try to over do it
    • If you know the long trek across campus will cause your symptoms to flare, catch a bus, call an uber, ask a friend to drop you off. It’s OK to need assistance.
    • If you know that drinking or socializing will push you over the edge because your pain is already creeping up on you, listen to your body! Don’t overdo it.
  • Keep some of your favorite movies & shows queued up on Netflix, always have snacks in the house & buy some comfy pillows & PJs
    • Some nights you will have to stay home when your friends are out. Make sure you have the necessities for a perfect movie night in or a successful self-care evening. This will distract you and also help you take care of yourself.
  • Plan a night in – your friends will understand that sometimes it’s too much for you to go out and if they’re your good friends, they will enjoy just spending time with you! Plan a game night, movie night, etc. for a Friday – the perfect activity after week of classes & studying.

But most of all, have compassion for yourself. It’s OK to need a little more help than others or do get things done at a slower pace or to need different adaptions & exceptions than those around you. College is a time for learning not only on an academic level, but on a personal level. You are learning more about yourself in those four years than you can imagine. Have fun. Be present. Enjoy yourself. There’s no other time like it.

Isn’t That The Place Where… 4.16.07

I can almost guarantee you that every Virginia Tech student, current or alumni, has been asked the question “Isn’t that the school where the shooting happened?” at least once in their lives when they tell someone where they are currently attending or where they previously attended college.

I know I’ve been asked that question more times than I remember. I’m never sure what kind of response people are expecting to hear. I know that they can’t understand from my point of view because they’ll never know what Virginia Tech truly encompasses. It’s hard for people on the outside to understand the feeling of relief after stepping onto campus in the fall after being away for months. As an insider, I have to remind myself that what I experienced as a Virginia Tech Hokie is something too beautiful, rare, and unique to make sense to someone who hasn’t experienced it.

So when I am asked that question in the future, instead I will stop them short at “Isn’t that the place where–” and say this:

“Yes. It is the place I called home for 4 amazing years. It’s the place I met incredible, smart and beautiful people inside and out, some of whom I still consider my closest friends. Those people I called family while I was there. Yes, it is the place where I truly felt myself. Where I could be silly, weird, adventurous and feel completely alive with a group of people who always brought the fun to the party. Where I got to celebrate birthdays, holidays, and carefree Fridays with people who constantly put a smile on my face and rhythm in my steps. Yes, it is the place I learned more about myself than I thought possible. Where I grew, matured and experienced love, loss, failure and success. Yes, it is the place with the most loyal college fan base you will ever know. The place with Enter Sandman blasting throughout the town on Saturday, the stadium pulsing as feet jump up and down in the stands as our football team charges the field. Yes, it is the place where we truly know the meaning of tailgating, whether it’s 8 PM or 8 AM. Yes, it is the place with the best mascot across the board. Yes, it is the place that allows me to brag about being a part of the #1 Relay For Life in the country, raising money and awareness for cancer research, survivors and honoring those we’ve lost. Yes, it is the place where the campus and the people on it are known as an extremely tight knit community, always looking out for one another, always supporting one another. It’s the place where four generations of my family came and left as Hokies—maroon and orange flowing throughout our family tree. Yes, it is the place that I will continue to call my second home. The place that I will always hold dear to my heart. It’s the place that always gives me an overwhelming feeling of love whenever I come back visit. It’s the place that makes me proud of who I am, where I come from and where I’m going.”

That’s what I’m going to say, because that is what I want people to think of when they hear the words: Virginia Tech.

I want people to know that I chose Virginia Tech for a reason. I chose it as my home for four years because I knew I would find family there. I knew that I would  learn, succeed, grow, laugh and love there.I knew that while I welcomed the school with open arms, it would also return the gesture.

From the outside you can’t see it, but the students and professors on Virginia Tech’s campus and its alumni across the world support one another every single day, in so many different capacities. But on this day each year, April 16th, we all gravitate a little closer to one another. We hug a little longer, pray a little harder and feel a lot deeper together. I know that we will always live for the 32 and that we will always remember the loss and hurt that were felt and the tears that were shed that day and every year since. But I hope that people around the world who only see us from the outside looking in and ask us only about the negative will now be able to see what we see from an inside perspective, and be more inclined to ask us about the good.

Chronically Grateful Day 3: How Overcoming A Hard Situation Can Leave Us With A Grateful Heart

We all have our own hardships and face our own demons. However, it’s important to be able to look back on our hardships with a grateful heart in order to see the good that has come from it. 

I will share a story of mine about a hard situation I overcame that has left me feeling grateful for having gone through it and hopefully you will be able to do the same about a hardship in your own life.

I started playing softball at a very young age. My older siblings played softball and baseball and my dad coached for all of them. He introduced us to the game that he fell in love with so long ago, and I happened to fall in love as well. I played on a competitive fastpitch softball team for my entire childhood all the way until almost the end of high school. Throughout its entire era, my dad was the coach and we had more or less the same group of girls throughout the years. 

I started getting exertion (exercise induced) headaches when I was about 12 years old. It started as headaches that would come on when I was active in the high heat and humidity. As time went on, the headaches became more frequent and intense. I started having to sit out large portions of practices and games because my headaches were so bad. Time continues and the headaches are brought on any time I ran a lot even if it wasn’t hot or humid. I started to feel useless and inadequate as i sat on the bench wishing my pain away while my teammates continued to play. 

I started to try to play through my headaches. Even when it felt my like head was going to explode into millions of pieces, I still went up to bat and still ran out to centerfield so I wouldn’t have to tell my dad “I have a headache, I need to sit out.” Time and time again. It was getting repetitively upsetting to have to ask to sit out when all I wanted was to stay in the game. Looking back on it though, it was dangerous to myself and my health to play through migraines. I had no focus at bat and only thought about how soon I could get back in the dugout instead of actually wanting to be out on the field. 

As the time came around that my teammates were actively trying to get looked at by college coaches, I had a decision to make. I made the decision to stop playing the game I loved because my headaches said so. It was the hardest decision I had made at that point in my life. As a result, the team dismembered and my dad stopped coaching. I was devastated. 

This was my junior year of high school, and it’s one I will never forget. I was sad a lot of the time, I cried myself to sleep more often than I’d like to admit and I missed the people I had come to consider family. There was a hole in my heart that had before been filled with my ability to play the game I so badly wanted to continue playing.

Softball was all I knew. I spent every weekend and multiple week nights with these people and I loved every minute of it. The thought of losing those friendships killed me. Even more, the thought of never being able to hit a line drive over the shortstops head to win the game or throw a girl out at home from centerfield broke my heart even more.

I’ve since been able to reflect on this. I see now what would NOT have happened had I been able to keep playing and face the possibility of playing college ball.

I would not have attended Virginia Tech for the four most amazing years of my life. Therefore I wouldn’t have made the amazing friends that I did or have all of the exciting (sometimes ridiculous) adventures and experiences that I had. I mean I consider myself so lucky to have met people that even from my freshman year to this day, I consider to be my best friends. 

If I hadn’t gone to Virginia Tech, if I had possibly ended up playing college ball at some other school, I wouldn’t be the person I am today writing this post. Because I was made to overcome this hard situation in my life, I ended up going to a school in a town with the most amazing people that I now can’t picture my life any other way. And for that, I am grateful.