University as a Chronically Ill Student
Inexplicable headaches, sleepless nights, worries about medication, and stress scheduling doctors’ appointments—all things living with diabetes prompts for me. Prepping for student life as someone with a chronic illness goes beyond just organizing textbooks, syllabuses, and schedules; there are prescriptions, medical equipment, emergency supplies, and accommodations, along with dampening the strain on both your physical and mental health. With a chronic illness, you aren’t just a student. As a diabetic, I also play the role of the pancreas – and truth be told, it’s far from easy.
Caring for yourself with a chronic illness looks different for each student; for me, it manifested as checking my blood glucose levels between each lecture, leaving the classroom to give myself insulin, stocking up on emergency juice and sweet snacks, and dealing with unpredictable blood glucose levels during high-stress periods. Beyond these physical elements, I often have felt burned out with balancing my health along with the responsibilities of classes, assignments, and exams. Many of you with chronic illnesses may also feel similarly, with the routines, medications, and lifestyle your chronic illness has forged.
Remember: having a chronic illness is not easy, and neither is being a student. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, anxious, worried, or have other negative emotions. I have compiled some of my personal tips that may help you tackle chronic illness as a student and ease into life at McMaster.
7 Tips to Balance Chronic Illness in University:
- Transfer Health Care and Insurance: Take a look at McMaster’s Student Wellness Centre services, including Medical Care and Naturopathic Services, where you may find support for your condition. Also familiarize yourself with other practices near campus, and specialized clinics that you may consult for your specific illness. If you are an out-of-province student, it’s essential to confirm how your provincial health care insurance and its benefits transfer to Ontario practices and policies. Especially if you are living in residence, be sure to do these before September, so that your healthcare team is ready to go when the school year begins.
- Gather Supplies and Locate Pharmacies: Collect a stock of the relevant medical supplies you may need to care for your chronic illness and replenish it frequently. For me, this looked like ensuring I always had a month’s supply of insulin stocked in my fridge. Locate and set up a profile with a local pharmacy as well, such as a Shoppers Drug Mart or the Campus Pharmacy, to arrange your prescription and medication needs (if applicable).
- Familiarize yourself with University Services: One important service to familiarize yourself with (and potentially register with) is McMaster Student Accessibility Services (SAS), which provides academic accommodation to students with disabilities, including chronic illnesses. Examples of accommodation include extensions for assignments or accommodation during exams. If you require accommodation in residence such as a single room, you can reach out to McMaster’s Housing and Conferences Services, and if you’d like to explore alternative meal plans, consult McMaster Hospitality Services.
- Create a Circle of Support: If you’re comfortable, let the people around you in your transition to university know about your chronic illness, potential accommodations, and struggles you may face. This may include your roommates, Community Advisors, friends, professors, or TAs. It’s important that they know how to best support you!
- Connect with Broader Community: Having a chronic illness can often be challenging, so be sure to connect with others in the McMaster community for peer support and solidarity. For instance, I joined the McMaster Diabetes Association to find other students with diabetes or an interest in it. There is also McMaster Maccess, a peer support service focused on people with disabilities, including chronic illness, where you can receive peer support from other students who also have disabilities.
- Prepare for Emergency: In case of a medical emergency, it’s important to know whom you can contact and inform others what they should do in such a situation. The McMaster Emergency First Response Team (EFRT) is available 24/7 throughout the academic year and can be accessed by dialing 88 from any campus phone or dialing 905-522-4135 from all other phones. Also let others, like your roommate or friends, know what to do in emergency situations, like injecting an EpiPen for example.
- Plan Ahead: University life can be incredibly hectic at times; having an agenda or planner to schedule out your week in advance can help manage your time. Life, especially with chronic illness, can be unpredictable but having this resource to remind you of assignments, exams, appointments, and other commitments can help alleviate some of the stress. Don’t forget to leave time for regular breaks and self-care!
The bottom line is to always put yourself first; take care of your health needs, which will in turn help you to thrive as a student!
Resources:Mental Health & Mental Illness, Physical Health