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10 Ways to Adjust to Student Life If You Live With an Illness

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Adjusting to student life can be hard for anyone. Dealing with chronic illnesses while living away from home for the first time only adds to the challenge. But there are things you can do to make the transition easier. It may take a little bit longer to get in the swing of things, but you can still have an amazing time at university with a chronic illness (or three)!

1. If you live in the United Kingdom, apply for disabled students allowance (DSA).

DSA can help cover some of the extra costs you have because of your illness or disability. It does mean filling out more forms but it’s definitely worth it. For me, being diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (hEDS), I got help with transport costs and specialist equipment/software. The recording device I was given definitely came in handy for those brain fog days! But even if you don’t get one of these, there’s nothing stopping you from recording lectures on your phone.

2. Get in touch with the university’s disability service.

You will be able to meet with a university disability advisor and talk through any extra support you may need. The advisor will then be able to pass this information on to any other university staff that may need to know. Extra support can be anything from extra time in exams to having your own disability support mentor.

3. Make use of the disability resource area, if your university library offers one.

The disability resource area in your university library can offer a quieter, easily accessible study environment with specialist equipment and services. I didn’t even know about this until my second year at uni and I wish I had known sooner, especially since the main library gets so busy around exam time!

4. Research good doctors or medical centers in the area.

When you go to university away from home, you may need to register with a new general practitioner (GP). As I had a good GP at home, it never even crossed my mind that I might need to do a bit of research to find a good one at university. Let’s just say that the first GP I registered with at university wasn’t exactly in the loop when it came to chronic invisible illnesses. There aren’t a ton of reviews of medical centers online. but if you do a quick Google search, you should find a few that can give you a rough idea. However, it may well just be a case of trial and error!

5. Speak to accommodation services.

If you’re going to be living in halls, let them know about your disability and any additional requirements you may need. For instance, some of my medicine needed to be kept in the fridge so accommodation services put a mini fridge in my room at no extra cost! This was great because mornings are my worst time for symptoms and it meant I didn’t have to go trekking to the kitchen to get my medicine.

6. Get some kitchen equipment just for your room.

As well as my mini fridge, I had a toaster and kettle in my room. I actually hadn’t planned to have these in there but it turned out that all six of us had brought all the same kitchen supplies and what kitchen needs six of everything? It worked out really well because on days and mornings when I felt too ill to face other, o when the kitchen was just too messy, I could just make myself a hot drink and toast in my room. Winning!

7. Stock up on easy-to-make food.

Some days will be better than others. Try to prepare for the bad days by stocking up on easy-to-make food and snacks (and loads of salt if you’re a potsie like me). You could even meal prep for the week when you’re having a good day. This will eliminate stress if you do have a flare-up.

8. Tell your flatmates about your illness.

It can be daunting telling virtual strangers about your illness but it shouldn’t be kept a secret. Telling them will take a huge weight off your shoulders and will help your flatmates understand why you may not always be able to do everything that they’re doing. This is especially true for those of us with invisible illnesses.

If you don’t drink because of your illness, fresher’s week can be more difficult. But this doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time! Most people were very understanding when I told them why I wasn’t drinking or keeping up with all the activities. And anyone that didn’t make an effort to understand, well, at least I knew who not to waste my spoons on!

9. Join societies or volunteer.

There are so many activities and clubs you can be involved in at university, where you can meet likeminded people. Go out and try as many as you can when you’re feeling up to it. (I found that they were very accommodating of my health issues.) With sports teams, you don’t have to worry about the pressure and commitment of university competitions or matches. You can always opt just to go to training and then there is no pressure if you’re feeling too unwell to attend.

10. Tell your tutor.

The university disability services should have sent your tutors information on your medical conditions. In an ideal world, your tutor will have read through that information very carefully. Realistically, tutors are busy at the start of term and may not have even seen the email. Go and introduce yourself to them and make them aware of your circumstances. Even if they are already aware of the situation, this will help them put a face to a name. Building a good relationship with your tutors is especially important when you have a chronic illness, as you may need extra support from them.

“University was the best experience of my life.” So many people had told me this before I started university. To be honest, there were times, when I first started and when I had to withdraw for six months as I was too ill, that I didn’t understand what these people meant. As it turns out, they were right. You just have to take each day as it comes and when things get tough, just remember how far you’ve come already.

Originally published: September 14, 2018
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