Fake Adults: Advocating for Your Health in College

This is the first of what will be a series of articles about the transition into gaining to the status of ~ true adulthood~ in today’s society.


    Being sick in college is a sad compilation of so many new components that didn't necessarily exist in this capacity before. When left to fend for yourself for the first time, it’s hard to monitor and tend to your symptoms while still balancing school, work, clubs, and a general social life. In ~the real world~ life doesn’t pause for a hot sec so you can sit in your bed and cuddle your dog for a day or two. We often feel pressured to prioritize our academic and social commitments over our commitment to our mental and physical wellbeing. While this can be challenging enough just with a regular cold/ flu situation, when the circumstances are more serious these decisions become more and more weighted and challenging. I recently came down with an illness that sent me rushing back and forth from the hospital for an entire week. While this is my second semester at school and I have definitely been sick away from home before, the magnitude of my experience forced to learn and reflect on these decisions in a new way.

    I wish I could report that this was a #YasQueen experience, where I marched through the hospital with a positive attitude and maturely handled every obstacle that came my way. In reality, I cried… like ugly cried… a lot. When the fever first arrived, I decided I just didn’t have time to be sick. So instead of chugging some water, taking and a Tylenol and going to sleep, I just kept studying. As my fever continued to rise, my brain seemed to operate slower and slower until finally at 5:00 a.m. I gave up on studying and went to sleep. Over the next two days, I continued on with my schedule as normal. I ignored my body’s warning signs and didn’t accurately assess how severe my symptoms were. I was certain that this would just run its course and be over in no time. By the time my parents finally convinced me to go to the campus health center, I ended up being sent to the hospital.​    As soon as I got in the back of the Brandeis police car to be escorted to the clinic, I finally understood I had let this get out of hand. Once in the hospital, I began to notice that while I was being asked to sign all the papers, pay the bill, and answer a million questions, I was constantly being spoken to like a child. While no one was unkind to me by any means, it seemed as though everyone was under the assumption that I was much younger than I was. I was constantly referred to as “sweetie” and the doctor who came to take notes on my symptoms made me repeat my story repeatedly to “make sure I remembered it right.” Maybe this was because I looked or seemed more out of it than I realized, but either way, it was pretty degrading. As the doctors and nurses continued to question my responses, I began to question myself. Wondering I had interpreted my symptoms correctly, if I had helped myself the right way (I hadn’t), and if I was asking the right questions to advocate for my needs. I continued to reflect on this over the course of the next few days as I repeatedly returned to the hospital. My friends repeatedly offered to come and take care of me, but I refused. I wanted so badly to be independent and didn’t want to burden the people around me. My self-induced solitude lead to loneliness and homesickness and by the end, I wanted nothing more than to just be home with my parents.  

Part of growing up is learning how to become your own advocate. While we are all adults in the eyes of the law, we aren’t usually treated as such by other “actual” grown-ups. We are expected to make permanent, life-altering decisions, without a fully grown sense of important cognitive skills like emotional expression, problem-solving, memory, language, judgment, and sexual behavior. Our underdeveloped frontal lobe makes many college students feel invincible (news flash friends, we are not) which makes accurately assessing and advocating for ourselves challenging. This coming of age task becomes especially challenging when you’re sick. In many ways, college or even just this time in our lives as a whole serves as a transition period to becoming a successful and independent adult. This is definitely necessary, but honestly, it’s a real pain in the ass. While the experience was scary and overwhelming, I definitely feel like a gained quite a few Adult-ing Points™ after I got through it all. I learned that in balancing my life means that sometimes my priorities will have to shift depending on the circumstances surrounding them. Making these tough choices, sometimes means prioritizing myself over the tons of things I’ve committed myself to. Most importantly, in life as a whole (but especially in college) friends are the family we choose for ourselves. When we’re all so far away from home, it is okay to allow ourselves to lean on one another for the familial support we need. Adulting sucks sometimes, but in going through it together we’ll grow together and learn from each other's mistakes. We’ll all end up as real adults eventually...right?