5 Steps to Navigating College While Managing Lyme Disease

Somehow, despite my aging body, memory loss and glaring issues with organization (I’m looking at you backpack strewn with bent papers, scantrons and lost pens!), I was able to graduate from college with late-stage Lyme disease.

I’m amazed my university would let me out into the world when I have killed every plant I ever had, but here I am writing a guide to college despite the plant carcasses left in my path.

Whether you’re just starting your college career, are near the end or even starting graduate school like myself, I promise that you can get through college with Lyme disease. All it takes is some planning, honesty and resourcefulness. Here are your five steps to success:

Step 1: Be resourceful.

Your mother may use the word “crafty,” but resourcefulness is an absolute must for college students with Lyme. A student disability office exists on most college campuses and can help students schedule classes, receive accommodations and find resources on campus and in the community.

My school’s disability office was extremely helpful and provided accommodations for testing and even transportation when I couldn’t drive. I felt uncomfortable about using disability services for awhile, but once I made the choice, it made my college life much better and gave me a plan to fall back on.

Step 2: Plan for success.

When you have chronic Lyme there will be times when you really struggle to even get out of bed or read your textbooks. You may even end up in the ER on very bad days. Establishing a backup plan will help you know exactly what to do in these instances. What that plan looks like is different for everyone. It may be having a friend drive you to class when you just aren’t up to it, communicating to your professors about absences due to illness and knowing where the nearest emergency room is. Establishing your backup plan and having a support system in place will make emergencies and bumps in the road more manageable.

Step 3: Decide on disclosure.

Disclosing whether you have chronic illness is completely up to you. In some instances, an employer or professor may benefit from knowing about your Lyme and how it affects you. In other instances, people may not understand. Disclosure is a difficult part of college life when you want to form relationships with classmates, co-workers and even supervisors.

What worked for me was to tell the people that had my best interest in mind and then keep the rest on a need to know basis. I was extremely fortunate to have a wonderful support system and some friends with chronic illnesses who understood.

Step 4: Know your limits.

It is incredibly tempting to try and do everything while in college. There are classes, jobs, organizations, parties, clubs, intramural sports and so much more offered that the FOMO (fear of missing out) can be very high. Your priority should be yourself and your health. You can’t enjoy any of those things when you aren’t taking care of yourself.

Sometimes this means taking more naps, reducing your class hours, taking time off of work or even taking a break from school. All of those things will be there tomorrow; don’t be afraid to take care of you!

Step 5: Know your “why.”

During my last semester of school, I had a wonderful mentor for the grad school application process who told me to find my “why” — the reason I am there and the bigger purpose for my life. Knowing why you decided to go to school despite hardship, why you are pursuing a career while treating a chronic illness or what your goal is for your life will help you focus on what matters.

One of my “whys” is that I want to provide counseling to people with chronic illnesses such as Lyme. Without the list of conditions that I have been diagnosed with and the experiences I have had, I wouldn’t have had that specific purpose in my life. Know your “why” and don’t forget it.

Whatever your treatment, current stage of Lyme, types of diagnoses, college major or school of choice — you can do this! Wishing happy healing and a great semester.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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