Content warning: Vomiting
“Embrace your youth! College will be the best four years of your life!”
The college experience is defined by a particular social culture that is idealized throughout American mainstream media. It’s seen as four years to let go, push the limits of your youth and indulge in as much casual sex and partying as possible.
As a student with a chronic illness, I already knew my experience would be different than many entering college. Most of my Friday and Saturday nights are spent reading or watching “Lady Bird” for the millionth time. While many of my peers dress up and leave the dorms at 11 p.m. in search of a party, I am likely crawling into bed, succumbing to the exhaustion of the week.
One particular Saturday morning at 9 a.m., I entered the communal bathroom and was faced with vomit in two of the three stalls. At the time, I was disgusted by it and felt sympathy for whoever had been sick. But there was something else that irked me — a feeling I couldn’t quite place, gnawing at my gut.
Fast-forward a week later:
Damn it. My eyes flew open, induced by an all-too-familiar feeling: I was going to vomit, something I hadn’t actually done since August. Things have been good, but on this fateful Wednesday at 4 a.m., nausea rolled over my senses like a wave.
Thus began the demoralizing climb down from my top bunk and subsequent walk down the fluorescent hallway to the bathroom,the one I share with my two roommates and roughly 30 other people.
Making your way to the bathroom and back to throw up is a hero’s journey of its own. It begins with said treacherous climb down from the bed and walk down the hall. Then, the scramble to remember essentials; I had forgotten my glasses but miraculously remembered my key and shoes. The grimy floor offered the next obstacle. Do I sit on the floor like I would at home? In shorts? Eventually, it became too much and I had to, cold knees meeting tile as a giving up of sorts.
Next: the waiting. See, I have become so attuned to my body I knew I would throw up within the next hour; I just didn’t know when. After 30 minutes pass, you begin to question if the nausea was real at all. After 45 minutes, you consider, briefly, just sticking a finger down your throat to get it over with. Until, finally, your insides churn just enough to produce a hacking cough.
Then commences about 15 minutes of coughing, a prelude to the true heaving. This is when the plot begins to climb. And finally! You reach the top when the hero hits the peak of action, when your insides end up staring back at you from the porcelain toilet bowl.
That’s when it hit me: what had truly bothered me the week before. The vomit in the stalls forced me to be confronted with the stark differences between my reason for throwing up and theirs, between my college experience and the “best four years of my life.”
Whoever had been sick the week before was ill as a result of their own actions. They got to make a choice that led to it, whereas I had just been ripped from my slumber as a result of my body malfunctioning, something I have no say in. I will admit: I’m a little envious of others’ ability to throw up in a carefree manner. That’s not to say the actual act of getting sick was fun for them, but they ended up there after throwing themselves into the “college experience.”
These two situations occurring in back-to-back weeks sent me into a little spiral. What was I missing out on? Do I even know what experiences I’m mourning?
It has been a frustrating realization. I can’t “embrace my youth” because pushing my body to the points of destruction is impossible. Destruction for my body comes quicker; its breaking point is not the average for an 18-year-old. I have to tread very carefully, calculating everything I consume and each step I take to avoid being at fault for a flare-up.
What I can do is move on from mourning what I’m losing and focus on what’s right in front of me — what I truly enjoy.
Finally realizing this has put my idea of “youth” into perspective. While I cannot participate in a coming-of-age movie type of college experience, I can search for other things to replace it. Going on a hike with friends to watch the sunset or sitting outside to read to escape my dorm have become my idea of the college experience.
I’ve started to appreciate the smaller aspects of my experience here, relishing them. The breeze coming through my window, the trees and benches outside of Morrison Hall, the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from my desk and quiet moments on campus.
Mourning the experiences I miss out on takes up too much time and energy. Hopefully, the next time I get sick, or someone else does, the feeling in my gut will no longer be unsettled. Next time, I have the perspective to be content. The realization is that what I don’t miss out on is just as great as what I do — and who knows? Maybe my four years will look different than I expected, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be the best.