Moving away from home is a big deal for anyone, especially when you move to college, but it (like all things) becomes even more stressful when you add a chronic illness to the equation. As someone who did just that one year ago, I can empathize with all of the emotions and nerves that come with it. I’ve had type one diabetes since I was six, so I’m not new to the chronic illness club, but fully transitioning to self care away from home can be daunting. The good news? I’m here to assure you that it can be done, and you can still have the time of your life! It’s nice to know a little bit more about what you’re in for though, so here are 5 things you should know before you move to college with a chronic illness:
You’re probably going to overpack.
Let’s face it: you’re stressed and nervous and you’re probably packing more than you need of everything for when you move to college, not just medical supplies. If you have a person who has been a caregiver for you or who has helped during bad days, they’re also probably pretty stressed about not being able to be there for you like they have been in the past. Combining these things is what lead me to have enough diabetes supplies underneath my bed to survive the apocalypse.
The best advice I have for this is to just let it happen. Cushion yourself with more supplies than you could ever need, and running out will be one less stressor on your mind. Plus, it makes for a good laugh come May when you’re cleaning out your room and realize just how much you packed and didn’t need. It was pretty funny looking at how stressed I had been after I had just completed probably the best year of my life.
Consider applying for disability services.
This isn’t something that you have to do, and a lot of what you need depends on your specific illness, but it’s something that I believe is really important. For me specifically, my illness can cause me to need to miss or be late to class, and it can mess with the clarity of my thinking; because of all that, I ended up coming to the decision that it would be good for me to have accommodations to fall back on in case I needed the extra support.
That’s the best part about it: you don’t even have to use the accommodations if you don’t need them, they’re just there in case you do. Stress is a trigger for a lot of things, and stressing about your illness causing an issue during a test when your professor doesn’t know about it has the potential to make your life harder than it has to be. You can also apply for housing accommodations if you medically need a single or need something that’s not usually allowed in your room.
Different schools are obviously going to have different policies, but the office you apply through is going to walk you through the whole process, and it ends up being pretty easy. If you can, start during the summer so you get a feel for the process and who you’re dealing with. Also, if the accommodations are for housing, it’ll be easier if you get it done before roommate assignments.
The people you choose to tell are going to be incredibly supportive and understanding.
I obviously can’t speak in absolutes, but actually telling people about my illness was always so much easier than worrying about how they were going to react when I told them. I’ve never liked telling people about my illness, and it was one of the things I was the most nervous about moving to school.
Everyone I told was wonderful. Professors were genuinely interested in how I was adjusting and were willing to work with me if I ever needed it. Friends did what they could to help, and they asked lots of thoughtful questions to understand it better. It allowed me to rely on them when I was having a low blood sugar or my insulin pump failed in the middle of a day out.
The way I did it was to work it into conversation. Because my insulin needs to stay cold, I brought it up to my roommate when we were talking about having a mini fridge in our room. When I was actually at school, I usually mentioned it when I was eating with new people since I needed to test my blood sugar.
Don’t be afraid to have weak moments.
While sitting in the Public Garden and crying on the phone with my mom isn’t exactly my proudest moment, I recognize that it was an important part of my journey. Yes, you should try to focus on the positives and the successes you’ve had when you move to college, but it’s okay to recognize that you have a lot on your plate. Taking self care days isn’t just helpful, it’s necessary.
I’m not sure I would’ve done it successfully without therapy. I was in therapy before I had to move to college, but it was definitely something I relied on during the school year. I had always traveled across the state for my diabetes appointments, and I’m lucky enough to be going to school in the same city as my clinic. If you aren’t, though, emails and phone calls are pretty close to meeting face to face, and usually just as helpful. Having an outlet, in whatever form (as long as it’s healthy), is really important.
There are going to be more good days than bad days, and you’re strong enough to tackle all of them.
If you have a chronic illness, you understand that not every day is good. No matter how well you take care of yourself, there are some days that the disease wins; it’s just the nature of life. But these bad days aren’t going to be everyday. You’re going to be able to go to class, go to parties, make friends, and live the normal life you’ve always lived the vast majority of the time. You’ve always made it work, and that’s going to continue at college.
Before I end this, I need to take a second to celebrate and cheer on every single person who lives their life with a chronic illness! It’s so important to build ourselves up and recognize how strong we are, even if we get tired of hearing it. Little catchphrases help (I like to call myself a “diabadass” when I need a pick-me-up). Yes, our college experiences are going to be a little bit more complicated. But, with some preparation and knowledge, they’re going to be exciting, filled with adventures, and some of the best years of our lives!