College is not easy for anyone; there are deadlines, all-nighters, scheduling, trying to find a work-life balance, and making sure you’re taking care of yourself. But for certain sectors of college students, it is even more difficult to manage. According to the “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” 6 in 10 adults in the US suffer from a chronic disease or illness. I am 6 in 10 and happen to be a college student. The number of students suffering with chronic illnesses and disabilities enrolled in college is no small number, but I feel the only story I can truly do justice to is my own.
I have had an epilepsy diagnosis since the age of 7, and being best friends with the school nurse and keeping my medications in my friend’s fridges during sleepovers was the norm for my entire life. I didn’t think much about how I would do in college until my senior year of high school, because my condition was constantly changing. I would go for years being seizure-free and then have multiple in the span of a few months. As I came close to the end of high school, I met several people who had epilepsy and felt grateful for my ability to potentially drive at some point (I still don’t have my license!), but I still had no idea what college would look like for me.
Thankfully almost two years in, I’ve established some basics that work for me. Once I had my accommodations set up through our school’s Accessibility Services office, I felt a lot more secure about being able to get the most out of my education and time here. Once I came to Stonehill, I met other epileptics and others with a variety of chronic illnesses. Having a community around you of people who understand (even if they’re just supporters) is such a gift in pressing times both as a student and as a person with a chronic illness. However, college with a chronic illness hasn’t come without roadblocks. Even with a lot of help from some wonderful professors and family, it’s taken several semesters to work out how to be the most successful student and person, and I’m still adjusting! For me, I need a lot of sleep and to stay healthy to avoid triggering seizures (not everyone with epilepsy shares the same triggers, these are just mine), so I have to sacrifice weeknight hangouts with friends and avoid getting sick while living in a dorm setting, which is admittedly difficult.
Even in finding a schedule that works for me, doing homework during the day, and being the “grandma” of the friend group who’s in bed by 9 p.m., I still haven’t figured everything out. I’ve begun experiencing a new symptom, potentially part of my epilepsy, that I’ve never had before and I have to adjust, all while taking one of the heavier credit semesters I’ve done in my time as a college student so far. So, to those with chronic illnesses, remember to be kind to yourself. It’s difficult to say no to fun things or to admit that you need help, but sometimes, it’s important to take a step back and do what’s best for you. Through my whole process of doing what’s best for my body, I’ve come to be able to spend more time educating others on epilepsy, what it can look like, what it can cause, and how people cope with and treat it. Even though it’s something I enjoy, it’s never someone’s responsibility to feel forced to talk about their diagnosis constantly, because we are people with interests outside of our medical realities. So, if someone you know or love tells you that they have a condition, do your own research, put in the time, and be supportive.
If having a chronic illness (especially an invisible one) has taught me anything, it’s that you never know what someone else is going through. You’re never alone, even though chronic illness (especially during diagnosis) can feel so isolating, there’s a community out there of people who do get it. Even if they don’t understand your diagnosis yet, they can!