My sister’s disabilities affected my college education

I graduated from college ten years ago. (!!!!)

That means that I arrived at college 14 years ago. I was less socially awkward than insecure to the point of debilitation about social interaction. It was rough, at first, and a lot of bad and scary and weird things happened during the following four years.

Let me tell you what we’ve been through together: physical assault, sexual assault, stalking, theft, drug and alcohol addiction. Onset – flares – remission of chronic migraine, colitis, PCOS, fibromyaglia. Ruptured ovarian cysts, broken bones, torn muscles and tendons, and other trips to the emergency room. We have lost parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, pets, and other loved ones. We have faced challenges over and hostility because of our gender presentations, our gender identities, our sexual orientations, our disabilities, our racial heritage, our religions.

Of course, we’ve also been through wonderful stuff: finding love, meeting new friends, getting married, having babies, adopting pets. We’ve earned master’s degrees, PhDs, MDs, JDs, and opened businesses. Buying houses. Meeting our heroes. Landing awesome jobs, becoming internet famous, traveling to wonderful places.

In a lot of ways, we’ve grown up together.

Ten years ago, I left that place, but not those people. Sure, we’ve had disagreements or drifted apart, from time to time. But by and large, we’ve stayed connected, by phone and postcard and text and email and blog and social media sites and care packages and visits and, when we’re lucky, living close to each other. Thank you, all of you, for your love and friendship and support and for just being you!

It’s funny – deciding on a college was a horrible ordeal for me, in a way. I had worked hard in my younger school days, and had enjoyed it, and had gotten into most of the schools to which I’d applied. (Was it five out of six? Maybe?) I ruled most of them out, but then couldn’t decide between the school that would be close to home and less expensive but sort of “just” the next step in my career and not super thrilling and the school that would be far away and more expensive but had a romantic appeal to it. My anxiety spiked. I cried more than I like to admit. I sat on those cards – because at that point, you had to postmark a physical response card – until the last possible day.

The tipping point, in retrospect, was a huge moment in the development of my relationship with my sister and parents. It was when my mother told me to go to the exciting school. She told me that Lily would be my responsibility one day, and that I should take this chance to have my adventures. She pointed out that I was young and it was the perfect time to explore.

I can’t thank my mom enough – it turned out better than I could ever have expected. I think I’m better able to be a daughter and big sister (not to mention scientist and friend!) because I took that leap. And thanks again to my friends, who are, after 14 years, family, too.

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