Ooh. Loaded question. I’d do a lot of things differently, very few of them having anything to do with my health.
Things I’d tell my 18 year old freshman self:
- Get involved with your Student Disability Resource Center ASAP. Do not wait until your symptoms get out of control, don’t feel ashamed or like you’re abusing the system. I’d have reached out to them for help much sooner than I did. Use the accommodations you’re offered. If you find you don’t need to use them, great! But keep them as a safety net. Trust me on this.
- Put a lot of effort into getting to know your professors. Again, if I had asked for help instead of feeling embarrassed and shutting down, I probably wouldn’t have failed stats 3 times (perspective: I aced the class the 4th time I took it and asked for accommodations and now I really like stats!). Now, I make a point to get to know my professors, share with them a tiny bit of what I’m up against physically, and it has made a world of difference. I don’t hesitate to miss class when I need to, I know I can stop in and not feel like I’m offending my professor if I need to be caught up on some work, etc. They have appreciated me keeping them up to speed with where I’m at, understanding my limitations, and are able to tell me what they need from me in order to make things work. Also important: write thank you notes at the end of each semester!
- Get involved, but pace yourself and be particular about where you invest your time. I wish I had done this earlier. Join greek life, join an organization, club, academic fraternity, whatever, but find one you really love and give it your time. Physically, I don’t have it in me to give 4 or so organizations my time and energy. I choose two and I wish I had thought to do this when I was a freshman instead of jumping from group to group and half-assing the effort I gave to them. It can be tough to make friends when you’re chronically ill for a multitude of reasons, but if you can harness some of your energy into a smaller number of extracurricular groups, you might have an easier time! Don’t spread yourself too thin, find something you’re passionate about, and get to know the people who share that passion!
- Schedule your rest. That might sound odd, but now that I’m in upper level classes, my days are incredibly long and busy. If I don’t schedule rest into my routine, I won’t rest. This usually results in a 2am crash and burn in a Strozier library study room and it’s not pretty. If your major, classes, and schedule are demanding, make sure you get into the habit of scheduling an hour or two of mandated rest. It might sound a little weird, but it’s important to make your health as high a priority as your new social/academic life.
- Not everyone is going to understand your limitations—and that’s okay. If I could go back, I would stop apologizing for my physical limitations in social situations. Yeah, you might have to plan your outtings better (is there seating at that bar? Do we have to walk far to the club? etc etc) and others might find it annoying. That’s okay. Chances are, anyone not willing to understand, accept, or welcome how you handle your medical situation isn’t someone you want around. There will be a ton of people coming in and out of your life over the next little while—it’s okay if some of those people don’t stick around very long. Make no apologies for your disability or disease.
- Remember that going to college is a huge change and the transition takes time. Some people adapt right away, others take a year to feel comfortable. It took me two and a half years, believe it or not. And if I had given myself the time to adjust instead of beating myself up for my limited abilities and the challenges they posed, I probably would have been a happier 18-20 year old. College isn’t really like the movies. It’s okay if you hate it at first—it can be an overwhelming experience. It’s okay (and dare I say, normal) if your body freaks out in response to a new living situation and routine. Give your mind and body some time to adjust, and ask for help if you are struggling.
Good luck, Anon. I know it’s a scary change, but you’ll be okay! You can do this! Please submit some more specific questions if you have them, and check out these other posts: