• Branwen Defren


Well... I did it! I graduated. And boy, was it a jam packed 5 year program.

It's crazy to reflect and think about all the things I've managed to do: 1 international co-op & 2 local ones, a study abroad trip, 11+ different countries and 13+ different US states visited. But the biggest thing that's happened is my undiagnosed pain and illness. Despite constantly visiting hospitals around the world and the U.S., hundreds of doctor seen and thousands of pills swallowed.. I still somehow managed to graduate with a 3.4 GPA to boot.

It kind of feels surreal. I got sick my very first semester of college after 18 years of health. Everyone always talked about college like it'd be the "best years of my life" and it was wildly inaccurate for me. To be truly honest, I genuinely thought this part of my life, this "sick" part of it would be over by now. I really, really did. I sometimes feel like a failure because I'm not still - far from it. I've actually gotten worse, not better which is terrifying. But... there were countless times throughout these past years that I doubted I'd even get here. That I'd have to drop out and go back home to live with my folks - (and while I love them very much, it was something I dreaded would become reality, and honestly still do if I'm not able to support myself).

And sometimes I feel like a fraud. I spend a looooot of time in bed, and therefore have more time than I care to admit to read and so many of the stories I read about - people who struggle with chronic illnesses and pain don't really talk about their darkest moments, or if they do it's kind of glazed over. I'm told so consistently that I look totally fine - healthy even! and often from doctors who know all of my history.. And it's so. freaking. infuriating. because I know what healthy is, I lived it for 18 years! And I know that this isn't it. I also have a cheerful demeanor and I have a hard time standing up for myself and advocating for myself which is still something I have to work on consistently everyday. There have been so many times where I've felt like I lost control or on the edge of losing control. I've wanted to clobber doctors in the face, scream at them, punch walls and claw at my face in desperation. There's been so many moments these past five years that I've felt so helpless, alone, trapped, infuriated, overwhelmed with sadness, jealousy, hurt, anger, and just about every emotion available to human kind. There are more times than I care to admit that I've felt this way. I feel like this makes me fairly human and normal, but from what I read all the time about those with illnesses it doesn't happen that often and it only makes me feel that much more alienated.

But there are reasons why I managed to stumble my way to the finish line - there are so many people who helped me through these past five years. While I have struggled to get friends and even family to believe me, to understand my new limitations, to empathize -- which was trying and painful, there were still countless people who will always have a place in my heart that I could never forget. Everything big and small --- from those who carried me through the streets of Eastern Europe, to people who stayed with me in a cockroach infested bathroom while I sobbed waiting for my meds to kick in, to making me laugh when I felt broken and empty... to the many loves of my life who comforted me during my darkest times, to people who were simply friendly and energetic enough that they turned my whole day around without even realizing I needed it. There have been so many people in my life that I can resolutely say that without them, I wouldn't have made it - nor would I have wanted to. Everything big and small truly made all the difference. I'll never forget any of you.

The past five years have been one f*cked up ride, but I still did it. I truly don't know how the f*ck I did it, but I did. But now, it's onto the next ride. I hope it'll offer some answers and maybe even some respite. Who knows, eh?!

Lastly, I want to say, for anyone who's struggling to get through a chapter in their life's story - hang in there. I know it's shitty AF and it may seem like there's no reason to stick around, but even if there are days where all you can manage to do is just breathe, it still means you're fighting, able to fight, and that you're unbelievably strong, worthy and capable of digging deep and finding a purpose to hunt for brighter days.

So much love.