MyPlus Students Piece

 

Pippa Stacey is a writer and blogger based in Yorkshire. She studied BSc Psychology in Education at the University of York and acquired her chronic illness during the first year of her studies. As a graduate, Pippa now works in online communications in the charity sector, as well as freelance writing, and blogs in a personal capacity at Life Of Pippa.

During my first year of university, I was your typical student: studying hard, partying harder, travelling the country with various sports teams and for dance competitions, volunteering, and working towards an honours degree. By the same time the following year, I was struggling to stand up on my own.

“It’s no secret that the world of education and employment have a long way to go before they can be described as truly inclusive,”

I’d been battling for answers to my mystery symptoms since the age of 15, but it was only when my health significantly relapsed and I was struck down by an onslaught of debilitating pain and fatigue, that I was finally diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS).  Naturally, this all happened during my very first year of university, just as my young adult life was beginning.

With plenty of support and adjustments, I managed to continue my studies and graduated in 2016, but it wasn’t without its challenges. Adapting to life as a newly disabled student, I often felt lonely, isolated, and like nobody else in the world could understand what I was going through. I distinctly remember being shocked at what little support was available and how much I had to advocate for myself, how hard I had to fight for what I was entitled to, and how exhausting and disheartening it often seemed. Being a student can be a tough time for any young person, however, dealing with a fluctuating health condition adds a whole new dimension of difficulty.

Despite this, however, my time at university formed some of the very best years of my life. I studied a subject I loved and graduated with a 2:1, met a wonderful group of friends who I’m still in touch with and see regularly, and got to live in the beautiful city of York… where I’ve remained ever since

“I hope that by sharing my story, more people in similar situations to my own will feel better informed not only about the challenges being a student can bring, but also how to tackle these head-on and have the best experience possible.”

It’s no secret that the world of education and employment have a long way to go before they can be described as truly inclusive, and for some people more severely affected by chronic illness, higher education the way it exists now may not be the right option for them. However, I hope that by sharing my story, more people in similar situations to my own will feel better informed not only about the challenges being a student can bring, but also how to tackle these head-on and have the best experience possible.

After I completed my own higher education, I knew I wanted to create a resource that would fill the gap I so painfully felt during my own student years. Although there are some really brilliant personal blog posts from chronically ill individuals, sharing their own experiences, I noticed that much of the so-called official ‘support’ from universities and welfare services that presently exists for disabled students focuses on only the academic side of university life, rather than the overall student experience.

There was no comprehensive guide that chronically ill people in the UK could pick up if they were considering becoming, or preparing to become, students themselves…

… until now, that is.

My debut non-fiction book, University and Chronic Illness: A Survival Guide, is a chatty and relaxed, yet balanced and informative, resource: one that’s sincere and realistic about the challenges of studying with a fluctuating health condition, yet one which will hopefully empower future students to make informed decisions and to really get the most out of their time at university. Essentially, this book is made up of all the things I wish I’d had somebody to tell me back then.

The advice in this book comes from somebody who’s experienced the process first-hand: somebody who knows that your reasons for going to university often stretch far beyond only the lectures and studying. My book therefore strives to encompass all aspects of student life: socialising, independent living, managing your money, and what to do when things go wrong.

Chapter Summary

 

  1. Choosing A Degree
  • Considering Contact Hours
  • Practical vs Non-Practical Study
  • Ratio of exams and coursework
  • Using UCAS to research courses
  1. Choosing A University
  • Traditional Uni vs Online Learning
  • Full-time or part-time studying
  • Living at home or away in halls
  • Location of the university and local amenities
  • Going to Open Days and questions to consider
  1. The Application Process
  • Filling in the UCAS form
  • Reasonable adjustments in interviews and assessments
  • Accepting and declining offers
  • Dealing with results day
  1. Accommodation

 

  • Things to consider when choosing the best environment for your needs
  • Choosing on-campus or off-campus for second year
  • Dealing with landlords and additional requirements
  • Golden rules for deciding where to live
  1. Fresher’s Week
  • Pacing yourself during Move-In Day
  • Meeting flatmates and explaining your condition
  • Tips and tricks for going ‘out-out’
  • Alternate Events and managing expectations
  1. Day-to-day living
  • Arranging your medical care
  • Accessible cooking tips and easy meal ideas
  • Accessible cleaning tips and hacks
  • Arranging external help and PAs
  1. Social life
  • Student clubs and societies
  • Getting involved with the university
  • Socialising with friends and flatmates
  • Dealing with FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out
  • Managing difficult situations and getting help
  1. Managing your money
  • Financial support you may be entitled to
  • Part-time work and managing your health
  • Extra costs of disability and finding savings
  • Dealing with bills
  • Budgeting tips and advice
  1. Studying
  • Making a Support Plan with Disability Services
  • Managing contact hours
  • Accessible volunteering and placements
  • Studying and revision tips
  • Alternate exam arrangements and reasonable adjustments

As well as this guide hopefully being useful to individual students with long-term conditions, I’m also going to do everything in my power to make sure it also reaches university, college and school support staff, to help them better understand the unique challenges such students can face. My hope is that it will help to spark some important conversations about how to make the education system as inclusive as possible, and perhaps even one day, facilitate social change.

Above all else, however, I hope that any prospective or current chronically ill students reading this now know that they’re not alone. It can sometimes feel as though your hard work is going unnoticed, I know, but I sincerely and wholeheartedly believe in you. Your struggles are valid, and you deserve to celebrate every little victory your journey brings. Never forget that.

Do feel free to say hello at Life Of Pippa or on Instagram, and find out more about University and Chronic Illness: A Survival Guide on this page; you can purchase your own copy of the book here. Thanks for reading!

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