Living with a health condition at uni: ‘It turned out to be hugely freeing’

27 Aug 2019,
By Kathryn W., Student at Northumbria University

Moving to university when you have an allergy, health condition, or both, can be a daunting prospect.

There’s extra preparation, maybe some anxiety about how best to tell your flatmates and friends, and perhaps a new experience of living with your condition without your parents to help you when you’re struggling.

But I’ve been there and done it, so let me put your mind at ease.

Preparing for shared living

Before I moved into halls, there were preparations to make aside from buying all my homegoods. There were more things to buy, and I had to make sure my medical care was moved seamlessly from my home healthcare team to the one in my new university city.

Having a health condition that requires refrigerated medication was another source of worry. Should I keep it in the communal fridge? Should I buy a mini-fridge for my room? Can I even have a mini-fridge in my room?

I decided to have a mini-fridge in my bedroom. All accommodation providers have their own rules but most are fairly flexible when it comes to appliances that you might need for your health condition, even if usually they’d say no. Having your own small fridge can provide huge peace of mind when it comes to your medication, saving it from being tampered with or going missing, and leaving you feeling in control.

Registering with my GP

One of the first things I did was register with a GP in my new city. Some GP services may even attend your freshers’ fair to ensure you’re registered. Once registered, I had to make sure I would be able to order any and all of the medications I need. Making an initial appointment with a new GP surgery can be a great way to start building a new relationship with the people in charge of your medical care. It was hugely reassuring to talk through all my concerns and anxieties with a doctor during my first few weeks at university and put my mind to rest.

Telling my flatmates

It is completely up to you whether you do or don’t inform your flatmates about your allergy or health condition. Alerting them to an allergy could be crucial, particularly if it’s a severe one. You still might need to be extra cautious in a communal kitchen but, if they’re aware, they may be more likely to take care when cooking. They’ll also be able to ask about and prepare for your allergy if cooking group meals, and know what foods to share with you.

I alerted my flatmates to my gluten allergy quite early on, and this made my life much easier when it came to cooking. They even included me in the planning and cooking of our flat christmas dinner so I could feel as involved as everyone else.

As for my health condition, I didn’t bother. It’s not something I usually have to rely on anyone else to help me with, and for the most part I feel in control. If telling your flatmates will help you feel more at ease, go for it! Try and spark up a casual conversation over drinks, or a board game. It might feel awkward at first, but answering their questions might make all of you feel more comfortable.

Feeling in control

I was nervous about moving to university, and having to cope with my health condition and allergy without my support network close by. But it turned out to be a hugely freeing experience. I felt in charge and in control and feel as though I had found a new independence.

Now, after my first year, I feel more confident, and know that I can handle whatever my condition throws at me.

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By Kathryn W.
Student at Northumbria University