How to do well at university with a chronic illness

Succeeding at university with a chronic illness | Uni graduate on graduation day smiling in front of Manchester Library

People always seem shocked to hear that I’ve successfully completed university because of my health. I’m here to tell you that going to university with a chronic illness is definitely possible!

Uni can be challenging, regardless of whether you have health problems or not. I think one of the biggest things I’ve learnt from studying with chronic illnesses is that preparation is key.

I’m such a big advocate that your chronic illness shouldn’t hold you back from achieving. Yes, it may be harder for you. Yes, there may be tears. BUT the satisfaction at the end is worth it, trust me.

I’ve nearly dropped out of uni about 5 times due to my health whether it’s because I just don’t think I can do it, I have my confidence knocked OR I’ve been really ill (and had surgery). My mum has literally and figuratively helped drag me through the 4 1/2 years at uni AND I AM SO GRATEFUL (even if at the time I hated her for it).

My point is that at times it feels unachievable but over time, I’ve got some tried and tested tips to help you succeed at university.

Top tips to succeed at university with a chronic illness

Succeeding at university with a chronic illness | Back of uni graduate on graduation day  in front of Manchester Library

Using your university disability service and get a PLP

My biggest piece of advice is to talk to your university disability service. I have to say, I didn’t really see myself as having a disability when I first started university but going through the disability service was SO USEFUL. Mainly because I had a personal learning plan (PLP) created which I’d never had before.

A PLP covers all eventualities and has strategy plans in place for if you’re too unwell to attend. It also puts into place accessibility requirements, exam requirements and is given to all your tutors so you don’t have to go explain it again and again.

Mine included strategies for when I would be too ill to attend or had to go to hospital appointments. This included been given work ahead of a workshop and podcasted lectures. It also included ‘worst case scenario’ plans, such as hospital admissions and surgery, which at the time I didn’t think was necessary but I have in fact used twice.

It also meant I could get extensions on coursework easily if I’d been ill and I was in a smaller room for exams. That allowed for regular toilet breaks and being allowed to take food and medication into exams.

Basically, a PLP just makes the whole uni ride a bit smoother because people are aware of your illness and what it actually means.

Disabled Student’s Allowance

It was at the PLP session that I learnt about the disabled student’s allowance (DSA). Because it said ‘disabled’ I didn’t realised I was eligible. However it is for any student with a learning difficulty, health problem or disability.

With the DSA, you go to a meeting to discuss your needs and any appliances which may make it easier. Things like laptops, printers, voice recorders (for lectures), ergonomic chairs and computer software. It can also be used to have non-medical helpers such as note takers if that’s something you require.

Even if you don’t think there’s anything useful, it’s definitely worth applying and seeing what they can offer you!

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

One of the biggest things I’ve learnt through having a chronic illness is that preparation is key.

You never know when a flare up might occur and when it comes to deadlines and trying to have a social life as well!

One key piece of advice is don’t leave things to the last minute. I always tried to do my work as soon as I got it rather than leaving it til the night before – especially where it’s graded work.

When it came to weekly seminar work, I learnt how to effectively skim read text books to make the whole process a lot easier. But, I did my best to keep up and worked pretty consistently throughout the whole year.

Comparison is a killer!

Chronic illness or not, this is a piece of advice FOR EVERYONE. Just because someone is going to the library, pulling all nighters or out every night doesn’t mean you have to (unless that’s what you want to do!).

For me, I couldn’t work in the library so I usually opted for a cafe instead. I also normally really struggle to work in the evenings because I get really tired. Actually, a lot of the time, I struggle after 2/3pm.

Because I knew that, I opted to work in the mornings usually between 10 and 3 (sometimes I’d start earlier, sometimes I’d finish later). I’d try and condense as much work as I could in that time and it worked quite well for me.

Find what works for you and utilise it. Don’t worry if you’re not doing the same as everyone else!

Schedule in rest breaks and down time

I do this as much as I can! If I know I’ve got a really busy day or week ahead, I make sure I have time to just chill. Whether that’s watching some telly, reading a book or sleeping; I give myself some R&R time.

I think most of us with chronic illnesses are aware of the importance of rest time! It can be so easy to get caught up with everything at uni which is why it’s even more important to give yourself that time to recuperate.

HAVE FUN!

Most importantly, try and enjoy your time at university as much as possible. Try and get involved with different clubs and societies, make new friends and find your groove!

Leave your tips for succeeding at university with a chronic illness in the comments below ❤️

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