Coping with a Chronic Condition through College
Updated: Nov 15, 2020
PHHS '18, Seton Hall University '22
Transitioning from high school to college is stressful enough but throw a chronic condition or disability into all the chaos and starting a new school becomes quite intimidating. The inevitable stress and lack of sleep are sure causes of exacerbations and flare-ups; however, you can still enjoy your college experience as everyone else.
Just because everything is about to change, it does not mean your foremost priority should: your health comes first, always. If you are not well physically or mentally, it will not translate academically or socially.
Your condition does not define you, but you must own it. Advocating for yourself is essential as it is the only way you will be able to take advantage of the services you have and deserve. People want to help, but unless you ask for it, you won’t get any. I know facing and sharing the reality of a chronic condition can be scary, especially with all the negative stigma surrounding it, but you legally have the rights to the accommodations that best fit your needs in order to get the most of your college experience.
I encourage you to take some time out this summer, before the semester starts, to get in contact with your school’s disability support services to see what they can offer you to help you perform your best and enjoy your experience. It also helps to visit professors during office hours at the beginning of the semester to educate and communicate what you believe is important they know, so they can help you as well. Even if you think it is not necessary or they won’t be able to help you, still give it a shot. You won’t know until you try, even if you lack a diagnosis. By no means do you have to tell everyone about your condition or everything about it, but it helps to share what you are comfortable with in order to receive the services and accommodations you deserve.
It is also essential you communicate with yourself and your medical team. Establish a game plan by defining your limits and boundaries for good and bad days. Creating and following a schedule that works best for you and your body’s needs allows you to avoid overworking yourself. This means making sure to take frequent breaks, as needed; eating regularly throughout the day; getting lots of sleep; taking time out for yourself and your mental health; exercising to the extent by which you can, if you can; etc. It is easy to get caught up in all the excitement, but neither you nor I want an emergency or a flare-up. You know your body best, so it’s important to create a manageable load that won’t burden your illness.
Unfortunately, things won’t always go as planned, and it’s okay. It may get frustrating, but be patient with yourself and your body. You will get through it and come out stronger, but to ease the anxiety and stress, it definitely helps to have an emergency plan in place as well as people you can count on to help you get through it whether that be your family or friends or roommate. This means having spare medical supplies as well as doctors in the area that you can visit when needed.
There is no doubt that we live for the good or better days, always putting a smile on our face when our health is manageable, but still, don’t overwork yourself even on these days. It is okay if you can’t do everything or even as much as everyone else. Your journey, your story, your life is different. Harder said than done but it is okay to say “no”, and sometimes, it is important that you say “no”.
College is challenging, and coping with a chronic condition or disability makes it more difficult; inevitably, that means, you will have to work harder than most people. Learning what works for you and your health is an overwhelming process, but remember, you are not alone. There are so many people who love and care for you, and I will also always just be an email away! Yet still, you will make mistakes and forget to prioritize your health at times. We all do, and it’s okay. Forgive yourself. Despite the challenges you’ll face, these next few years will be truly unforgettable! Enjoy them because you deserve to!