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28 Hacks That Can Make Going to College With a Chronic Illness Easier

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Heading off to college can be a stressful and chaotic time on its own – but throw a chronic illness (or a few) into the mix and it becomes even trickier to manage all the demands of your day-to-day life. High stress levels or a lack of sleep can easily exacerbate your condition and lead to flare-ups, so it’s important to balance your schedule, plan ahead and make sure you have any accommodations you need to be successful.

To help you prepare for the upcoming semester, we asked our Mighty community to share their “hacks” for attending college with chronic illness. Regardless of whether you’re taking one course or a full schedule, attending classes on campus or doing them online, or even if you’re taking time off and aren’t able to attend college at all, that’s OK. Take your time, put your health and well-being first, and know you are a warrior.

Here’s what the community shared with us:

1. “Studying by distance makes it much easier. I can do all my studying online and watch lectures in bed on bad days. For the days when my pain or brain fog is bad I use a voice-to-text translator so I can get some work done.”

2. “Always make sure to do the disability packet/forms to notify your professors and housing if you live on campus. Trust me. And keep a copy handy to email to your professors every semester. Don’t assume you will be accommodated. You must be proactive and communicative about your needs.”

3. “Leave extra time getting to class. I am always early so that when I have to stop to use the restroom I have that time. [It] helps reduce my overall stress and if I end up with extra time before class I use it to review/prepare/do homework.”

4. “I used to always get ahead on my assignments for classes when I could because when a flare hit, I couldn’t get anything done.”

5. “Always have a sweater and fingerless gloves for freezing computer labs (Raynaud’s). Hand warmers in the winter, if need be.”

6. “I try to schedule my classes so I have breaks in between them if possible, so I can go rest if I’m having a rough day.”

7. “Meal planning at the beginning of the week is helpful so you get the right food and snacks and don’t have to fall back on cafeteria or vending machine food.”

8. “Talk to your professors right away. It’s so much better to let them know that something could possibly come up so they can work with you to not get overwhelmed if it does than to not say anything until you’re already in over your head and your health has taken a dive. Your professors actually do care and will want to work with you!”

9. “I use a rolling backpack, so the heavy textbooks aren’t dragging me down and taking energy. I also take the campus bus to class and back to my dorm to avoid walking long distances.”

10. “Heated blankets! Dorm rooms can be so picky with temperature and having to go outside to walk to classes can cause so much pain, but having a heated blanket in your bed can help so much!”

11. “Be up front with your roommates, professors and school staff! I was given extra time to get to and from classes, more time to complete assignments, options to take tests in a more comfortable environment, note takers and extra sick days. Be honest about what you need and advocate for yourself until those needs are met.”

12. “Get lots of sleep! No all-nighters for the chronically ill. It doesn’t matter if that paper is due tomorrow. It’s not worth it if it starts a pain cycle that lasts for weeks. Sleep is the best thing you can give your body! If you deprive your body from that rest you will pay for it.”

13. “Develop relationships with your professors. I can’t stress this one enough. Communicate when you’re struggling. Even if it’s just an email explaining why you’re missing class. Most professors are very understanding and want you to succeed.”

14. “Try and find a locker service so you able to store extra clothes, heat pack and other essentials.”

15. “Have spare med supplies. The medical offices on and often immediately around campus may not have what you need. So have extras just in case, and scope out where to get what you’ll need in an emergency before the start of the semester. I also had an emergency ‘note’ in the dorm for my roommates in case something happened. It had my conditions, doctors, meds and emergency contacts all in it. And I had an emergency app on my phone with all my medical info that was linked to call local EMS and send them everything.”

16. “Always make time for yourself. Do something you love so you mentally and physically get a break from stress.”

17. “When you’re not feeling well, it’s not always possible to get out for meals so I always kept a stash of quick and healthy options on hand. Sometimes I’d bring baggies or plastic containers to the dining hall and take my leftovers back to my dorm (make sure to check the college’s policies on this). Check out restaurants in your area that will deliver, too – many places offer discounts or will accept your meal plan as payment.”

18. “Don’t take too many classes, and only take classes when you know you can make it. Don’t assume you’ll get there at 8 a.m. or 7 p.m. consistently if that’s not something you can do normally.”

19. “Most important is learning how you learn best and creating a pattern or routine that works with that form of learning and studying, then balance it with relaxation and self-care so you have longevity.”

20. “I’d try to sit in the back of the classroom since I fidget and move a lot due to being uncomfortable and the pain. I did it so I wouldn’t be distracting to the other students. (Also easier to slip out to use the restroom as needed.)”

21. “Write down every assignment due date and every meeting in a planner. Helps so much when you have brain fog.”

22. “Learn about the rules and procedures for taking a medical leave of absence, in case you need it. Each time you meet with a professor to go over your disability paperwork, treat it as seriously as a job interview. If getting to class is a challenge – for whatever reason – reassure every professor at the beginning of the semester you mean no disrespect if you’re a few minutes late.”

23. “All of my tips/hacks involve planning ahead. The most important thing you can do for yourself is to be prepared. I keep a hospital go bag in my dorm room just in case I need to be transported. I always have snacks, extra pills and extra water bottles on me at all times. Make sure your RA or director of your dorm is aware of your illness in case of an emergency – you don’t want to have to start explaining things in the middle of a bad flare.”

24. “If you are temperature sensitive, find out ahead of time where your class will be and contact the disability office if it’s not air conditioned/heated. Ask to see the classroom ahead of time and work with your professor to pick a seat that is best for you (closest to the door if you need to leave, or in the back if you need to put your legs up).”

25. “Take all my difficult classes in the fall then easier and [fewer] classes in the spring because I know come the cold months I’ll be struggling and have more bad days than good.”

26. “Recording voice memo app on my phone. I can revisit lecture notes, due dates and other students’ questions.”

27. “Always take advantage of any disability services that are on campus. Join a disability group/club if there is one, so you have some friends who understand where you’re at and are supportive and non-judgmental. Tell your lecturers about your situation, and get extensions if and when you ever need them.”

28. “Be forgiving towards yourself. It can be really frustrating to find you are incapable of finishing tasks at the same rate as everybody else, and it’s difficult not to feel that by receiving accommodations your success is invalidated. Often I’d think, ‘If I need extra help here, how am I supposed to make it in the real world where there is no extra help?’ But college isn’t anything like the ‘real world.’ You are learning new things in an extremely condensed period, being evaluated nonstop and being measured up against your peers in quantifiable ways – three things which will magnify the small differences in peoples’ abilities. Remind yourself the help you get is in order to even out the playing field – not to give you an unjustifiably easier ride.”

Originally published: August 15, 2017
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