Being a student is hard. There I said it! But do you know what makes it harder? Being a student with a chronic illness. That is so challenging, that unless you’ve actually experienced it, you really couldn’t understand what it is like.
Everything with a chronic illness is made more difficult, and it doesn’t just include the actual studying part of it. Socialising is harder, which means making friends is harder, actually getting to Uni is harder, doing and keeping up with the workload is harder – you name it, anything that is involved with university life, is most definitely made harder with a chronic illness.
I remember when I was younger, my Mum telling me about her life as a student, at the time being undiagnosed with an underactive thyroid, and her saying how difficult it was to even just stay awake in lectures, and to be honest, I never truly understood, until I got glandular fever, and even then I didn’t understand properly because I wasn’t a student at University.
When I first went to Uni in 2014, I definitely was not prepared for how difficult it would be, and as a result, I left after 6 weeks. I did decide to return the following year, and I’m so glad I did because I was in a much better position to go to Uni, and had already had experience on how to cope with my illness along with university life.
So this post is really to help those of you who might be thinking about going to Uni, or who are already there, and to let you know that it is possible to do it with a chronic illness, and I’m going to give you a few tips to help you along!
(These tips may also help you if you’re a student at school or college!)
10 Tips for the Chronically Ill Student
If you have a chronic illness, chances are you will qualify for the Disabled’s Student’s Allowance (DSA) which is part of Student Finance, and during your application for student finance, there is also an option to apply for this. DO IT. If nothing else, it officially makes it known on your student record that you suffer with a chronic illness, and will allow for adjustments to be made on your course, such as extra time in exams and extensions for assignments. You can also qualify for other help and support, but that really depends on your condition, and also your needs assessor who will help decide what you need to help you with your course. For example, I now get 4 single taxi journeys a week into University, and I can also see a Mentor for up to 1 hour a week to help with various aspects of life as a chronically ill student. This is something that is definitely worth doing, regardless of what your illness is, or how severe it is.
Learning support / LSP
This may be part of the DSA, but if you haven’t applied for that, some Universities may still do this to support you, and if not, I’m pretty sure all universities will offer some sort of learning support. Make use of this, and make yourself familiar with the services they offer, because they will be the ones that can help and advise you along the way.
As part of my learning support, I get a learning support plan (LSP) which, put simply, details the various symptoms I have, and how that may affect me in different situations during university life. This is then emailed to my tutors at the beginning of each semester, allowing for all the tutors to understand and accommodate for me.
Again, this is invaluable, and is definitely worth your time to look into.
Talk to your tutors
This is similar to the previous point, but it is so important that you talk to the University and also your tutors about your condition – they can’t help you if they don’t know about it! Also, if your tutors are made aware of your condition, then they will be a lot more understanding when it comes to you missing their lectures or seminars, or needing extensions every now and then. Most tutors are really understanding about this kind of thing, and most will also have had students in similar positions as you, and so will be able to support you better if they know about your condition!
Talk to your peers / friends
Open up to the friends you’ve made at Uni; if they understand, then they will help as well. Even just giving you their notes if you’ve missed a lecture will help you, and understanding why you barely make it to Uni will really relieve stress and guilt too! Also, if you talk to your friends about your condition, you might find that they have previous experience with it or maybe even have a similar condition themselves- you never know! This happened to me, and the only way my friend found out was because she had read my blog and told me about her conditions – up until then, I never knew anything about it!
Be honest with yourself
Be honest with your expectations and the reality. Know what your goals are and remind yourself the reasons why you came to Uni in the first place. You have to stay accountable for yourself, and to do that you need to be honest with yourself. If you really don’t want to go on that night out, don’t go. But don’t pretend to be someone you’re not just to fit in – that will only lead to a flare up, and no one wants that!
Don’t push yourself
Similarly to the previous one, don’t push yourself! If you know going to that seminar might well leave you bedbound for the next 3 days, then don’t go. Email your tutor and explain, and if they’re aware of your condition, they will understand and appreciate you contacting them. You know your limits, and if you don’t, then you will begin to know them soon, so take time to understand them and then you will know when you’re pushing yourself too much.
Do push yourself
On the other hand, don’t assume you can’t do everything. There will be things that you can do, but if you always think you will end up being ill you’ll actually only feel worse. Join a society if you want to, just don’t overdo it, or go on that night out with your friends, just plan it carefully. There’s no reason at all why you can’t live a relatively normal student life, or at least sometimes you can anyway! It’s all about pacing and balance, and as you progress through Uni, you will start to figure out what you can and can’t do.
Routine and Pacing
Further to the pushing yourself, you can only do that if you pace yourself. This means, taking it easy when you need to, and pushing yourself at the appropriate moments. When I’m really struggling, I like to create a timetable for myself, including everything that is happening that week, and I then schedule in times for me to do everything that needs to be done, such as studying, blogging, and seeing my lovely boyfriend!
An example of that timetable is below, so you can see there are plenty of opportunities for me to rest and do other things, such as cooking, shopping and socialising!
Ask for help
This is actually something that I probably don’t do enough… asking for help. I know a lot of people with chronic illness can struggle with this because they feel like they’re going to lose control and accept defeat by asking for help. Believe me, I’ve been there. But it’s not that bad, asking for help allows those around you to know and understand that you are struggling, and also allows you to get the help you need. I’m not saying you need to ask your housemates to wait on you hand and foot, but if they’re popping to the shop and you know you need some milk but you’re not well enough to go yourself, ask them to get you some, I’m sure they won’t mind!
Possibly the most important tip; I know it is hard, I’m nearly finished my 2nd year at university and I’ve had some really difficult moments, but I’ve also had some really good ones too. Even during your worst flare-ups, try to stay positive, and think of the bigger picture; you’re there to get a degree, and that’s exactly what you will get if you persevere. You can do this, and you will do this. And so while you’re doing it, you might as well enjoy it!
I really hope that these tips are helpful to those of you who struggle at university with a chronic illness, and even if you’re not chronically ill, I hope that I might have helped you too!
I would love to know if you have any techniques that help you while at university – why don’t you share them below?