By Dylan Lauren | Contributing Writer

I deal with a an excessive amount of health issues. All spanning from mental and physical. Highly debilitating, the lot of them. On top of the stress of living in my body, there was the stress of going through an application process for college that overwhelmed me to such a degree that I had just decided not to go.

But, here I am, 13 years later, a 33-year-old freshman at KCC in my first year of college.

Life with several chronic illnesses has, at best, made this first semester undeniably challenging. It has created many barriers between what is viewed as acceptable behavior and what I feel I am capable of accomplishing in my day to day life. I haven’t always been sick. As a young child, I had a lot of energy and ate endless amounts of junk food without it affecting me negatively or so I thought.

Around the middle of elementary school, I started getting excruciating stomach aches that would thwart all plans for the day. The worst decision I made back then was keeping it to myself. I kept eating poorly. My mom did try to feed me nutritious foods. In fact, she was always the one to send me to school with food that no one wanted to trade for.

As a teenager, my symptoms worsened. I eventually got diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and autoimmune hepatitis. These both would have a varying impact on my lifestyle. All of a sudden, the types of foods I could eat became extremely limited.

Flash forward to 2011. After a stint of being homeless, I was staying in the upstairs living room of my then boyfriend’s family home. It was getting difficult to move my body without assistance. I would wake up with incredibly stiff and painful joints. All of my joints were being affected at this time. It got so bad at one point, that I could no longer sit up on my own from a laying down position. It hurt so much to do anything that I would often end up in crying fits. I needed assistance using the restroom as well, which has the effect of making you feel pretty worthless.

Losing the ability to do much of anything for myself took a toll on my mental health. It wasn’t until sometime later that I had developed a gnarly red rash on my face, chest, and arms. Going out in the sun only made things worse. By this point I had been diagnosed with Mixed Connective Tissue Disease (MCTD), which is an overlap syndrome. It is considered to be a rare autoimmune disorder. An autoimmune disorder essentially means that your body is attacking itself thus resulting in inflammation and pain.

MCTD is what I consider to be an umbrella term. There tend to be other diagnoses that fall underneath that. The ones that are most prevalent in my life and cause me the most issues are Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (you’re pretty much allergic to the sun and has the potential to cause internal organ failure), Sjogren’s Syndrome (mouth and eyes are always dry), Polymyositis (you develop muscle weakness) and Raynaud’s Syndrome (blood vessels shrink causing you to lose blood flow in hands, feet and sometimes in your nose). All of these things caused something called brain fog which is like a perpetual state of forgetfulness. So, I do have a difficult time remembering all of my health problems. Please forgive me.

There have been many times, I’m sure, where people just assumed I was being lazy or that I was an idiot due to not being able to answer a seemingly simple question such as, “What kind of bands are you into?”

On top of everything, I deal with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It makes me tired for no reason. I can just exist and from said existence, I will feel like I got hit by a semi-truck and suddenly have a wave of sleepiness wash over me. Sleepiness can last for hours or days on end, making the thought of schoolwork and assignments not seem very important in the grand scheme of things.

Attending college for the first time in my close to mid-30s with all of these things is a bit daunting, but it is something I can overcome.

[Dylan Lauren is a contributing writer to Kapiʻo News.]