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College and Life with Lupus: Services & Strategies

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Living with lupus means dealing with plenty of challenges, and college can add to the list. But, university services can offer support to help you stay on track.

Transitioning from being a child with lupus to being an adult with lupus is hard enough. But, add in going to college and it can feel overwhelming. Studies show high rates of anxiety and depression in college students with chronic illness, as well as high levels of stress. These challenges lead to lower rate of graduation rates for people with chronic illnesses. You can read more about anxiety and lupus here

Despite all that, it isn’t all bad. Attending university is an incredible educational opportunity, both in the classroom and in life. Janya Sims, a Lupus Warrior attending college writes in her blog:

“I had to learn to know my limits… I had to learn to have open communication with my professors and let them know when I would have good or bad days.”

 

Whether online or in-person, college presents a high workload, new people, and new opportunities. Maintaining healthy eating habits can be hard.

When things get tough, remember to go easy on yourself. Give yourself room to try new things and to fail. Forgive yourself if a flare causes you to slip, and always take care of yourself, first. Plus, many schools offer accommodations to help people with disabilities and chronic illnesses.

If you are having trouble with financial aid, you can check out LIFE scholarship or College Scholarships.com for lupus-specific scholarships. You can also learn more about financial aid and lupus here. What else can you do to make your college experience the best that it can be?

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Accommodations and Disability Services

Accommodations are scientifically proven to offer support.

It can be hard, and even frustrating, to ask for help. You aren’t looking for an easy road or “using your disease as an excuse.” Instead, think of accommodations as being a “difficulty adjustment” for your college experience. Lupus causes you to enter on “hard mode,” and you owe it to yourself to make your school life easier so that you can stay healthy and get through school.

Talking to your college professors, school healthcare professionals, and counselors can open many doors for you. Or, at the very least, buy you time if you can’t complete an assignment at deadline. Be respectful and polite, but don’t be shy away from asking for what you need. Your health is on the line, after all, and people are usually sympathetic.

Types of Accommodations

Flares can come up at any time, and might make it difficult to go to class or do work. In order to focus on your health, these accommodations might be important:

  • Note takers
    • Note takers attend the class and take notes on the lecture. Though they may not take notes in the same way as you do, they are at least able to offer the information that was presented.
  • Office Hours
    • Here’s a secret: Visiting professors is one of the most useful things you can do during college. Not only do you get a chance to better understand assignments, you will have an opportunity to ask questions to an expert in a topic you find interesting.
    • Office hours also provide an opportunity to build a rapport with a professor. This doesn’t just help when managing lupus. It can be key when you need a letter of recommendation!
  • Online Classes
    • Many courses these days can be taken either partially or completely online. Each school – and sometimes each class – will use a different online aggregator. But, many have ways for you to listen to lectures, turn in assignments, and communicate with classmates.
    • You can be a student from the comfort of your own home or dorm room – or from the hospital, if you feel up for it. This is a powerful tool for Lupus Warriors, because you will be better able control your environment, your health and take care of your needs.
    • Even if the class itself is not online, some professors may be able to give you special online assignments as an accommodation.
  • Absence Forgiveness
    • Many colleges and professors treat absences and tardies harshly, but this can be an undue burden on a student with lupus or other chronic diseases. Having something in place to let your school and college know officially that this is going to happen can get them to ease up. This peace of mind reduces your stress (and making it more likely that your health will let you attend!)
  • Flexible Deadlines
    • While you should always try to do and complete your work on time (or early!) having some flexibility in your deadlines can relieve some of the pressure.
  • Caregivers
    • Some students with lupus won’t be coming into the college environment alone. Instead, they will have a caretaker, either medically trained staff or a family member, accompanying them. A reasonable accommodation for a caregiver can range from housing them in the same room to letting them come to class. You can read more about caregivers and support here.

In all cases, bring extra copies of your medical requirement forms. Share it with those who you trust and may need it like professors, your roommate, or the RA.

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Back to School List

Your college and professors can do a lot for college-going Lupus Warriors. But, there are a few things you can – and should – do for yourself. It requires a bit of planning and a few sacrifices to the college experience, but the results are well worth it.

  • Find Doctors in the Area
    • If you’re going to college in another city or state, you should research what doctors and medical facilities are nearby. You can do this by talking to the college, getting referrals from your doctors, calling your insurance agency, or even going right to the source and looking into nearby hospitals and clinics. The American College of Rheumatology can also be a great source.
    • You can find out more about finding the doctors that you need in our article, here.
  • Keep a Good Sleep Schedule
    • College students have a reputation for all-nighters, and Lupus Warriors often suffer from sleep problems. However, lack of sleep can affect your health and your school work, so try your best to get enough sleep.
  • Keep a Stash of Your Own Meals
    • Eating is vital to your health. And it can be hard to keep to a lupus special dietlow in sugars or high in fiber, for example. Even if you don’t have a special diet, having a refrigerator in your room or even just a few simple meals stashed away for a rainy (or cold, or flare-y day) can save you a lot of stress.
    • Delivery services can help too! grab a few menus that will bring food right to your dorm for a hot, fresh easy meal!
  • Aim for Early
    • Leaving yourself plenty of time to get to class can cut out a lot of stress. Even if something happens on the way or you feel sluggish, if you leave early you will arrive more or less on time, which means less class missed.
    • Aiming for early is great for assignments, too! You won’t be as stressed about completing them and can proactively adjust to health issues
  • Be Up-to-Date
    • If you are living on campus, you are living in close quarters with other people. Since your immune system is weakened by lupus and medications, this means that you will be in contact with a lot of germs. Getting sick is the last thing that you want to happen. Stay up-to-date with immunizations and keep yourself and your space clean with some basic hygiene practices (washing your hands, for instance) you’ll keep a lot of the sickness at bay.
  • Bring Warm Clothes
    • With Reynaud’s syndrome in play, a sweater and gloves can help you stay warm and comfortable
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You Can Do It!

Most of all, though, forgive yourself. College is a time for expanding horizons and learning about yourself as a human.

Ignore people who are rude or dismissive. Take care of yourself, do your best, and forgive yourself for slipping up and running out of energy at times.

This is a new stage of your life, and a new stage of your lupus journey.  if you need support, check for groups on campus or online.

You can also join our forums here, where thousands of people with lupus share their
experiences. We’re all rooting for you – good luck!

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