Managing IBD at University

Updated: Jun 20, 2019

Can you believe the school year is already in full-swing? The start of any new school year is an exciting one, but it can also be stressful – especially for students living with a chronic disease, like IBD. Although managing a digestive issue while being a student can be difficult, there are many resources to make things a little bit easier.

We had the opportunity to chat with Nathalie, a fourth-year architect student, and blogger of ‘Gutsy Feeling‘ who has Crohn’s disease. Nathalie was diagnosed with Crohn’s in 2008 and has a lot of insight into how to manage university life while living with a chronic digestive disease.

Tips for Living with IBD at School

Nathalie is the first to understand that managing IBD while going to university can be tough, but she has a few tips to make it a little bit easier. One is to be conscious about the food decisions you make. “Living at home made it easy for me to eat good food and avoid all the bad food often found in the cafeteria. If you do live in residence I would suggest buying groceries and trying to make as many conscious decisions about food as you can,” said Nathalie. She also suggests accessing the school’s disability services. Nathalie says disability services at school “are a great safety net for you to fall back on if you are unwell.”

Disability Services

If you haven’t yet looked into your school’s disability services, look them up now! Talk to your doctor about getting a letter to provide to the school and make an appointment with the disability services department to discuss how they can help make school life a little bit easier for you.

When Nathalie first began school, she met with her disability coordinator and discussed what accommodations would be best for her. “I was granted opportunities to have extensions when necessary, write my exams in the disability services office and to have excused absences from class for appointments when necessary,” said Nathalie.

Nathalie’s disability services have been a great resource for her. They bring her peace of mind, even in the semesters when she didn’t need to utilize them as much.  “Since this illness is so unpredictable, it was nice to be able to have aid if I flared out of the blue. The ability to move my final exams and balance my schedule was really nice during exam season because I didn’t have to get too stressed (which we all know can affect your IBD),” said Nathalie.

Talking to Your Professors

It can be intimidating to discuss personal concerns with your professor, but it is important in getting them caught up with what you’re going through in the event you ever need to work with disability services in moving an exam date or extending the date of an assignment. Nathalie is a pro at updating her professors about her Crohn’s and offers some great advice.

“At the beginning of each semester I find it easiest to email my professors to schedule a time to meet or have the conversation through email if that works better. I think emailing is especially helpful for my elective classes where there are hundreds of students. It can be intimidating going up to the professor before or after class in a huge lecture hall, so setting up a time to meet privately is always better. I try to introduce myself in my email by explaining who I am, what program I am in, my disability (as much or as little info as I want) and what they can do to accommodate me if needed. One thing that I urge people to do is to always send an initial email at the beginning of the semester, your professor will not be happy and will be a lot more reluctant to help you if you need an extension in the last week of the semester,” said Nathalie.

Balancing School and Student Life with a Flare

When you’re experiencing a flare-up, the thought of school work and student life is the last on your mind – but at some point, we all have to push through. When Nathalie is experiencing a flare-up during school, she uses her down time to relax and practice self-care. However, every so often, Nathalie believes it’s important to push herself out of her comfort zone, even when she’s not feeling up to it.  In order to do so, she makes sure she is fully prepared in the event she needs to dip out early from a student life event. It can look different for everyone, but for Nathalie she will drive herself to a party so that she can leave whenever and will bring her peppermint essential oil for when she gets muscle pain. She will also make sure she knows where the nearest bathroom is. “Being prepared can make it so that you can relax and have fun and not have to worry about your escape plan,” said Nathalie.

Make Yourself a Priority

“University can be extremely stressful, so it is very important that you practice self-care, listen to your body and remember that your health is your number one priority,” said Nathalie. For the first few years of her university life, Nathalie was like many students in thinking that school work and grades had to be her top priority. But, through time she realized that her health and wellbeing was more important. “It is okay to get a B or C on a paper once in a while, if that means I can keep myself sane and healthy.”

Check out Nathalie’s blog, Gutsy Feeling, where she shares content on school, self-care, Crohn’s disease, and food. She’s also on Instagram @gutsyfeeling.

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