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6 Tips for Being a College Student With Lupus

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I feel really lucky that four months after my diagnosis I was able to begin my Masters degree in a foreign country – not everyone gets that pleasure. Often lupus forces people to quit school or university, with hopes of maybe returning when things are a little better.

I, however, really didn’t want to put my life on hold when everyone around me was able to carry on with their lives. Luckily both the doctors and my parents decided to do their best to support my decision. But to gain my degree, and not end up in the hospital having a flare-up again or be forced to drop out due to lupus, I knew I had to be extra careful. And there are a few simple ways I managed this.

1. Time management is key.

With university comes deadlines – multiple deadlines. And with students comes the infamous procrastination. Many find that they work best close to the deadline – the pressure they feel makes them excel. But if you have lupus, this can be a really bad idea. Stress is one of the main triggers for a flare-up (and who likes to be stressed anyway?). So make sure you write assignments with enough time to relax about them, and go over them to edit. Always plan ahead.

A few friends have thought me weird for always getting work done way in advance – but honestly I’ve always been one to keep on top of work, and knowing it will benefit my health gives me even more incentive. Not to mention it was when I was first being tested for lupus that I needed to finish my final undergrad assignments and dissertation – if I had left all that to the last minute I would have submitted late and possibly submitted average work due to the stress of hospital visits. Something best to avoid!

2. Limit nights out.

And with student life comes amazing night life. However, the heavy drinking and late nights can take a toll on even the healthiest body. So although it can be hard to say no, especially at first when you don’t want to say no to new friends, it is better to save your energy for the more important social events. After a particular heavy weekend I started getting chest pains like pericarditis again, so lesson learned – the tequila shots aren’t worth it. You can still have fun, whether it’s sober fun or ending the night with chicken nuggets at 4:00 a.m. fun, just make sure you don’t let it become your life. Friends will understand, even if you say it’s just to save money.

3. Prep food at home.

A healthy diet is one of the best ways to look after yourself. I aim to have a diet high in vegetables, protein from oily fish and legumes, iron rich leafy greens, fruit and a little bit of dairy. My snacks I try to keep as low in salt as possible, and I limit my chocolate intake. I also avoided buying lunch from the university cafeteria. It wasn’t the most appetizing, which helped, but I could predict it was high in salt and low in nutrition.

It’s better to learn to make easy salads and pastas, with quinoa and couscous, at home to take to classes. And always have easy but healthy go-to meals, such as beans on toast or scrambled eggs on toast (I do like toast) for when you’re super tired but need to get something to eat at home. Stay away from ready meals.

4. Keep in touch.

Friends and family, wherever they are, want to know you’re doing OK. They can help keep an eye on you, but also they can be there to talk to and complain to, because they know what you’re going through. Touching base is always healthy from time to time, especially if uni work and health issues can become overwhelming.

5. Let your tutor know.

Always let your university know if you have an illness that affects your daily life. Some unis offer perks, like free printer credit or something. But it’s also important to let the university staff who are a main point of contact know you have an illness that can flare-up and interrupt your studies. If you need to push back deadlines, it’s best to let them know in advance this could happen just so you know the protocol, and they know it’s not coming out of just not getting your work done on time.

I once missed a day of classes when my medication made me ill and I had spent the night before with my head in the toilet (lovely mental image). I only found out towards the end of the semester that one class I missed was in fact a graded seminar. My professor was only willing to give me a 0 for that grade with a doctor’s note, something I found unfair. So I contacted my personal tutor who spoke to head of studies, who argued my case and got my grade changed. I think it helped I had told both these tutors at the start of the year that I had lupus and it may affect my attendance/grades, so it didn’t come out of the blue, as though I was trying to play the ill card to fix a bad grade. With chronic illness you have to be prepared for its unpredictability, and let others be prepared too.

6. Let your friends know.

I didn’t do this right away – I wanted people to get to know me first before finding out I spend a lot of time with doctors and have a rather delicate body. But when I did tell them they were 100 percent supportive, and it felt like a relief that I didn’t have to feel shady about rushing off to appointments after class anymore. It’s such a huge part of your life, sadly, so it’s good to let the people you see the most know what’s going on. People want to help, and just knowing they understand helps you get through the difficulties lupus throws at you.

With good support and a little bit of common sense, if your body is doing OK, it should be possible to throw yourself into your studies and also have an amazing experience – like every student deserves.

Thinkstock photo via Jacob Ammentorp Lund.

Originally published: July 18, 2017
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