You are stronger than you think
As part of Young Epilepsy’s ‘Back to University campaign’, I will be discussing my experience of living with epilepsy and attending freshers’ week at university.
Freshers' Week is a seven-day programme where new university students attend both day and night events - it can involve a lot of drinking and late nights which can be daunting for someone with epilepsy. However, I have experienced fresher’s week twice and have gathered some useful information on how to have the best and most enjoyable experience whilst still being safe. I will discuss both of my freshers’ weeks and talk about how I coped with managing my health and starting university life.
I first experienced Freshers’ when doing an Art foundation at the University of Arts London and secondly when doing my degree at The University of Gloucestershire. Freshers' week is a daunting experience for anyone and I was certainly full of mixed emotions. Of course I was very excited about moving away for the first time, but with the excitement came a lot of fear. Also, I was filled with this worry and anxiety that my body wouldn’t be able to keep up with the busy and chaotic time of freshers. However, through taking one day at a time I learned how to adapt to university life.
If you are staying in halls of residence, which I was, the other students living there will be the first people you’ll meet and bond with. On the first day, once we had settled into our rooms, I made sure to communicate to a couple of my flat mates about my condition. I was in a flat of five and decided to tell two of the people living with me who I felt most comfortable telling. I know this is scary in itself but for me this was vital for many reasons. One reason was for safety, if I had a seizure they would know what was happening and had an understanding of what to do. I also explained to them, due to my medication side effects and seizure triggers, I might not be able to come on some nights out, I won’t be drinking as much as them and I require a good night sleep. They were super understanding and just wanted to make sure I was okay.
My main seizure trigger is fatigue so as freshers’ week is full of nights out this was scary for me - but I made it work by having a balance of socialising and resting. At university when you have a night out, people normally have pre-drinks at someone’s flat before going to the club. Personally, I learnt that for me a great balance was going to pre-drinks (where I could chat and make new friends) then most of the time I would head back to my room to go to sleep instead of heading onto the club or evening fresher event. Therefore I would not be putting my health at risk and get a good night sleep. This for me is a clear example of balance and compromising as you are still meeting people, interacting and making friends but still getting enough sleep. However, if I did decide to go out to the club, I would make sure I always stayed with one of my friends from my halls of residence. And if I started to feel tired or poorly, then thankfully one of my amazing flat mates would come home with me to make sure I got back safely. If I did go to the club, then the next day I would make sure I was set for a full day of rest as I knew how important it was to allow my body to recover. This meant staying in bed, having a day of watching films and letting your body recharge.
If going to parties and nights out aren’t your thing, then don’t worry as freshers has a huge amount of day events happening. Every university will have a daytime fresher’s fair which is an amazing place to make friends and join societies. The university will provide a wide range of different societies which allow you to meet people with similar interests.
When I did my art foundation in London, I would only drink a very small amount of alcohol. My neurologist had advised me if I was going to drink alcohol only have a small amount, for example one glass of wine or a beer. But personally, I found it doesn’t mix well with my medication - it would bring out more medication side effects and I would feel drunker quicker than everyone else. I was adamant if someone offered me a drink I would decline. However, you do get the occasional person ask why you are not drinking or joining in with the drinking game, and from my experience the best thing to do is just be honest and say something like: “oh because of a medical reason.” Or if you feel you need to give more detail add on that you are epileptic. I found most people would understand straight away and move on. Be strong and don’t give into peer pressure.
When I joined the University of Gloucestershire, I had stopped drinking alcohol completely due to not liking how it mixed with my medicine. So I did my second freshers completely sober. The way I managed to still be involved with freshers was by attending more day-time events. I still made lots of friends but I also made sure to create strong bonds with my flat mates. I learnt if they are going to be a good, true friend they don’t mind that you’re not drinking as your health is important to them. So even if you aren’t into the party scene and drinking, as I am aware through personal experience epilepsy can limit this, you can still go to so many day time events and make so many friends. Not everyone does drink and there will be other people in the same boat as you.
To me, Freshers’ was about planning and balance and always remembering to put your body and how you are feeling first. There is a lot of social pressure at university, but it is important to put your health first. If I felt like my body was struggling and in need of a rest, I would stay in and watch some films. I am a strong believer that it is important to listen to how your body is feeling and don’t allow the pressure to push your health over the edge. But most importantly have fun!
Here I will summarise with some quick tips for Freshers' week -
1. Be honest and open with your friends – make sure to communicate to the people you are spending freshers with that you are epileptic and what to do if you have a seizure.
2. Drink responsibly – It is fine to say no to a drink. If you are drinking alcohol drink lots of water too. You know what is right for your body so don’t ignore that.
3. Rest – make sure you get enough sleep. For me fatigue is a big seizure trigger, therefore I would always make sure if I had gone out the night before to get enough rest the following day.
4. Attend day events – so much happens during fresher’s week in the day too. This is a great place to meet people if you are not into partying.
5. Flat mates – making effort with flat mates is important as this can provide a great set of support for you!
6. Listen to your body – Attending pre-drinks but not going to the club after was a great way for me to make lots of friends but not do the full night out. This is a great balance!
7. Eat and drink lots of water – Fresher week is a busy week but it is so important to eat and drink well to keep your body at its strongest.
8. Stay with others – When on a night out and at fresher’s events make sure to stay with someone who is aware about your condition and to know what to do if you had a seizure.
9. Medical ID bracelet – This is a great way to feel safer when out with people who don’t know about your condition.
10. Have fun! - Epilepsy can cause you to need to plan a bit more but this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself and have fun at freshers!
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