Here is What I Discovered

I’m a college student with multiple disabilities

By Megan Zahneis

First things first: I have a very rare neurological disorder (as in, 50-cases-in-the-world rare) that renders me unable to feel pain, temperature and touch in the same way as most people. I don’t have reflexes and can’t regulate my own body temperature. I’m deaf.

I also can’t do things like tie my own shoes, wake up on my own, button a shirt or coat, walk very far without getting winded or eat in public without being extraordinarily self-conscious about how messy I am. Did I mention I’ve just moved away from home?

Not typical
I’m a first-year journalism student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. My college experience thus far has certainly not been typical.

For one thing, I might live in a single dorm, but I’m not alone: My hearing service dog lives with me. I got her this past summer as a somewhat necessary measure. Even though I wear cochlear implants during the day and function very well with them, I can’t hear anything when I take them out at night, so a traditional alarm clock doesn’t work for me. Neither do the vibrating bed shakers typically used by people in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community—I owe that to my severe case of restless legs syndrome.

Wake up call?
I’m still training my service dog to be able to wake me up each morning and alert me to emergency alarms at night. Until then, I’ve had to resort to other methods of getting up for classes. For the first two weeks of the semester, my parents took turns driving two hours every day just to come wake me up. Luckily, I’ve since been able to hire a few girls in my residence hall to pick up the slack.

As you might imagine, my transition to college hasn’t been the smoothest. There have been several occasions on which my wake-up call failed to show up in the morning, causing me to miss my 11.30am class. And then there was the time I was shaken awake by a concerned paramedic at 4.30 in the morning because I was kicking the wall in my sleep and waking my neighbors. Or the lovely afternoon when my dog decided the middle of the student centre was the perfect place to defecate.

But the thing is, I expected nothing less. (Well, OK, maybe a tiny bit less.)

No freshman 15
I’ve taken the bus to get home after a meeting—not because I’ve had an eventful night out on the town, but because my body simply won’t allow me to walk more than a block at a time. I’ve fallen asleep in class—due to my restless legs syndrome not granting me a moment of REM sleep at night, not because of some rager the night before. Instead of gaining the infamous “freshman 15 pounds,” I’ve lost it, thanks to my digestive issues.

abl_univer2Against (seemingly) all odds, I’ve dealt with just a handful of mini-crises since moving in three months ago—as has every other first-year student I know. When I stop to think about it, it occurs to me that my college experience, at its core, hasn’t been too far out of the ordinary. From late-night cramming sessions (or, more probably, Netflix binging) to Chipotle runs, lazy afternoons with friends in the dorm and periodically agonizing over my future, I’m pretty much like any other 18-year-old whose world is expanding as she starts to discover what adult life is like.

Megan Zahneis is an aspiring writer, speaker, advocate and current student at Miami University. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MeganZahneis.

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