Sonam on managing an invisible disability at uni
Invisible disabilities are often unspoken of, and when they are, they are frequently misunderstood—did you know that invisible disabilities are long-term conditions and have many identities? This includes Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Lyme Disease, Crohn’s Disease and mental illnesses such as depression to name a few - affecting everyone differently and often showing no physical symptoms.
As a sufferer of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia, my symptoms include chronic joint pain, fatigue, and brain fog. Even though I’ve had both conditions since childhood, settling into adulthood with an invisible disability has not been easy - especially throughout uni. However, through trial and error, I’ve picked up some ways to manage it that might just help if you also suffer from an invisible disability.
Tell your uni
Reaching out to my uni’s disability services gave me an understanding shoulder to lean on, and the earlier you can do this the better - meaning extra support, particularly around exams, will be in place sooner rather than later - saving you lots of unnecessary stress. The support you get will be tailored to your needs and can include pre-lecture slides, attendance flexibility, special arrangements for exams and notifying your lecturers so they can support you further.
Additionally, if you live in England I highly recommend that you apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs). This can cover some of the extra costs that you might have as a result of being a student with an invisible illness, including help with the cost of assistive equipment and software.
Tell your mates
Uni life can be demanding for everyone, and that includes the social aspect of it. So, as a student with an invisible disability it can naturally become exhausting at times when you are studying, socialising, and simultaneously trying to explain your condition to the world, despite looking ‘perfectly healthy.’
Although initially sceptical, I found that telling my closest friends was extremely useful. It was an opportunity for my friends to understand me a little better and recognise that every so often I might not be able to make it to a social event or lectures.
And it’s important to note, that your friends may not immediately understand your symptoms and how to support you, which was the case for me. But be patient.
It might be hard for them to understand something they cannot contemplate or see. And if they are willing to learn about it, that’s a great indication that they are friends for the long term.
Listen to your needs
At uni, there will be days where your symptoms will be worse than others, and during these days it’s okay to say no to social events, and even class.
Having experienced it first-hand, studying with an invisible disability can be mentally and physically draining, especially when people are constantly unsympathetic or doubtful it exists. So, this means taking it easy when necessary, and pushing yourself only at the appropriate moments.
To everyone struggling with an invisible disability - remember that any challenge that your invisible illness brings during your time at uni can be overcome. Your invisible illness doesn’t define you and I can vouch for that.