Dear Chronically Ill College Student: I See You


Dear chronically ill college student,

Hi, it’s me – a chronically ill college graduate out in the world.

I want you to know I see you. You’re working so very hard to manage your illness, take care of yourself, go to class, do your assignments and have a college social life. It’s hard. I get it. And, I want to validate that. I know at times it may be frustrating to balance everything – to explain to your professors and peers you need help when you don’t “look sick.”

 

When I was in my sophomore year of college, I found myself spending fall break in Cedars-Sinai hospital. In the weeks prior, my Crohn’s had begun to flare badly. I chugged down gatorade instead of going to meals, I attempted to sleep instead of studying and I shuffled to class in my yoga pants and a ratty t-shirt. Not only was I struggling to get to class and do well, but I also felt like I was struggling to take care of myself – I could not figure out how to do it all. Thankfully, I had an administration that supported me and parents who came out to school to help me get healthy. And, even though I managed to finish the semester and graduate, there were parts of being sick while trying to do school that felt so defeating.

woman holding her college diploma

So, I get it. And, when you need a little extra encouragement, here are a few things to keep you going:

– Always remember that you know yourself better than anyone else knows you. Listen to your body and do what you need to do to take care of it. Even if that means asking for help.

– There are people who want to help you. Believe it or not, professors and deans want you to succeed. You’re there to learn and to do well. They may not always be familiar with your illness or the kinds of accommodations you need. So, find someone in your corner who can advocate for you. This could be a professor, a dean or even a friend. You are already working hard to take care of yourself and do your required schoolwork. Find someone will go to bat for you and let them do it. There are tools like note takers, extended testing and late assignments that are there for you to use. Find out what’s available and take advantage of them. And, know that using them is not a reflection of your self-awareness; it does not make you “weak.”

– Not succeeding the first time doesn’t make you a failure. The academic system was built for able-bodied people. The majority of students who are in school are not also managing a chronic illness. If it feels like it is difficult to do it all, that’s because it is. So, if you don’t do well on a test, know I validate how and why it was hard for you. And, if you need to take some time off from school to manage your health, know I think that is one of the bravest decisions you can ever possibly make. Everyone’s path is different. Don’t let yourself think that just because yours is not traditional doesn’t mean it is anything shy of amazing.

– Know you are doing the best you can. You are working hard – even if that means taking a nap. Your time management skills are better than most other students’,  simply because you have more to take care of and less time to get it all done. I want you to know I validate what working hard means for you, because taking care of your body is some of the most important work you could possibly do.

woman in her cap and gown after college graduation

– Going through college is hard. Going through college with a chronic illness is even harder. I see your pain and I validate your struggle. Know as your health needs change you will continue to learn how to take care of your body. Quite often, college is the first time chronically ill folks are out on their own to manage their care. It’s always a learning process and it’s a challenge.

You are doing the best you can and I believe in you.

Be strong and brave out there.

Sincerely,

A chronically ill college graduate

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