University can be hard to navigate for anyone, but especially those who have some kind of disability or illness that makes day to day activities harder. I started my university education in a joint program with two institutions. This program allowed for a mix of art from one university and architecture from the other. This is a 5-year program that allows me to receive 3 degrees in the end. This past spring, I received a Bachelor of Arts with Distinction from the first University. This fall I am entering into my 4th year of architecture school and plan on graduating with my Bachelors this upcoming Spring, From there I want to finish my Masters of Architecture.
I have decided that I want to share my tips and tricks on how to navigate university when living with a chronic illness because despite the odds being against me, I have succeeded. I was in tremendous pain last school year because of the narrowing in my intestines and constant stomach distention. However, I still managed to succeed and not let my disease take away my passion. I owe my success to my hard work and the following tips and tricks.
1. Sign Up For Disability Services
2. Open Communication with Professors
3. Plan Ahead & Stay Organized
University can be very busy and a lot to handle. That is why it is critical to plan ahead and stay organized. You may like to organize your life in a digital calendar like Google Calendar, or you may like to use a written diary. Whichever it is, you should try to Calendar block your time. What this means is that you will be blocking out a specific amount of time for each task in your day. Try to do this, rather than creating a To-Do List and you will be amazed how much more you will get done.
Here is just a fake sample week that I created to demonstrate how easy it is to block out your time to be more productive.
Another tip on staying organized is to print out a printable calendar for each month in your semester (September – December), and use it for important dates for your classes only. This helps to keep school all on one calendar. I personally use a different color pen for each of my classes and write this all out when I get my syllabuses in the beginning of the semester. This helps me to see all my deadlines at a glance and helps me to know when I will be very busy so that I can plan accordingly.
4. Organize Your Medications in Your New City (If Applicable)
If you are moving away for school you may need to think about moving your prescriptions to a new pharmacy on/near campus. This is also applicable for anyone that is also on a biologic. Contact your biologic coordinator in advance to help move your infusions closer to your new town/city for school. These are often things that can be over looked, but are very important to coordinate well in advance.
5. Remember that Your Health Should Be Your #1 Priority Always
It is easy to slip into school mode and the hustle that comes with it. However, it is important to remember that although school may seem like a very important and huge part of your life right now, it is not everything. It is important to know when you are overly stressed or when you need to take break from school in order to keep your health in check. Because in the end your health should be your #1 priority. If this means that you have to take a semester off, so be it. If this means that school will take you an extra year because you can only handle part time, that is okay. Although I never had to differ a year of school, the thought definitely crossed my mind. Just remember that it is okay to take things slower than others, and although it may seem like the most annoying and hardest decision, one year of extra school is no time at all in hind sight.
6. Always Have Things On Hand to Manage Pain
Prior to having surgery I experienced very bad bloating, stomach distention, and muscle pain from the narrowing that I had in my intestines. This caused me a great deal of pain that became very hard to manage. However, I did bring certain things to school with me in order to help ease the pain. One thing I always had on hand was, peppermint oil, this was amazing at numbing the pain. The second was gas-x, which helped to alleviated some of the discomfort on some days. Thirdly, I carried a heating pack in my car with me so that I could plug it in on my commute to and from school. I wrote a whole post on my pain essentials, if you want to know more. However, my point with this tip is to always carry some little comforts that can make you feel better and help ease any pain you could experience.
7. Prioritize Self Care
As I said before, your health should be your #1 priority, always. So, taking some self care time is very important especially during stressful times. I just wrote a blog post all about my top tips on how to incorporate more self care into your life in my previous post, which you can see here. I also wrote a whole series on increasing self love, confidence, happiness, and self care, called #GutsyFeels.
8. Make as Much of Your Own Food As Possible
During University it can be very tempting to buy cafeteria meals and never bother to eat good, nutritious food. However, this can be very bad for people with chronic illnesses. The processed, fatty foods that are often found in the residence food halls can be very bad when eaten everyday. So, try to make your own food as much as you can. I would recommend to meal prep a bunch at the beginning of the week so that you can pack your lunches very easily to bring to school. If you are living in residence you can still do this, but you will have to get a bit more creative with the microwave. Furthermore, there are typically community kitchens in residence you can use, so take advantage of those features. If all else fails, try to pick the healthiest options from the cafeteria.
Overall, I hope that for those of you going back to school you found these tips helpful. If you did like this post, let me know by commenting down below, tagging me in a post on Instagram sharing your thoughts, or directly messaging me on Instagram. Make sure you subscribe to my email list for my blog to get updated on my new posts every Sunday. Also, follow me on Instagram for more day to day updates on my life.
Have a Happy Back to School Season,
Your Trusty Gutsy Gal