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How To Cope With Chronic Illness As A College Student

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

My story with chronic illness has been a long, difficult journey. I won’t sugarcoat things and say that I don’t still struggle immensely, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Let me start by giving you some background information about myself. In my sophomore year of college, I began having intense episodes of nausea and vomiting, followed by severe pain throughout my body. I have been to doctor after doctor, still without a clear diagnosis. As my illness continued to worsen, I began to put my life on pause. I had to quit my internship. I couldn’t hang out with friends. I pushed people away. I felt so alone. That loneliness has inspired me to write this article in hopes of supporting those with similar issues because although it may feel like it, you are not alone in this battle. 

College is already difficult enough. Being constantly sick can make you feel like you have lost control over your life. Thoughts such as “where is the nearest trashcan to throw up” or “will I puke during my test” cross through my head daily. First of all, tell your professors right away. They can be a great source of support and most of the time, are very understanding. When they know about your condition and are able to document it, they can help you figure out the best way to navigate through their class. You should also utilize your school’s disability services. They can make accommodations that best suit you individually. For me, this means having access to parking spots around campus. For others, it could mean more time granted on tests. Everyone is different. They will help find the best accommodations for you and your illness. 

My next advice would be to stay on top of your tasks. If one day you are feeling great, do as much as you can because you never know when a flare could hit and make it very difficult to complete things. Also, schedule your classes with gaps in between. Give yourself breaks throughout the day so you are able to rest if feeling unwell. Time management really is key to succeeding in this position. Try getting a physical planner or Google calendar. They have helped me a lot in keeping up to date on all my work. 

The worst part about this illness has been how alone I feel and how much I am missing out on in life. I honestly still don’t have a perfect answer for this besides try being extra grateful for what you have. I would catch myself constantly comparing my friends and family’s life to mine and feeling like they had it so much easier than I did. The only thing that has helped me feel better is recognizing that I still am blessed and everyone has their own struggles to deal with. I still have legs to walk and still have access to proper health care. Others are not so lucky. Try listing three things you’re grateful for in the mornings. It really has made a difference for me starting my day on a positive note. There are so many gratitude apps that all offer reminders – so try checking those out. 

My most important advice would be to find a solid support system. I would not be able to handle the situation I’m in without my close friends and family. When I feel like I can’t take it anymore, the people around me convince me that I can. Having that love and support is going to be the thing that gets you through this. My depression has severely worsened since becoming ill and I tend to take my hurt out on others. My family and friends understand that. They understand that being in constant pain is not easy whatsoever. They never pressure me to go out. They never make me feel bad or gross for throwing up in front of them. “Research has shown that having a strong support system has many positive benefits, such as higher levels of well-being, better coping skills, and a longer and healthier life. Studies have also shown that social support can reduce depression and anxiety.”  All I can say is if your friends don’t completely have your back in these rough times, then find better friends. If you have people who don’t care about your utmost well-being, take them out of your life. 

Lastly, know when it’s time to go home. I can’t stress this enough. Over the summer, I had gotten an internship that meant a lot to me, but as my condition worsened, I realized I just simply could not keep up and it added to my anxiety a lot. I ended up quitting, which then allowed me to fully focus on my health. School and work are never going to be more important than healing yourself. If you hit your breaking point, just know that you can always come back. It doesn’t have to mean forever – just until you feel like you can manage better. I chose to only take three classes this semester, even though it is not ideal for my schedule. I’ve learned through this struggle that I must adapt to change, which is something that I feel is constant in my life now. All I can say is try your best to embrace it. You will be okay. 

Throughout this article, I hope I was able to provide some encouragement to those of you trying to tackle college while handling an illness. You are not alone and though it may feel incredibly difficult, if you set your mind to it, you will be successful. In conclusion, don’t let your illness define you – it is just a part of your journey to better things. 

Cate Backes

CU Boulder '24

Cate is currently a junior at the University of Colorado, Boulder, studying Information Management / Data Analytics and Journalism. Just a few things she's interested in writing about include business, real-world problems, and personal experiences. In her free time, she enjoys playing with her pet cat named Toast and reading.