Chronic Illness in College

This weekend I was in Southwest Virginia in a town called Blacksburg, Virginia where I spent four wonderful years going to college at Virginia Tech before graduating in 2015. I have family who currently lives in Blacksburg, family who grew up in Blacksburg and family who also previously attended and some who currently attend Virginia Tech.

Basically, Blacksburg is my second home.

Virginia Tech football

While I was there I experienced overwhelming nostalgia for my college years – having little responsibilities, living down the street from all of my closest friends, waking up & going to bed whenever I wanted, etc. However, my time in college was different from my peers in one particular way: I went through college dealing with chronic illness.

I had to adapt in certain ways my peers did not have to. Some nights I didn’t feel well enough to go out, sometimes my migraines sent me home early from football games, I usually had to skip out on hikes or long outdoor activities, sometimes I fell asleep in class even when I tried my hardest to stay awake (thanks, narcolepsy) and so many other situations during which I had to adapt to or avoid because of my chronic illness.

But the key word here is adapt.

I want to share some of my tips & tricks for adapting to college life when you have a chronic illness. I hope these can in some way help students who are preparing for college or who are currently in college who need someone to just understand for once.

For Classes

  • Speak with your professors at the start of the semester/year.
    • It’s important for them to know that sometimes things come up unexpectedly (like the surprise migraine) and if you speak with professors early on, you can work together on a plan for if that occasion arises. Your professors want you to succeed!
  • Sign up for classes, when you can, that have online lectures available.
    • If you can’t make it to the in-person lecture, maybe they have an online version you can watch so that you don’t fall behind
  • Schedule classes so that you have breaks in-between.
    • You may need time to rest in-between or extra time to get to class from class.
  • Don’t pull all-nighters.
    • They aren’t worth it!
    • Often times, when we deprive ourselves of sleep, it makes the pain so much worse and longer-lasting.
  • Schedule classes during times that are best for you
    • If you have narcolepsy like me, early morning classes are near impossible.

For Leisure & Student Life

  • Make migraine kits – one for at home, one to keep in your backpack
    • It’s always important to keep things like extra meds, water bottles, etc. in your backpack so that if your symptoms get worse while you are on campus, you are prepared.
    • Don’t underestimate the value of things like a sleeping mask & ear plugs (for if your roommates are having people over but all you want to do is sleep) or things like bedside meds (for when the pain is too bad and the thought of getting up to go across the room to find your meds is totally out of the question.)
  • Don’t try to over do it
    • If you know the long trek across campus will cause your symptoms to flare, catch a bus, call an uber, ask a friend to drop you off. It’s OK to need assistance.
    • If you know that drinking or socializing will push you over the edge because your pain is already creeping up on you, listen to your body! Don’t overdo it.
  • Keep some of your favorite movies & shows queued up on Netflix, always have snacks in the house & buy some comfy pillows & PJs
    • Some nights you will have to stay home when your friends are out. Make sure you have the necessities for a perfect movie night in or a successful self-care evening. This will distract you and also help you take care of yourself.
  • Plan a night in – your friends will understand that sometimes it’s too much for you to go out and if they’re your good friends, they will enjoy just spending time with you! Plan a game night, movie night, etc. for a Friday – the perfect activity after week of classes & studying.

But most of all, have compassion for yourself. It’s OK to need a little more help than others or do get things done at a slower pace or to need different adaptions & exceptions than those around you. College is a time for learning not only on an academic level, but on a personal level. You are learning more about yourself in those four years than you can imagine. Have fun. Be present. Enjoy yourself. There’s no other time like it.

Telling Your New Supervisor About Your Chronic Illness or Condition

One thing I have always been nervous about when starting a new job is telling my new supervisor that I have chronic health conditions. It’s a conversation that is necessary but that can cause people to feel uneasy or nervous.

I always worry that my supervisor may be uneasy about my situation and that they themselves will worry about my ability to perform my duties. With a health conditions that are invisible on the outside, like my migraines, narcolepsy, etc., I sometimes worry about the following things: Will they think I may not perform as well as others? Will they get frustrated with how frequently I need to leave for doctor appointments? How understanding will they be when I am having a bad pain day and need accommodations or need to go home to rest? Will they understand if they don’t have health problems themselves? How can I make sure they don’t think I’m faking it.

As with anything, we can’t understand what someone is dealing with unless we are dealing with it ourselves. It goes the same for health conditions. Someone can’t fully understand the symptoms that come along with our conditions & illnesses unless they have that condition or illness themselves.

