Living with a chronic illness at university
I used to see illness as a handy way of getting out of going to school, and would often envy those with terrible immune systems who were constantly off sick with a common cold. I never caught a cold! Damn my brilliant immune system! How ironic that at the age of 17, right after I sat my final A Level exams, I was to be diagnosed with something a little more severe than a cold…
There are a myriad of chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, lupus and cystic fibrosis. Mine? Ulcerative Colitis. An autoimmune disease; I’ll admit that even after 2 years of having this illness, I am still incompetent when it comes to explaining what the actual heck an autoimmune disease is. According to conventional doctors (who I’ve come to slightly resent) there is no real knowledge of what causes UC, and there is no cure. Well hip-hip hooray; I do love a good dash of mystery in my life, but the mystery of this illness, isn’t what I had in mind. Since my diagnosis I have spent a total of about a month in hospital on strong drugs, experiencing the great fun of blood transfusions, I’ve suffered hair loss, I have lost a load of weight, then gained it again, then lost it, regained it and then lost it again. I’ve been in and out of flare-ups of the disease and barely-there remissions and so basically my body has not felt normal in quite a while.
UC (for short) affects my lower bowel/large intestine. Given that it is a digestive issue, it is NOT fun, definitely quite embarrassing and on most days at least a bit painful…on bad days, there’s a whole lot of painful. Aside from the painful and awkward symptoms of UC that I’ll not go into (but you can Google it if you really want), like many autoimmune diseases, UC can leaves me feeling constantly fatigued and basically in an inadequate state to ‘do’ life, especially life as a young adult. Like seriously, I AM a 90-year-old woman in a 20-year-old woman’s body! (And not just because I prefer nights in watching Downton, with a cup of camomile tea over rowdy, sweaty nightclubs.) Obviously, as a student and a massively popular gal…LOL, I joke…it gets kind of difficult and eventually annoying to have to explain to friends why you can’t or maybe just don’t feel comfortable going out, when I might look like I’m fine. Those Facebook events seem to be taunting reminders of how your illness is holding you back from experiencing the average life of a young student, and it does kind of suck. I promise I’m not lazy, and I don’t just love lying in bed all day watching Netflix.
Besides the fact that my social life is compromised, actual uni work also suffers. Unfortunately stress is a BIG factor in making me more ill and so now a big part of my life is managing that. I was actually feeling relatively normal prior to my exams earlier this year until BOOM, exams over and the stress had apparently been on the verge of overflow – much like the mess of clothing in my unkempt wardrobe – so as soon as I was ready to enjoy what I thought would be a blissful 4 month long summer, I was ill again. I’m still just creeping out, ever so slowly, from under the metaphorical rock of crappiness.
The life of a healthy person (something I once was) seems so simple now when I look back, you don’t have to overanalyse how every tiny aspect of daily life can affect you, particularly in my case: food! You probably don’t have to feel unsure about any commitments you make (short or long-term) because you never know how you might feel from one day to the next. You’re not always paranoid about what distressing symptoms might occur when you’re not in the comfort of your own home, where at least your bed is always there for those especially tiring and painful moments. For all you healthy folk out there, EMBRACE GOOD HEALTH AND NEVER LET GO! Look after your bodies people!
I do have to live with this condition for the rest of my life BUT I have researched and read about cases of people with autoimmune diseases who have managed to get rid of symptoms and lead comfortable, healthy, normal lives through fairly drastic diet and lifestyle changes. So hopefully this is not a totally depressing story for me (and you too if you find that diet and lifestyle can help your condition!) and I am slowly trying to change my lifestyle to help with this crappy illness. I don’t write this intending for you to feel sorry for me, that would make me feel more awkward, I write this knowing that there might be some of you out there, on the RoHo campus, reading this right now, feeling some of the same feelings and having experienced the same struggles of living student life with a chronic illness. Any chronic illness can be hugely debilitating and can really set you back so I hope that maybe you feel a little less alone and know that it doesn’t have to be embarrassing or depressing and you can get better. I for one will never stop trying to get better.