The truth about dealing with a Chronic Illness at University

Endometriosis Photo credit: Ben W via Flickr

By Sarah Harris

Living with a chronic illness can be isolating and difficult when you’re a University Student. It’s very rare to meet people who are in the same boat as you and most people crave for nothing more than to just have someone who understands what they’re going through. When I was diagnosed with my chronic illness, Endometriosis, I had no idea what a huge impact it would have on my life.

I spend most of my time planning my life around doctors’ appointments and waiting to get letters from the hospital about my next surgery. On top of that, I struggle to walk to my local Tesco’s on most days, let alone make it to a full day of lectures, due to crippling pain. Without the help of online support groups and an amazing bunch of friends (and of course my mum and dad), I don’t think I would be able to cope with the mental and physical impact my illness has had on my life.

Of course, we could consider ourselves lucky and be thankful that we live in an age with such advanced healthcare opportunities, but it still doesn’t make what we’re going through easy. However, it’s important to make sure you don’t let your illness take over your life. University is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people, and it’s essential to make sure that you spend your time at University having fun (and studying hard, of course).

It’s always better to make sure you speak to the University about your condition. It can sometimes be awkward and tricky to navigate around, but your Personal Tutor will make sure you get the support you need and help you figure out how to make sure you perform to the best of your academic capability.

If you can’t make it to your lectures or seminars, make sure you email your professors beforehand. They won’t be annoyed at the fact that you’re missing several lectures in a row but will instead help in any way they can, like recording lectures for you. I was scheduled to have a pretty major operation in the middle of the academic year and emailing my lecturers about it beforehand meant that I had time to sit with each of them to discuss what work I was going to miss and what readings it was important for me to go through whilst I recovered.

It’s also useful to tell your housemates and friends what you’re going through. My illness meant that I wasn’t able to go out as much and my friends understood that rather than thinking I was just being antisocial. Instead we found fun stuff to do like film nights, which allowed me to stay home and rest if I was in pain, whilst still spending time with them. Another plus side was that I always had someone around to fetch me a hot water bottle or painkillers when I wasn’t up to it.

Even if you don’t meet anyone at University who suffers from the same chronic illness as you, there’s bound to be an online support group specific to your region and wider ones featuring people from all over the world. Although I had no friends at University or back home who were going through the same thing, I was able to meet people from Cardiff and my hometown on Facebook and it was really reassuring to speak to people who knew how it felt.

You’ve also probably heard this from numerous doctors, but it’s true when people say that making significant lifestyle changes can help reduce the symptoms of your illness. Just small changes, such as cutting out greasy or dairy food from my diet, made a huge impact on my pain. Sadly, it did mean having to sit out of pizza night but it was worth it to have a pain free day.

It’s not only difficult but also really lonely when you’re suffering from a chronic illness. University is supposed to be the most enjoyable experience of your life, but unfortunately for most sufferers of chronic illnesses, the quality of life can seriously decrease. However, there are small things you can do to make the process a little more bearable.

If you are struggling hugely however, make sure you speak to both your GP and the University. Your health is a lot more important than your education!

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