20 August 2014

Wordful Wednesday//Going to College with a Chronic Illness (Do's and Don'ts)

college first year freshman

Thaaaat's me! My first year of college. I wish I still had that bod. But not that greasy hair. And not that lipring!
Can you believe my school's blacksmithing crew made that bench? Ahh, takes me back!

When I first started school--a year late, due to health problems--I was so nervous. Of course everyone's nervous, but my nerves were due to my illness and what I was going to do on my own. I bawled when my parents left that day. I wanted to fly from the nest, but it's so hard to do when you have a broken wing.

I did tough it out and I surprised myself along the way with how well I did--with grades and with how I changed as a person. However, going to college with a backpack of health problems is hard. That's why I'm here to try to help you birdies fly from the nest.
While I did end up medically withdrawing from college my last semester, and I'm still nursing my wounded wing, I do intend to finish what I started. I also want to help you by learning from my experiences and prevent you from making any of the mistakes that I made...

DO: If you're unable to walk long distances, either check to see if there's a service available to take you back and forth to classes (sometimes the public safety on campus will do this), or bring your car with you. If you are fortunate enough to have a car, get your doctor to sign for you a handicapped sticker. This will save you a lot of time searching for a parking space, and a lot of time walking.

DON'T: One of my biggest mistakes was that first of all, I picked a college that was nothing but hills. I couldn't complain much because, well, it was my dream school, but I was constantly out of breath and my body was frequently in pain. The college I went to also did not allow for freshmen to have cars on campus EXCEPT for people with disabilities. I didn't check for this exception and they told me only after I arrived on campus and had sold my car. Bummer! So make sure you check every mobility option BEFORE you arrive on campus.

food vegan
Food from my college's vegan cafeteria 
DO: If you don't think you'll make it to every meal because of how awful you're always feeling, you can ask an RA/RD to bring you back some food from the cafeteria--they should offer these services. Or, if your school operated like mine, you can have a friend use the flex points that comes with their meal plan for you. Later on, perhaps you can do the same for them. At the very least, scope out a few close restaurants that aren't too bad healthy and ask a friend to pick you up something.

DON'T: I was too shy to ask anyone for help with food. I also didn't want to feel like a burden. When I did eat at school, I ate extremely healthy because the college was very eco-friendly and self-sustaining. When I was feeling really rough and just didn't think I could make it across campus, what did I do? I would either call in a delivery for Papa John's or chow down on the microwavable yuck I stockpiled from Wal-Mart. This only added weight to me, upped my insulin, and increased my inflammation. Plus, knowing I had food in my dorm room prevented me from going to the cafeteria where I could have been socializing instead.

party friends college
You'll never find me!
DO: With socialization, you really do need to try to get out when you can. Trust me, that doesn't necessarily mean partying or running around playing extreme frisbee, exerting yourself to no end (been there, done that). Instead, find a like-minded group interested in a tame hobby and work on meeting regularly to knit, have a silent circle of drawing mandalas, or even just to watch movies!

DON'T: While I was friendly with many people, I didn't go to a lot of cool offerings at my school (I mean things like "Let's Make Hula Hoops" or "Learn to Craft Soap") because I didn't think I had enough expertise or I would imagine myself as the outcast. First of all, there's always going to be a beginner--or beginners, more likely--and most clubs or meetings are prepared for this and willing to teach you! Also, if you have the mindset that you're going to be ostracized, you're already setting yourself up for a bad experience. Try not to make excuses to get yourself out of an event that you kinda maybe want to go to; you might be taking away the opportunity to make a new friend!

My final words of advice:

  • Subscribe to Netflix. It's a great escape.
  • Get your own printer. You're not always going to be able to rely on the library.
  • Try try try to go to classes, even if you have to walk out in the middle of them.
  • Know your accommodations! Immediately speak with whoever is in charge of disabilities and accommodations on campus. Even try to talk to them before you arrive--be aware of what you need and if your requests can be met. I was able to request being able to wear sunglasses in the classroom, extra time needed for assignments, and a medical single dorm room (as well as other needs). 
  • Try not to pick up any nasty habits. Smoking is a big one. And I was a failure on that part. Even drinking too much coffee can be harsh on your body. Try to stay nourished and hydrated. Buy a reusable water bottle--it's well-worth it. My favorite are these bottles from Nathan. 
  • Buy a really organized medicine holder. I had a pretty small one in college (big mistake). I recently bought this one and have been in love ever since. 

Have fun! Be yourself! Don't quit just because you had one bad day.

You can do this!

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