It’s that time of year when many young people are getting exam results and thinking about their future. But what if you’re disabled or chronically ill?
York’s very own Pippa Stacey is here to tell you more about her journey going to university with ME/CFS:
My name is Pippa, and I’m a writer and a blogger. I’m originally from Sheffield and now live in York, where I also work in communications consultancy in the charity sector. You can find more from me at Life Of Pippa, and on Instagram at @lifeofpippa.
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, working towards an honours degree and generally living my best life. A year later, I was struggling to stand up on my own.
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). Of course, all this took place during my very first year of university, just as my young adult life was beginning.
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 the whole situation seemed. Being a student can be a tough time for any young person, but dealing with a fluctuating health condition adds an entirely new dimension of difficulty.
With support and adjustments, I did manage to continue my studies and graduate, but it wasn’t without its challenges. Adapting to life as a newly disabled student, especially one with an invisible illness, I often felt lonely, isolated, and like nobody else in the world could possibly understand what I was going through. Despite all this, however, it’s safe to say that my time at university genuinely formed some of the best, most rewarding years of my life.
At this point, 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. Much less one written by somebody who’s experienced the process first-hand: somebody who knows that your reasons for going to university often stretch far beyond the lectures and textbooks.
So, I decided to compile everything I’d learned into what went on to become my debut non-fiction book – University and Chronic Illness: A Survival Guide. It’s a chatty and relaxed, yet balanced and informative resource. It’s sincere and realistic about the challenges of studying with a fluctuating health condition, yet will hopefully empower future students to make informed decisions and to really get the most out of their time at university.
I’ve shared my own personal experiences and struggles that many others are likely to relate to, as well as universal tips and tricks that will hopefully make life a little easier for future students. Essentially, this book is made up of all the things I wish I’d had somebody to tell me back then.
If you have any tips or advice for anyone starting college, university or other education opportunities, pop them in the comments or get in touch with us about writing your own blog post.