However, when it comes to working in an office, good supervisors will always be accommodating and will try to understand as much as possible. Even though I’ve always been nervous to talk to my supervisors about my chronic illness upon being hired, I’ve only ever had amazing supervisors who put my health first and who are completely flexible.

giphy

Here are some tips on how to breach the topic and talk through your chronic health conditions & illnesses with your new employers and supervisors:

  • Be open and honest – the more your supervisor knows, the more accommodating, flexible and understanding they can be
  • Remember that everyone is human and everyone deals with something. Maybe they also get migraines or deal with another health condition. Even if they don’t, you have to remember that they will have their own situations that need accommodating from time to time.
  • Remind them that you will be fully capable of doing your job and that this won’t affect your work ethic. Instead, it just means that some days the pain will take control,  that your health will have to take precedent & some days you will have to do what is necessary to feel better or decrease the pain however much you can.
  • Work with them to come up with back up plans on if there’s ever a day that symptoms show up unexpectedly and you need to stay at home on short notice.
  • Tell them about the doctor appointments that you have on a regular basis but make sure they know that from time to time, emergency appointments may come up.
  • Ask them if they require any doctor notes for validation so that you can notify your doctor

Remember: You are just like the employee sitting next to you. You are capable of performing and producing excellent work. You have the same great work ethic and great ideas to contribute. This employer hired YOU for a reason. Because you were right for the job!


Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a lawyer. The opinions and advice listed above are my own and are based on personal experience and do not reflect the opinions of others. Check out the Americans with Disabilities Act if you have any questions on working as a person with a disability. 

Thursday Tips & Tricks: Writing Therapy For Chronic Illness

It’s no secret that I enjoy writing. It’s therapeutic for me in so many ways. Writing is a coping mechanism for me–an outlet for my frustrations and thoughts.

It’s also no secret that I love to talk. I have a lot to say most of the time. However, every once in a while, I seem to lose my grasp on how to verbalize the thoughts rolling around in my head. Most often, this phenomenon occurs when I’m having a very high pain day. Sometimes though, it happens when my head is no worse than normal, but I’ve just become so fed up with living such a limited, chronic illness filled life. However in both situations, I find myself in a clouded, distant world away from the real world around me. I fall into weird funks and want to store myself away like a bear hibernating for winter. Usually those funks are spelled with constant “why me’s” and a good deal of blubbering. Instead of talking these funks out, I used to pout about them, but now I write about them. It’s been, what they like to call, “life changing.”

Ever since I can remember, I’ve turned to pen and paper when I need to get out my actual, genuine, and sometimes not so glamorous, thoughts out. My worries, frustrations, questions, and sour words have all come through more clearly through writing. So have my loving, praising, graceful and brighter words.

I know that there have been many instances of me writing to my loved ones about why I’m feeling the way I am, how long I will (most likely) be feeling that way, and what I am able/not able to do because of how my chronic daily headaches are making me feel. It’s not easy for the people around us to understand what’s going on inside our bodies, physically or mentally, because they aren’t feeling it themselves. Chronic illness is such a hard thing for someone who doesn’t have one to comprehend. There’s nothing wrong with that either. It’s just up to us to explain the best that we can, what it is we’re feeling. And for me, it’s easier for me to tell someone exactly what I am thinking and feeling when I write it out, even if the person I am telling is myself.

So the next time you find yourself at an impasse with friends, family or even your own cranium, try taking out a pen or (pulling out your laptop or cell phone, because let’s be real, it’s 2016) and just start writing/typing away. So often I find that my fingers just won’t quit tapping away at the keys in front of me, because there’s so many more thoughts and words pouring out of my mind than I ever even thought I had the room for up there. For those of you who aren’t writers, give it a try. If it’s not for you, that’s OK. But you may end up pleasantly surprising yourself.

writing-maya-angelou

Thursday Tips & Tricks: Food Allergies At Home 🍓🍞

Food allergies are a pain 🙅🏼. They’re often hard to manage & can be difficult to live with. It’s especially hard when you live with other people. 🏡

Here’s an easy trick to help make yours and your roommates/family members loves easier: label all the food with small colored dots🔴. For example, foods or ingredients with seafood in it can have a green dot, foods/ingredients with gluten in it can be labeled with a yellow dot, etc.

It just helps everyone be more aware and helps everyone in the house live a little more stress free😌

(P.S. I saw this idea on buzzfeed! Aka the best place ever) 

Thursday Tips & Tricks: Theracane 

This is the Theracane.

