How to deal with a chronic illness at university

Adjusting to student life can be difficult, but if you have a chronic illness then it may seem impossible. There’s no denying it will be hard and at times, and uni life will test you, but there are things you can do to make university more achievable when living with a chronic illness.

  1. Be honest with your roommates

This may feel hard if you have just started university and don’t really know anyone yet, but telling the people around you what you’re going through will help your new roomies understand that you might not want or be able to keep up with them at fresher’s week. If people don’t understand, that is their problem! Your chronic illness should not be kept as a shameful secret, so opening up can lift a huge weight off your shoulders.

  1. Speak to student services

There are teams in every university dedicated to dealing with your pastoral care and needs, so speaking to these people can only help you with your studies. They can speak to your lecturers and will understand if your attendance is slacking at times. Also, you could be eligible for (life-saving) deadline extensions, Disabled Student’s Allowance and probably a printer: don’t ask me why, I don’t know.

  1. Learn when to say no

You know your own body and your own illness; if you aren’t well enough to do something, it is important you give yourself that break. It can be disappointing to miss something or have to let someone down, but you need to put yourself and your health first if you want a chance at surviving the rest of university. If you don’t want to go on the crazy mid-week nights out, ask if people would like to do something you know you can do, like a movie night in your PJs with pizza and ice cream.

  1. Embrace the good days and prepare for the bad

Some days will be better than others, so make sure you make the most of your good days. Stock your cupboards with easy-to-make food, do what work you can and spend time with friends whilst you feel like it. This will eliminate stress and guilt when you have a flare-up or need a duvet day.

  1. Don’t feel embarrassed or isolate yourself

There will be people who understand you and your illness, even if they aren’t the first people you meet. You might not be able to go out until 5am and rock up your lectures at 9am, but you can meet people other ways, like joining a society. Don’t be ashamed to say you need a break: if you need a nap at 3pm, get yourself to bed. If people judge you and your illness on your bad days then they don’t deserve your good days.

  1. Prioritise

Being chronically ill means you can’t always do everything. Prioritise and pick what is most important to do first. This doesn’t always have to be uni work, and remember it’s important to have a social life too. If you know you have a night out planned, then rest up through the day. You will unfortunately not be able to do the all the same things as others at uni, but don’t let your illness stop you from doing anything. Using weekly planners can help to stay on track, but make sure to set achievable goals so you aren’t disheartened if you don’t manage to do everything.

The point is, don’t let your chronic illness rule your life or ruin your uni experience. You are so much more than your illness and it won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Now go and get it.

Molly Deakin

Art by Jess Brown

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