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Living With An Invisible Illness at University

Living with an illness that cannot be seen from the outside can be sometimes feel incredibly frustrating. No one should have to feel like they need to ‘prove’ or justify their condition just because it may be invisible, however, that’s how a lot of us can end up feeling. This can make university a challenging, being in an environment that’s both very demanding but also meant to be ‘the best times of your life’ puts a lot of pressure on people, particularly if you have more going on that meets the eye! Here’s some ways to make university a little bit easier if you have a chronic invisible illness!


The Questions

People won’t know you have an illness unless you tell them (that’s why it’s called invisible duhh) but this does mean that people may ask you uncomfortable questions without even realising it! Sometimes when this happens it can feel like the person is implying that you don’t really have an illness, occasionally that is the case however, but often they just don’t understand. No one will fully understand why you say you're poorly when they can’t see anything physical or why you maybe can’t drink or whatever little difference they notice that you do, unless you tell them. Whatever that thing is, they’re going to ask about it because it’s likely they’ve just never met anyone with your condition. Although this may be frustrating, often no one is questioning whether you have an illness at all they’re just questioning what it is.

If you don’t fancy talking about it, that’s okay! Maybe just say you have a condition, however you don’t feel comfortable talking about it. If you don’t mind talking about your condition, DO IT! The more awareness we create for invisible illness the better! You could use this as an opportunity to educate people on the correct way to talk to someone you suspect has an invisible illness or just raise awareness for your condition. Chances are you’re going to have to talk about it to some people at university but that’s okay, you should never be ashamed of your body. Although it may be uncomfortable to start with, you get used to it and the most important thing to remember is no matter what anyone else says, you are valid, you are strong, and your body is still amazing!


Know your limits!

University is often called a time for experimenting, a time to push yourself to do things you’re scared of and I’m all for that… if done in the right way!

Just because you have gone to university doesn’t mean you suddenly have to push yourself to the furthest extreme possible. Although I’m a big believer in never letting a disability hold you back, you must know your limits! Everyone’s limit is different, and we’re not just talking about alcohol. It’s important to really know yourself and your body so that you can look after it! Living the ‘student experience’ is great as long as you’re looking after to yourself. Your condition is still important to remember to manage and if that means you can’t stay out as late as other people or you must drink less, that’s okay! It’s important to care for your body enough to say when you need rest, more alone time or even just a good healthy meal.

There shouldn’t be any shame in this! Just because you’re a student, doesn’t mean you have to do anything a ‘typical student does’ apart from go to uni! If you want an early night or a self-care day – go for it!  Knowing yourself helps to prevent you pushing yourself too far and ending up seriously poorly for doing so. Self-care is important guys!


There’s no shame in asking for help

Although we manage our conditions every day, sometimes they can become harder to manage than usual. Our bodies can be really unpredictable and as much as we look after them to your best abilities, it is inevitable that there will be the occasion where they run less smoothly than we’d hoped. This can be hard to deal with at university because of ever looming deadlines and lectures that can’t be missed making it not easy just to not go until your body recovers. The pressure sounding university can even make students feel bad for having days off when they’re poorly and need rest. To make matters worse only you can tell you’re having issue because your illness is invisible.

This is when you should go talk to your university. Although it maybe awkward to first go explain why you’re struggling, there is no shame in asking for help and every single university has a team of people whose dedicated job it is to make sure you get the support you need. If you’re too scared to go in and talk to them, ring or email your course leader or your designated university support team. There is a large range of help they can offer which can be as simple as getting lectures recorded for you in case you’re too unwell to attend or even helping you apply for mitigating circumstances, which means all of your assessment deadlines are extended. There is wide range of help and advice they can give and it is all personalised to your exact needs. There is no shame in seeking this help, in fact, I’ve known loads of people going to their universities for support for a large range of issues, both physical and mental.


Register at your local doctors!

If you’ve moved away for university, I can’t stress how important it is to, once you’ve moved in, immediately go register at the nearest doctors. This is important for everyone to do, but particularly if you have an invisible illness, even if you’ve not been to the doctors in years, it is crucial to do! We’re students, it’s easy to forget these chores that we previously could get our parents to do for us, but this is important. You do not want to find yourself poorly, invisible illness or not, ages away from your hometown and your doctors! Although it’s a boring task, it really could save you from a whole load of pain if you do this as soon as you arrive in your new city.


Make people aware

I know it’s probably not the most comfortable thing to start talking about your health conditions with someone you’ve only just met, but telling a flatmate you trust about your health could be really beneficial. You don’t have your parents around you constantly to check up on you and make sure you’re doing okay, your flat will likely become like your new little family and you all look out for each other. Knowing that people around you know about your needs or symptoms are, could be really helpful in the unfortunate event that you become ill.


The most important thing to remember about university is it’s YOUR experience. Don’t let other people tell you what being a student ‘has to be’ because it’s all your choice! You can be fearless in not letting your disability or illness define you but also know when you take it easy. It’s a balancing act which takes time to figure out, but everyone feels scared and unsure when they first go to university, illness or not, so you’re not alone. Try your best and never be ashamed of your body because despite its faults it’s got you this far.


Hey! I’m Rebecca, a film student at The Nothern Film School! I'm Editor in Chief here at Her Campus Leeds!
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