I bought it at the PT office I was going to for therapy appointments for my head/neck. Basically, this theracane mimics the massage techniques done by the physical therapists in order to restore muscle function; relieve tension, stiffness soreness, etc; and basically just help your body feel better!

For headaches: I use it on my neck, upper back and the spot right where the back of my head meets my neck. I apply pressure and try to relieve tension in those areas, because that kind of tension can worsen headaches and even cause headaches for some.
I’d definitely recommend buying one, especially because you can use it on so many areas of your body! 

Thursday’s Tips & Tricks! 📢 Give Yourself A Pep Talk! 


I’ve been pretty quiet on my blog lately, and I’d like to make an excuse for myself if that’s ok 🙈 last week was interesting with a migraine day and another day completed with a spontaneous ER trip. And then to top it off, the beginning of this week I had a fever. Needless to say, I was under my covers ignoring the world a good chunk of the past week and a half or so.
BUT I digress. Today I’m throwin a little somethin your way again! Back on the grind 💪🏼✍🏼

Sometimes no matter how hard we try, it can feel impossible to motivate ourselves to keep pushing onward in whatever situation we’ve found ourselves in. The road gets bumpy and we sometimes just pull over and stop the car. 

So, maybe we let someone else do the motivating for us every once in a while! Right? 

Maybe we watch/read one of these motivational commencement speeches, or we have a friend rally us, or we write down our goals so we can visually picture them. Whatever it is that gets us back on the road! 


Sometimes we find motivation within ourselves, but sometimes we get by with a little help from our friends (see what I did there? 😏) 
P.S. I took these pictures of pages out of the book “You Are Doing A Freaking Great Job.” I totally recommend you buy it because it puts a smile on my face every time I open it! 

Thursday’s Tips & Tricks: Simple Is Good 🌷

Keep it simple, spoonies. 

We push ourselves endlessly to do so many things we want to, we feel obligated to, or we wish we could do. We’re constantly moving during the day between work, doctor appointments, social outings, and somehow managing alone time. 

We can’t do everything in a day. I’ve accepted the fact that complicated is harmful to my health and profess, and that simple is good. 

Thursday’s Tips & Tricks: Consider Physical Therapy

Thursdays Tips & Tricks 😍⚙ think about giving physical therapy a try! 

I started physical therapy a couple of months ago (I think? My sense of time is awful 🙈). My PA wrote me a prescription for it, to have the PT work on my neck, posture and whatever they could think of to help my daily headaches. 

I can’t say that it has solved my problem (because if that were the case there would be some newly very wealthy people), but it has definitely helped decrease the intensity of my every day headaches 😁💪🏼 

I have multiple headache disorders. So what the physical therapist is treating is my diagnosis of a cervicogenic headache—again, just one of my multiple types of headaches. They work on my posture (which was so bad before) as well as getting more motion and working out tension in my occipital nerves, muscles and bones (which all impact headaches). 

Bad posture causes tension in upper back and neck muscles. That along with having occipital nerve and muscles out of whack, can definitely make headaches worse.

It was a gradual positive change that I noticed. And it took a lot of trial and error and experimenting with different methods on my PT specialists side. We found that some methods didn’t do anything while some (more intense looking) methods helped dramatically.

And you know that saying no pain no gain? That can be very relevant to some PT sessions. They work on your back, neck, muscles, bones and nerves. Some things aren’t going to feel pleasant. But let’s face it–it’s nothing compared to the pain I (and all chronic illness sufferers) battle every single day. 

I’ve had some headache setbacks during the time period I’ve been doing PT, but they have been related to other outside causes (because that’s how life of a spoonie works, right?) But I can safely say that my physical therapy team has tried really hard to help me feel better, even if it’s just a small change.

People with chronic illness can atest, even a tiny positive change is considered great progress! 

Therefore, I definitely recommend PT to someone who is in a rut like I was–where they aren’t or weren’t seeing any progress in their headaches. 

Give it a try, because Ryan gosling might massage you after (offer not guaranteed) 


Thursday’s Tips & Tricks: Don’t Be Afraid of Taking The Leap

Thursday’s Tips & Tricks 💠
Don’t let an opportunity scare you! If something excites or interests you, take a chance on it. Maybe you don’t have all the aspects figured out–but just say yes and everything else will fall into place after. Change can be scary but change can also be awesome. 

  
Don’t hold yourself back from something just because you’re worried it won’t work out or because you don’t have all the parts figured out. ☝🏼️