4 Tips for Starting College With a Chronic Illness

I started college at a major university several years ago and will graduate in December. Over the semesters, I had a lot of difficult times as I struggled to identify what health problems I faced, while also figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I can’t say I’ve figured everything out, but I have learned a few tips that have helped me get through school with chronic illness.

1. Take Care of Yourself

I have learned in college that if you are not well emotionally or physically, school is even harder than it would be normally. With chronic illness, being completely “well” is more of a dream than any reality, but there are steps you can take to improve your health and feel slightly better. For me, walking in the park and spending quiet time outside helped me refocus and decompress from the day. It’s not always easy to find time to get away, but the payoff for me was always worth it.

2. Know Your Limits

While in school, it became extremely obvious that if I did not get enough sleep, the next day I was not going to be able to do anything. I learned that I had to go to bed at a certain time to make sure I could be successful enough in school the next day. Sleep was one of my limits. It may take some trial and error to figure out what you can and can’t do, but once you know your symptoms better, you can work with them to be your very best.

3. Give Yourself Time

One of the most annoying symptoms I’ve had to deal with is brain fog. Trying to do anything when your brain feels like it’s decided to stop functioning is nearly impossible. If you have symptoms that make it hard to study and do homework, it’s important to allow more time to prepare for class. A lot of students tend to cram (which we shouldn’t do anyways) but doing that is dangerous. If you don’t give yourself time, you might end up the night before a major exam not being able to study because of your symptoms.

4. Forgive Yourself

Try not to be too hard on yourself when your illness makes it impossible to be a “normal” student. Honestly, I struggled for many months in school due to my symptoms before I even knew what was happening to me – and my performance in school reflected that. To keep moving forward, I’ve had to try to look back at my failures and try to forgive myself. It’s so easy to get trapped in thinking you can’t do anything when so many aspects of your life weigh on you.

College is not easy for anyone, but it can be especially difficult when you have chronic illness. During hard times, remember to “just keep swimming” and to keep moving forward until you reach the finish line.

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