Balancing university with a chronic illness
Hi everyone, my name is Beth, I’m 22 years old and I study social work at university. I love spending time with my family, partner and my dogs. To unwind I like to watch TV and play games on my Xbox! I have an invisible disability whichconsists of chronic pain in my back which travels into different joints in my body. This is something I have had for 11 years now.
The unpredictable nature of my chronic condition has made balancing university with my health challenging at times. Here are some of my experiences and important balancing tips when walking the tightrope of higher education with a disability:
I already knew of my needs when I applied to university which really helped. When choosing the place right for me I looked at my universities disability services, spoke to course leads and looked on student forums to try and know what to expect. University websites provide a lot of information and can signpost you to the right places. This helped me feel prepared about starting on my journey. Being informed also helps me every day when I am at university because when faced with a new challenge I know who to talk to and what further help is available.
Without support, university would have been very difficult for me. Every time I attend university this support is used. I access things like Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) which has provided me with ergonomic equipment and applications on my laptop. This helps me sit at my desk and write an essay; multiple deadlines can be a killer for chronic pain! Disability services have provided me with extra time in exams and the use of a laptop. A big help for me is my Mentor who I visit every week and helps me balance my stress levels, pain and workload. Furthermore, I always make sure I am honest with my friends, loved ones and lecturers,because that way they can help me even more; I’d be at a loss without them.
Take a break
When it comes to writing my essays or sitting in lecturers, I’ve found it important to take breaks even if I’m not in a vast amount of pain. This prevents my pain getting worse and a rest helps me feel a lot clearer and more prepared for whatever is next! Moving around after sitting down for a while stops any stiffness developing and most universities won’t have a problem with you doing this, especially if it’s part of your care plan.
Know your limits
This is such a big one for me and something I’ve always struggled with. I’ve learnt that pushing myself too much will cause me to have a flare up, this can be things like having multiple meetings and/or lectures in one day AND then doing work at home. This can be too much. Acquiring a positive work/life balance is even more important if you have a disability, it’s giving yourself time to take a break and build up your strength. To do this I plan my week and make sure I have days dedicated to myself, to do things I enjoy. I also chose to live at home and commute because it suits me best, even though many universities offer fantastic support when you choose to live on campus.
I am at university to better my education, but you can guarantee that your life experience will also educate others. I believe it to be my responsibility to talk about my condition and to help others understand more about chronic and invisible illnesses. The hardest thing I’ve faced at university is the lack of understanding that surrounds some types of disabilities and for example; sometimes feeling judged for using a disabled toilet. Although these are very rare occasions,I believe talking is the best way to combat it. It’s also our responsibility to disclose our medical conditions because that way we can get the best support; this discussion benefits all involved and spreads awareness alongside it.
University is an amazing and worthwhile step to take in your life, and disability should not affect this. It’s not always a piece of cake, whether it be deadlines or a sudden flare up but with the right amount of rest and recuperation; I always pull through!
If you want to go into higher education and think to yourself “It’ll be impossible for me to manage; from medication to exams to socialising…” Don’t believe that for one second,TALK to universities, TALK to your doctors and TALK to your family/friends. With the right amount of support, you can do anything you put your mind to, disability should NEVER be a barrier.