Erin Whitten

My Chronic Illness Forced Me To Attend College Online -- And It Was The Best Decision I Could Have Made

Just because I am living at home while doing my essays, tests and projects, does not mean I am worthless.

By Erin Whitten, 18

August 30, 2015 was Southern New Hampshire University's freshman move-in day. It was also the day my chronic illness took over my life for the worst.

My name is Erin and I am 18 years old, and I have been fighting a chronic stomach disorder that went undiagnosed for the last 17 and a half years. To make a long story short, I am a girl who has the stomach motility of a sloth. With that being said, I have some differences in my life that don’t agree with how I want to live my life. On June 30, 2014, I got my very first of many surgeries, known as a Laparoscopic Cecostomy Tube Placementaka my tube.

Erin Whitten

Three days prior to my college move-in, I made a very important decision for my health, and that was to get a new tube much smaller and more convenient for me to live with in college. In my eyes, I was thinking, “What could be better?!” I was no longer going to be called a "blow-up doll" or get disgusted looks if I ever dared to wear a crop top to a public event. I figured this was the best thing that could of happened to me.

I was wrong.

Shortly after I have gotten semi-settled into my dorm, I felt weird. I tried playing it off as homesickness, but I knew in my gut it was more. I wanted to be stronger than I thought I was. I wanted to be able to enjoy my college experience to the fullest. However,  the second morning there I gave up. I couldn’t handle the pain any longer, and I walked down to admissions and transferred into SNHU Online.

Being nearly 70 miles away from my hospital, I figured this was the most sensible thing for me at the moment, and normally people understood why I put my illness first, but this time it was different. They blamed me. They called me pathetic. They said I was dependent on my relationship. They used ANY excuse except that I was sick. Family and friends laughed and ridiculed me. They did not want to associate me with an online education, although it was the same degree. For the first three weeks I was home, I was broken. With nobody to turn to and having everyone think I was a failure truly got to me. It left me empty.

Throughout all of the pain and numbness I went through, I slowly got on my feet. Within the first three days of me being home, I had seven job interviews, and in the first week, I got a job. I started my first term in SNHU Online, with much pressure on my back to show that the education I am receiving is not some phony unaccredited load of nothing, but debt.

It took nearly three months of me being home to show that I was worth something to many in my family, and I still get hurtful commentary from those who used to support me. It took another surgery to prove that my body ultimately rejected my new tube, and I needed to start this venture all over again. It took a 4.0 GPA to show people that maybe I wasn’t exaggerating this whole time -- and this education means something to me. I did not simply go home because I wanted my friends. I wanted to feel OK again, and just because I am living at home while doing my essays, tests and projects, does not mean I am worthless.

To anyone struggling, please know it does get better. I know online schooling is not filled with glamour, but it gets what I want done at a pace of a “sick kid.” I want to become a journalist, an inspiration and support for many. I want people to feel like they have somewhere to turn, and one day when I get my bachelors, and hopefully even my doctorate, people will be able to feel like they have somewhere to turn. I hope to have an online support page one day, and make someone feel like they are worth something.