I feel really lucky that four months after my diagnosis I was able to begin my masters degree in a foreign country – not everyone gets that pleasure. Often lupus forces people to quit school or university, with hope of maybe returning when things are a little better.
I, however, am a stubborn individual, so when I was warned by multiple doctors that I should probably put my studies on hold, well, I knew I didn’t want to put my life on hold for a year. Luckily both the doctors and my parents decided to do their best to support my decision. But to gain my degree, and not end up in hospital having a flare up again, or be forced to drop out due to lupus – I knew I had to be extra careful. And there are a few simple ways to manage this.
Time management is key
With university comes deadlines – multiple deadlines. And with students comes the infamous procrastination. Many find that they work best close to the deadline – the pressure they feel makes them excel. But if you have lupus this is a really bad idea. Stress is one of the main triggers for a flare up (and who likes to be stressed anyway). So make sure you write assignments with enough time to relax about them, and go over them to edit. Always plan ahead. A few friends have thought me weird for always getting work done way in advance – but honestly I’ve always been one to keep on top of work, and knowing it will benefit my health gives me even more incentive. Not to mention when I was first being tested for lupus was when I needed to finish my final undergrad assignments and dissertation – if I had left all that to the last minute I would have submitted late and possibly submitted average work due to the stress of hospital visits. Something best to avoid!
Limit nights out
And with student life comes amazing night life. However, the heavy drinking and late nights can take a toll even on the healthiest body. So although it can be hard to say no, especially at first when you don’t want to say no to new friends, it is better to save your energy for the more important social events. After a particular heavy weekend I started getting chest pains like pericarditis again, so lesson learnt – the tequila shots aren’t worth it. You can still have fun, whether it’s sober fun or ending the night with chicken nuggets at 4am fun, just make sure you don’t let it become your life. Friends will understand, even if you say it’s just to save money.
Prep food at home
A healthy diet is one of the best ways to look after yourself. I aim to have a diet high in vegetables, protein from oily fish and legumes, iron rich leafy greens, fruit, and a little bit of dairy. My snacks I try to keep as low in salt as possible, and I limit my chocolate intake. I also avoided buying lunch from the university cafeteria. It wasn’t the most appetising, which helped, but I could predict it was high in salt and low in nutrition. It’s better to learn to make easy salads and pastas, with quinoa and couscous, at home to take to classes. And always have easy but healthy go to meals, such as beans on toast or scrambled eggs on toast (I do like toast) for when you’re super tired but need to get something to eat at home. Stay away from ready meals.
Keep in touch
Friends and family, wherever they are, want to know that you’re doing okay. They can help keep an eye on you, but also they can be there to talk to and complain to, because they know what you’re going through. Touching base is always healthy from time to time, especially if uni work and health issues can become overwhelming.
Let your tutor know
Always let your university know if you have an illness that affects your daily life. Some unis offer perks, like free printer credit or something. But it’s also important to let the university staff who are a main point of contact know that you have an illness that can flare up and interrupt your studies. If you need to push back deadlines, it’s best to let them know in advance this could happen just so you know the protocol, and they know it’s not coming out of just not getting your work done on time.
Story – I missed a day of classes when my medication made me ill and I had spent the night before with my head in the toilet (lovely mental image). I only found out towards the end of the semester one class I missed was in fact a graded seminar. My professor was only willing to give me a 0 for that grade with a doctors note, something I found unfair. So I contacted my personal tutor who spoke to head of studies, who argued my case and got my grade changed. I think it helped I had told both these tutors at the start of the year that I had lupus and it may affect my attendance/grades, so it didn’t come out of the blue, as though I was trying to play the ill card to fix a bad grade. With chronic illness you have to be prepared for its unpredictability, and let others be prepared.
Let your friends know
I didn’t do this right away – I wanted people to get to know me first before finding out I spend a lot of time with doctors and have a rather delicate body. But when I did tell them they were 100% supportive, and it felt like a relief that I didn’t have to feel shady about rushing off to appointments after class anymore. It’s such a huge part of your life, sadly, so it’s good to let the people you see the most know what’s going on. People want to help, and just knowing they understand helps you get through the difficulties lupus throws at you.
With good support and a little bit of common sense, if your body is doing okay it should be possible to throw yourself into studies and also have an amazing experience – like every student deserves.