Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mixed Feeling About Reunions

I've been on an emotional rollercoaster lately. The silly reason? A bunch of my old friends are all going to our college reunion this summer. One friend started a Facebook event to see who was planning to attend, and I watched the enthusiastic replies pile up with envy. Literally dozens of the women who were in my sorority are all planning to go back to campus in July for this summer's reunion. The two colleges in town hold a reunion every summer, but this is the 25th for the girls who were one year behind me, including many of my close friends.

Right from the start, I felt like there was no way I could go to the reunion. For starters, I went to college in the middle of nowhere in the very northern reaches of New York state, north of the Adirondacks and not too far from the Canadian border. So, even if (hypothetically) I could afford a plane ticket, the nearest airport is still a 3 hour drive away from our college town. The logistics tortured me: I could fly into Syracuse, rent a car...no then I'd be too worn out by the time I got there. OK, I could get a ride with a friend from Syracuse...no, then I wouldn't have my own car so I could go rest whenever I need to. And even if I could figure out how to get there, how on earth would I manage the many hours on my feet, as all my friends  - there for a wild girls' weekend - walked into town and stayed out until 2 am? I considered and discarded various options and finally just gave up.

But as I watched the excitement build among my friends, I felt so left out. How do I explain to all of them why I can't make it? Just telling someone you have a chronic illness doesn't cut it - how can anyone possibly understand all the restrictions we live with every day? Many of them are staying in a group of townhouses they rented together.

Then I started chatting with a friend of mine from the sorority who graduated the same year as me. We've become even closer recently, since finding each other on Facebook. She said she was bringing her daughter with her to alumni weekend and that she can not drink alcohol because of medical problems either. She got me thinking - here's someone who's going to go back but isn't going to do the wild weekend thing....

I finally came up with a workable plan and made reservations! Our whole family is going up there, with our camper, making it into a mini vacation (which we desperately need anyway). I reserved a spot at a campground 25 minutes from town (in the lovely Adirondack foothills). My husband will do all the driving, I'll have my comfy camper to rest in when I need to, and I can make a trip or two into town to see my friends for a limited, manageable amount of time.

I'm so excited to finally be going, but a part of me is still worried about what it will be like to stick out like a sore thumb. The thing is that I was a bit of a party animal in college! I had crazy energy back then - got a chemical engineering degree, was president of my sorority, and spent my weekends going wild with my friends. I drank way too much back then, danced for hours, sang/screamed until I was hoarse, and stayed up all night.

Almost all of them - except that one friend - are going to alumni weekend on their own, without families, for a "girls' weekend." I know they'll be ready for a wild weekend of drinking, dancing, singing, and having fun. I used to be the life of the party, ready for anything. This time, I'll only be able to manage a couple of hours at a time, no alcohol, no dairy (the wine and cheese party Friday should be fun!), no staying up late. Going downtown to our old hang-outs is definitely out - I'll be lucky if I make it until 9 pm!

My 30th high school reunion is also this summer, and I am almost relieved that I definitely can't go to that one! We will be away on vacation at that time. I did go to my 20th...just months after finally getting a diagnosis for my mystery illness. That was definitely strange. I wasn't even comfortable with having a chronic illness yet myself, so explaining it to people I hadn't seen in 20 years was just plain weird. It's hard to know what to say when someone gives you a big hug and says, "You look great! What have you been up to?" Uh...lying on the couch and getting blood tests?

Ten years later, at least I am more comfortable - and more happy and settled - in my life with chronic illness, so that helps. The other thing that helps is social networking. Many of the old friends I will see at my college reunion already know I have CFS because we've been in touch on Facebook. Of course, they don't understand the extent of it or how restricted my life is. In fact, I wished an old college friend a happy birthday yesterday, and she replied how much she enjoys my Facebook posts and how busy I am! Um, yeah. How do you respond to that?

So, I just have a lot of mixed feelings. I am very excited to see everyone again and to show my kids around my old college campus and the town. That one friend and I both feel better knowing the other will be there, so neither of us will be the only one not partying - she told me, "It will be wonderful to have a fellow-mellow-sober alumni to share the experience with!" Love that. So, I am mostly excited, but I know it will be tough to tiredly head back to our camper when all of my friends are just getting started for the night. I'm also not looking forward to the explanations. There's a fine line between helping an old friend understand and not making others feel uncomfortable or pitying.

But I am going! That alone feels like a triumph.

Well, I feel better just talking it out - thanks for listening!

(P.S. Just to save you the trouble, I generally only "friend" people on Facebook that I know in person, close friends and family - otherwise, it just becomes too much for me to keep track of. But I'd love to get to know all of you here on the blog, so feel free to leave a comment!)


  1. That is a huge triumph! I am so happy for you :)!
    And totally understand the hard time telling people you aren't super close with. I am struggling with that currently as I really don't want to burden friends or acquaintances but I also don't want them to think I can do more or that I should try and do more around them... Oh the fine balance!
    Have an amazing reunion! Even if it is oh so different from when you were in college. :)

    1. Yes, that is exactly right, Rebecca! It's a balance. Thanks for the encouragement.

  2. Short doses of wildness! You're still you, but all of you will have mellowed a bit with age, so perhaps the wildness will not be as wild as expected anyway. Sounds like you've made a great plan! Have a good time....

    1. "Short doses of wildness" - ha ha - I love that, Sally! Thanks

  3. Glad you are able to go! You describe what things like this are like for us so very well!

  4. congrats on making plans to go! My 15th reunion was last weekend. It was cross-country and definitely involved a lot of drinking and pretend-we're-still-21 events. I looked at the pictures wistfully but it would have been too much work to go. However, I think I would have strongly considered going if I had a family- it will be fun to show your family your old stomping grounds and introduce them to your sorority sisters.
    Can you cheat with alcohol at all? I am not sure if it is worth it to you to even try, but a few of my friends and I have found we can handle a shot of tequila, yet wine and beer knock me out.

    1. Sorry you missed your 15th. I hope you can manage to go to one of our next ones.

      Alcohol is a major no-no with CFS because it causes the blood vessels to dilate, making OI much worse. Just a few ounces of beer turns my face red and makes me feel worse. It's just not worth it. Sometimes I have a sip of wine or beer of my husband's with a meal - I do still enjoy the flavor!

      Thanks for the encouragement -


  5. Hi Sue,
    You may be surprised that people are more receptive than you thought.
    I went to my tenth college reunion and a lot of people had family or friends who were sick with one thing or another. Were they as sick as me? Did they know how sick I was? No, but that was ok.

    I didn't drink any alchohol and I was in bed by 11.
    My 30th high school reunion will be next year. We'll see if I go.
    I'm glad you were able to get the camper. That is excellent.