You are stronger than you think
As part of Young Epilepsy ‘Back to University campaign’, I will be discussing my experience of living with epilepsy and moving away from home to university for the first time.
Moving away from home is an exciting stepping stone in life but can also be very daunting, especially if you have epilepsy. I first moved away from home at eighteen to go to university, this was a huge step for me. I was full of mixed emotions. I had a lot of anxieties about it to do with my epilepsy, such as: “How was I going to manage moving away from the safety of home and look after my epilepsy? How was I go to lead a ‘normal’ university life whilst balancing my health?”But I learnt as I went along and through my experiences how to manage. I will share my advice on what made it easier moving away from home to university whilst managing my condition, epilepsy.
Before choosing the university, I would do research into their student support services (disability support). I specifically chose The University of Gloucestershire because it had been rated high for their amazing disability support/student support services. I had read many great reviews online from previous students. It is very important to me that they have a strong understanding disability support system in place. In the past I haven’t had this and it makes a big difference to your education and wellbeing when the support is good and they understand you.
I would also meet with the disability team before moving to the university. This is to communicate with them what support you require from them, the university and what they can do in advance to make you feel more comfortable. For example, I expressed how important it is that it is explained to my lecturers about my condition, how it affects me and to share any of my concerns or worries. To have the support set up and someone to go to when you are in need is of great help.
I was aware the disability team had sent an email to my course leader about my condition. But I also set up meetings with my course leader and tutor to inform them about my epilepsy and how it can affect my learning. I think talking face to face and being honest is the best way to gain their understanding. I have learnt how important it is they understand what you are going through, so they can be there to support and guide you.
Another important thing to organise is signing up to a new doctor in your university town. Have an appointment with them to discuss your medical history and your epilepsy. Also it is important to set up your repeat prescription. For me these are two key things to organise at the start of term or even prior. Top tip: The more you organise before you move to university the easier and more comfortable you will feel when you arrive.
Next for me was being open and honest with friends about my condition. This allows me to feel safer and more comfortable in a new environment. I would always make sure to tell my closest flat mates and friends in my lectures about my condition: how it affects me and what to do if I have a seizure. I also gave my parents contact details to my friends. This made my parents feel more at ease about me being away from home. I felt reassured that if I was to have a bad seizure and needed to go to hospital, my friends could let my parents know right away.
For me it is important I eat regularly and healthily. Before leaving for university I literally only knew how to cook an egg and that was about it! So the summer before I moved my parents taught me some healthy, simple meals to cook which was really helpful. Also I brought an easy student cookery book. When I cooked, I would always tell one of my flat mates that I was cooking, then they would cook with me or chat to me whilst I cooked, just to be safe, in case I where to have a seizure when preparing or cooking food. I believe after eating a good warming cooked meal you can get a lot of comfort from that and feel better in yourself.
Getting enough sleep is an important part of looking after my health. This was a big worry for me when I was moving to university. What I have learnt is be strong and listen to my body. There is a lot of peer pressure at university. So you learn the importance of declining going out or a late night if you are tired and rest is needed. Sleep is so important. You feel a lot happier and settled when you had a good night sleep. I learnt my friends understood if I wasn’t going out and needed to rest because they knew about my situation.
Also, most first year students choose halls of residence. This is a great way to get into university life and make friends. However, I have learnt depending on the bedroom you have this can be noisy. Therefore when applying for you room communicate with the university accommodation team that you need a quiet room, away from the kitchen, main road, entrance door, lifts and not on the ground floor. Knowing you have a quiet, non-noise disturbed room really helps with settling in to university life; it is reassuring to know you can get a good night sleep.
Choose halls or accommodation nearest to your university campus. This depends on if your university is a campus university or not, mine weren’t. But I made sure my halls where near to the campus. This was because if I felt ill during a lecture or was tired after a day of university, I was comforted that I didn’t have far to walk back to my flat.
Take care of yourself, your mental health and take some time to go on a walk to the park or do some exercise. I joined the gym in the second year of university; this was a daunting prospect for me as I am not a sporty person! But I wanted to do it for more for well-being. Having found a routine of going to the gym in the morning, when I didn’t have lectures, really helped me settle and contributed to a healthy mind. Doing some form of exercise, yoga or meditation can help you settle quicker; stress is a seizure trigger for me and having exercise as a stress realise was a great help towards managing my epilepsy.
Overall, I learnt I am at my happiest and most settled when people around me understand my condition and know what to do if I was to have a seizure. These people include my flat mates, my friends, my lecturers and my disability support team. Establishing an environment where to feel safe in and having a support system in place is key.
Here are some of my top tips for moving away from home for the first time to university -
1. Accommodation – notify the accommodation team that you are epileptic and require good sleep for your health. Then they can provide you with a quieter room for example, not near an entrance or main road
2. Take care of yourself – sleep well and get fresh air. All these factors will help towards settling in and feeling good.
3. Meet with disability support – make a meeting before you start to communicate the support you require so they understand your situation.
4. Open days – visit the university, see their support team and accommodation to see if it will be suitable for you and your epilepsy.
5. Be honest with your friends – tell them about your condition and what to do if you have a seizure.
6. Sign up to a local doctor and pharmacy.
7. Make your university room feel like a safe haven – decorate your bedroom with lots of photos of friends, family and made it feel homely.
8. Make sure your lecturers/teachers are aware – it is so important teachers are made aware of your condition and how it affects you. Help them to understand you.
9. Eat well – learning how to cook the summer before university was a big help to me!
10. Choose halls near your university campus – this will help with fatigue and it is comforting knowing your room is only walking distance away!
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