Now this isn’t the post I originally planned for today… I was originally going to be sharing my story. However, after a tough week last week I decided to share this instead: living with a chronic illness at university. I feel like it’s something that is very relevant in my life right now, and I want people to know that they CAN go through university regardless of illness. Today, I will be sharing some of the hardships those with chronic conditions go through at university, and some of the ways that can help you achieve your goal!
University is hard, especially when it gets to deadline and exam time, not to mention third year, but it can be even harder for those living with chronic illness. The biggest issue is the unpredictability of these illnesses. You never know when a flare-up is around the corner, how bad it’s going to be, how it’s going to affect your ability to get into uni and to do your work or how long it might last.
This unpredictability can make it hard for us to get the right support from the disability offices at our universities. Because these offices deal with a wide range of conditions difficulties, from mental illness to dyslexia to wheelchair users, those with unpredictable and invisible illnesses can often be left at the bottom of the pile because we go through periods where we may not require help or support to periods where we need all the help we can get. Missing classes, a lack of concentration and struggling to achieve deadlines can be a common occurrence in chronic illness patients and this is often misinterpreted by lecturers and tutors for laziness or put down to “being a typical student”. Nope, it’s because we don’t know what’s around the corner.
If you ask people about what their perception of university is and the perception of student experiences, most people who haven’t been to university will say that it’s just an expensive excuse to go out all the time. Of course, those who do go to university know that there’s a lot more to it than this, but yes they do go out a lot. For those with chronic illness it can be a whole different experience, full of early nights and chilled night with friends where nights out are a rare occurrence (I only go out once every couple of months). Why? Because going out means having to schedule a recovery day the day after, or else miss a day, or few of uni.
If you ask any student about their timetable, they’ll probably laugh at you. While some will think it’s great that they’re in so little, others wonder where their money is going and the rest probably despise the lack of routine. As a student with a chronic illness, I definitely relate to the latter most. Routine can be quite important for those with chronic illness, it can really help them a lot but with classes here, there and everywhere it can be easily disrupted and lead to flare-ups and rest days.
So what can you do, to try and overcome some of these problems?
- DSA Support – In the UK, Student Finance have a department called Disability Students Allowance, which provides students with support mechanisms to help you get through uni. You will attend a needs assessment to determine what level of help you need and then they will provide you with a range of equipment, software and ergonomics that will benefit you.
- Contact your disability/support office at your university – make sure the staff know about your condition and how it can affect you. By doing this, they can put a Learning Support Plan (LSP) into place, which can include such things as deadline extensions and exam allowances. This LSP will then be sent to your tutors (with your permission) so they know your situation.
- Pace yourself – prioritise and schedule all the work that you need to do and the classes you need to attend. Don’t overdo it, because we all know what effect that can have!
- Routine – although the uni timetable doesn’t allow for a routine, create your own.
- ASK FOR HELP
There we have it, a few things to help a chronic illness student. Of course, they won’t work for everybody but it can be worth a try and, remember, I’m always here for a chat. As a third year student, I’ve been through it all!