Going to university is daunting for everyone but even more so for those of us with chronic illnesses. Your mind is no doubt filled with what if’s and worst case scenarios but trust me, as someone who survived their first year of university (most of which I had quite a bad flare up) with a chronic illness, it is possible.
However, there are quite a few things I learnt along the way in dealing with my illness and some things which actually really helped me so I thought I’d share these tips with you!
1. Get in touch with your university’s disability service
I know, you probably don’t even associate yourself with having a disability…I know I rarely associated my ulcerative colitis with having a disability but by saying you do, you can receive a lot of much needed help. The disability service (it may be called learner development or student support…at my uni, it comes under all three!) you can meet with someone who will help make a personal learning programme. Your PLP will contain pretty much everything you’ll need at uni and it can set your mind at rest too. It really helped me when it came to exams. Not only did it help me get special circumstances when I was in hospital and not able to sit them, when I finally did take my exams I was in a smaller room, was able to take rest breaks and could take food and water into the exam if I needed to.
2. Apply for Disabled Students Allowance
When I applied to uni, I applied for DSA on a whim…I really didn’t think that I’d get anything but what’s the harm in trying! In fact, it was really worth my time applying and going to the needs assessment because I managed to get a printer (and ink and paper) and I get the difference between en-suite and non-ensuite paid for too. Whatever your chronic illness may be, have a go! They can supply special chairs, travel expenses, computers, reading equipment…everything! So I really urge you to go and apply.
3. Listen to your body
This goes for everyone at uni. In fresher’s, I went out every night and I drank (not a lot, but more than I normally would). I didn’t get drunk but the alcohol and fizzy drinks caused me to flare more and exhaustion got to me. I felt pretty dreadful. In one case, I thought I’d got a stomach ulcer from drinking with my tables which I never normally do but for once, I wanted to feel like a “normal” teenager/fresher. I ended up at the walk in health centre panicking and feeling pretty stupid. I hadn’t given myself a stomach ulcer but I’d just caused myself to flare even more. I didn’t drink from that day on! (fact.) But the moral from the story was that I started listening to my body and not going on mad nights out too much (or night out in general) because I found them exhausting. I was lucky that I had a good group of friends who understood and there was plenty of other things for us to do (in the day time!) and we still had a great time, probably better! (I know I did)
4. Figure out where your nearest pharmacy is and take your prescription there ASAP
I stayed with my local doctors when I went to uni instead of changing to a Manchester based one purely because it would probably mess up all my hospital appointments and everything! So I wasn’t worrying about prescriptions though, I took my prescription down with me and took it to the nearest boots and then picked it up like normal. It was about 100 times easier than linking my trips home (which incidentally turned out to be nearly every weekend in the last few months!) with picking up my prescription.
Side note. remember to take the green slip with you or you’ll find yourself texting/ringing your mum in panic to find it at home and scan it to you
5. Speak to your doctors/specialist nurse before you go
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a great relationship with your doctor because of the amount of times you go. Because of this, I didn’t feel too weird asking for an appointment to see her before I went to uni just so I could get some help/advise for setting up prescriptions and signing up to doctors and what not. This year, I probably won’t go to my doctors but I will go and see my stoma nurses (who I have an equally good relationship with) and get some help of them and get them to help me get in touch with the Manchester stomas nurses. Whichever medical professional you have the best relationship with, try and have a chat with them because it could put your mind at rest)
Last, but certainly not least, have fun! Yes, you may have an illness which makes life harder for you but don’t let it win by stopping you from doing things. Make the most out of your time at uni, have fun and make great friends!
If you’ve got any tips, let me know in the comments below!