For the average person, college is the first taste of independence and a major step into adulthood. However, chronic illnesses add a level of difficulty that can make this step in life a little trickier.
I just finished my first “successful” college semester. I say successful because I attempted college last fall but it didn’t go to plan. In my first semester going into college after high school, I was completely unprepared. I signed up for too many courses, was not diagnosed and decided to try and ignore my health, and on top of that, I had no idea how to advocate for myself. Even though I was living at home and going to community college, this still resulted in a stress-filled semester that included many flares, dropping a course and failing another.
After taking the spring semester off to focus on my health, mentally and physically, I have some advice. Even though that semester seemed to be a total bust, I learned a lot about myself and the college system. This last semester I took a lot of time to get real with myself and adjust expectations. I still have to remind myself of the harsh reality that I am not taking a typical school track, meaning I’m not going to graduate at the “normal” rate. Now, there are people who run through college full-speed and have the typical experience we think of; going to university, joining clubs, taking a full class schedule and living on campus. But please keep in mind, you can still have a great college experience, even if it doesn’t look like you had imagined.
I realized I can only succeed if I set myself up to do so. I decided to go to a community college first. Some people look down on community college, but honestly, it is one of the best things you can do for yourself. I am in no way discouraging a four-year university if you are able to do so, but community college is actually a wonderful thing. For starters, it is usually much cheaper than a four-year university, which is such a help for me because I am paying for college on my own and not being able to work full time means I need to spend as wisely as possible.
I was very bummed when I came to the realization that I wouldn’t have the typical dorm experience, or gain all the independence I wanted, and to be honest it does suck. I’m not going to tell you that you won’t feel like you’re missing out, or be disappointed you aren’t living with your friends, but I can promise it gets easier. The more I thought it over, the more I realized that even if I could live in the dorms, it would be the wrong decision for me. Not because I wouldn’t like it, but because of how much colleges are charging. In general, with or without illness, I will always advocate for community college. There is no reason to start your life off in a massive amount of debt, and community college is an amazing way to help you get started!
This last semester went the best school has gone for me in an extremely long time, and it’s because I finally set myself up correctly. Take a very good look at your schedule. Your schedule can make or break your semester. Do not try and take all aggressive, study-heavy courses at once. Everyone knows their academic strengths and weaknesses. I know some want to get the classes they don’t want to take out of the way, but this can really put a dent in the beginning of your college journey. I suggest taking classes you are excited about and maybe a hard one. Also, do not feel pressured to take on a full schedule! I found I can effectively handle three classes at a time right now.
Pay attention to when you function best. I have a very hard time in the mornings and nights, so I schedule my classes around lunchtime because I know I will be able to attend those classes more reliably.
Contact your disability or accessibility services center. Each school works differently, but I found my school has so many resources available that I never would have thought of. It can be intimidating to ask for help concerning your illnesses, but I found everyone I talked to was very supportive and ready to help however they could. You might even get really lucky, my disability advocate who helped me set up accommodations has POTS too!
Talk to your professors. I’ve found my professors have been very understanding if you communicate with them. Because of my accommodations, I set up a meeting with each of my professors before the semester began, not only to go over my accommodations but to educate them on my conditions. I typed a little sheet up with a brief description of my conditions and a little explanation of how they affect me. Remember that your professors are human, and they want you to succeed! Another plus with community college is my classes are small, so I got to know all my professors which made communicating with them even easier!
College can be tricky and overwhelming at times, but there are systems in place to help you succeed to the best of your ability. I wish you the best of luck and send many spoons your way!