04/02/2014 10:23 am ET Updated Jun 02, 2014

College Age Is the In-Between Stage

On a Thursday night, I found myself in the emergency room all by myself.

A weird outbreak had appeared on my right hand a little over a week and a half prior to the impromptu ER visit. What had originally appeared to be a minor-ish rash was suddenly inflamed, blistering, peeling, a deep reddish purple -- and it didn't look right. In my last class of the day at the university I attend, I had cried quietly in the darkness while a film played. The pain and the itchiness were agonizing.

I texted a picture of the swollen skin to my parents, and I received a phone call from my dad not five minutes later. "Ashley, you need to go to the emergency room," he said. "Seriously -- it could be an infection. Go." I paused, suddenly a little scared, panic swelling in my gut. "But I have a quiz tomorrow morning," I protested, wanting desperately to remain in my academic bubble of safety. Childish? Maybe.

I'm 19 years old, a college junior, and I'm still figuring out the ropes of living on my own. Luckily, my supportive boyfriend drove me to the ER and sat in the waiting room, but walking down the halls of the hospital by myself was still... unnerving.

College age is a weird period, isn't it? For me, anyways. I feel like I'm in a constant state of halfway. I love having an apartment practically all to myself (my roommate is usually working), but yet, it gets lonely. So I'll periodically pack up my little life and drive two hours south in my brother's 2007 Ford Focus, feeling an immediate sense of joy and comfort upon pulling up to my cozy two-story residence in my tidy, white-collar subdivision -- ahh, familiarity. Permission to be a kid again. But then, even when my mother cooks me homemade meals and does my laundry without my asking (thanks, Mom -- you'll always be a saint), I'll never really be a kid again.

And so I found myself at the hospital in my college town, devoid of Mom and Dad, the people who've always taken me to the doctor's. Suddenly, the harsh fluorescent lights appeared brighter and hotter than they ever had, glaring down on my flushed face, shoving me into the spotlight of the stage that was the emergency room. I was focusing all of my energy on not allowing my voice to tremble as two healthcare professionals and one student-in-training pointed at alarming pictures in a book and speculated.

I found out the next morning that my rash wasn't a deadly infection at all, but rather, a more severe form of dyshidrotic eczema, which can be triggered by stress or keeping the hands in water too long. I was prescribed steroids and a topical cream. I felt relief, and I felt pride. I did it. It was a seemingly small step, I know, but a big one for me -- and maybe one that I needed to take.

Right now, it's okay to be an in-betweenie. It's okay to go home when I'm feeling lonely and allow my mom to wash my whites and let my dad pay for groceries. But someday (soon, in fact), I won't be sandwiched between two vastly diverse realities. I'll be graduating in about a year. Only one more year until I'm thrust into the real world, with a real job, making (hopefully) real money. I'll have a little debt to pay off. I'll have to file my own taxes and pay my own bills and take myself to the doctor's when I'm sick.

Am I excited? Of course. Am I scared out of my wits? Totally. Yet I know that when the time comes, I'll be ready to make the leap. The two steps taken toward the edge are the most daunting, but I have no doubt that I'll land safely on the other side. And no matter what, the love and guidance of my parents will always be a phone call away.