Helpful Hints

College and Chronic Illness

I can’t believe I’m talking about Fall. It seems like just yesterday that I was writing about the first signs of Summer. Now, it’s time to go back to school. I see posts all the time asking how to navigate college with chronic illness. Here I’m going to lay out how I manage school with POTs and my other illnesses.

  • Register with Disability Services

This is always the first step and it will save you if trouble arises. Every school that is public will have some version of a Disability Resource Center. When I came to the University of Minnesota, I contacted them right away. The waiting list was long for me. Eventually I got an appointment. I sat down with someone and explained my circumstances. I came prepared with doctor’s notes that confirmed diagnoses. Then we came up with a list of accommodations that would work for me.

  • Talk to Your Teachers

I learned this early on. Tell your teachers what you’re dealing with at the start of the semester. If you wait, it will be more difficult to get in touch. Last Fall, I ended up being hospitalized twice. I hadn’t spoken with my professors. Trying to communicate while I was in and out of appointments was really challenging. I had to medically withdraw from the semesters because I wasn’t prepared for the worst case scenario. Long story short, have the conversation right away.

  • Prepare Your Bag

I always have liquid IV or Gatorade in my bag. I carry two water bottles and a lot of snacks. I have my medication bag, along with emergency medications. I try to prepare for any possible situation. It’s not always possible but it makes life easier. I try not to make my bag too heavy but it’s a balance. Think of what you need in extreme medical situations and then pack that.

  • Don’t Procrastinate

I learned this the hard way. I was a huge procrastinator. I would wait until the last minute and then have a flare. If you consistently turn things in at the last minute, you’re more likely to get push back on needing more time. If you can prove that you are usually on time or early, I have had no issue when I need extra time for a medical reason. Push through the procrastination! You can do it.

  • Take Care of Your Mental Health

School can be challenging for anyone but especially with chronic illness. There are a lot of ups and downs. Making friends may look different. You may have a harder time adjusting. That’s normal. Don’t deal with it alone. Reach out to your schools counselling service. Again, most public schools have them. Even if you don’t anticipate needing them, set up an appointment. Introduce yourself and find someone you like. That way if something goes wrong, you already have someone from the school in your corner. It’s normal to have trouble but you don’t have to struggle alone.

I hope that you found at least one of these tips helpful. School looked completely different with chronic illness for me. My first year with chronic illness, I muddled through school. I struggled daily. I got through one semester and then had to fly home. Don’t push yourself too hard. Give yourself breathing room. Use the resources they give you. It’s okay to ask for help. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to perform like everyone else.

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