Chronic Illness
It might not always feel like it, but graduating college when you have a chronic illness is possible. (Image via Instagram)

College is both an exciting and stressful time in many people’s lives. It’s a major life change, and many students are exposed to academic and financial responsibilities they’ve never faced before. At the same time, they’re trying to juggle a social life while living away from home for the first time. But if you have a chronic illness, all of those feelings of stress are heightened when attending college.

You’re dealing with all the same challenges, and on top of it, you’re dealing with pain, fatigue and other debilitating symptoms. Attending college when you’re sick sometimes feels impossible, so here are 4 ways to deal with college if you have a chronic illness.

1. Get the Accommodations You Need

If you’re attending college with a chronic illness, the first thing you should do is register with your school’s disability resource center. Disability resource centers help students with disabilities and other health issues get the accommodations necessary for each individual.

Applying for accommodations is a separate process from applying for admissions. Instructions on how to do this can usually be found on a school’s website, and students will need to provide some form of documentation of their illness or disability.

Every disability resource center is there to provide equal opportunity to students who struggle with an illness or disability, and they help students advocate for themselves with their professors. Some accommodations that many colleges provide include priority registration, course substitution, testing in a distraction-free room and exam modifications.

But different colleges provide different levels of accommodations, which is why it wouldn’t hurt to contact your schools of interest before choosing the one you’ll attend in order to find out if they can provide you with what you need.

If your illness might lead to hospitalization or other unplanned class absences during the semester, you should talk to the disability resource center about what kind of accommodations you can set up ahead of class time, like extensions on assignments.

If you don’t register with your center from the start, and you wait until the last minute to tell your professors that you might be late on an assignment due to your chronic illness, it will cause frustration on both ends, and if you don’t have an understanding professor, you might not get the extensions or services you require.

Some schools send out emails to the student’s professors, letting them know that the student needs specific arrangements in class. Other schools leave it up to the students to notify their professors. No matter the protocol, it is important that you are registered with your school’s disability resource center so you can get the accommodations you need to succeed on campus.

2. Talk to Your Professors

Your chronic illness or disability is your business, and you do not need to disclose any of your medical information to your professors. However, it is your professor’s job to educate you. If you need accommodations, it will help you both succeed if they know in advance that you might need extra time on tests, that you might need an extension on assignments, that you have to use a distraction-free room for tests or whatever else it might be to ensure your success in school.

Even if your disability resource center notifies your professors of your accommodations, it could still lead to a more understanding relationship with your professors if you email or talk to them personally about your chronic illness.

3. Know Your Limits

It’s easy to forget what the priority is when pursuing your degree. You might feel pressured to graduate at the same time as your peers, to be involved in clubs or organizations and to maintain an exciting social life.

At first, it might seem manageable to take on a heavy course load and to become a part of a lot of clubs. But the demands of all of those credit hours and responsibilities will take a toll on your chronically ill body.

There doesn’t need to be a timeline on your degree. When you have a chronic illness, you need to put your body first. This might mean that you need to take a smaller class load, take online classes or talk to your advisor about taking classes during the time of day when you feel the best. College isn’t a race, and when you have a chronic illness, taking care of your health should be the priority.

4. Don’t Worry About the Stigma

When you have a chronic illness, you feel fatigue, pain and other debilitating symptoms that can make getting around a campus difficult. College campuses are usually huge. Even when they’re small, they’re big for people who don’t have a lot of energy to spare. Whether it’s a community college or a university campus, you have a lot of ground to cover, which is hard if you are chronically ill.

What helps a lot of people with chronic illnesses are mobility aids like wheelchairs, scooters, canes, accessibility parking placards and other devices. However, the stigma keeps a lot of people from using the devices they need. A lot of people are afraid of the potential stares and the comments they will get if they park in a disabled parking space when they don’t readily appear sick. They fear they will be viewed as giving up if they start using a wheelchair after previously walking to all of their classes.

And the truth is, there is a stigma around people who use mobility aids. Other people will stare. They will make comments. Sometimes they will be well-meaning and other times they will be rude. Maybe you would feel guilty for using a mobility aid because you can walk around in your daily life without much of an issue.

But a quick trip to the grocery store or being able to walk around your home isn’t the same thing as walking across a large, possibly hilly campus. By the time you get to your classes or exams, your body hurts, you’re fatigued and you can’t think straight.

But it doesn’t matter what other people think about your parking placard, scooter or wheelchair. What matters is that you feel good enough to focus in your classes, to do your homework and exams and to get enough sleep to do it all again the next day.

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