Ask the Experts

Fearless Freshman

I am entering freshman year with a chronic medical condition. My mom worries more than I do. Is it best just to keep the problem to myself?

With the increasing number of undergraduate students entering college with a chronic illness, you bring up a sensitive question. Most students struggle with coursework and other campus-related issues, but those with chronic illnesses face the additional burden of managing their condition.

The first thing that you should consider is that you are not alone in your struggle. You will be out of your comfort zone for the first time and without your regular network of support and health advice, from your parents, friends and familiar doctors. But there will be an alternative support network available at your college. Keeping it to yourself may make college life a lot worse for you.

The first port of call should be Disability Student Services, a department that every college must have under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You should arrange a meeting with your campus disabilities counselor before you start your freshman year. This can be a lengthy process so it is best to do it before you are overwhelmed with the start of college. DSS will want to look at your medical records to determine the severity of your condition and decide on any action to take.

Your accommodation arrangement is first to consider, perhaps being assigned a single room may suit your needs more than a shared dorm. The decision to explain your condition to your roommates and classmates is yours alone. If you are using a cpap machine, your condition cannot be concealed from roommates. Some chose not wanting to burden other students or invite unwanted sympathy. It can be repetitive going over the same explanations, so you may want to limit what you divulge only to close friends.

If you have been living with a chronic condition for some time, you are probably used to explaining it to others. When you start college, you should take the time to talk to your professors, so they know there may be times when you miss classes if your condition flares up. Email your teachers when you will be absent to alleviate any misunderstandings, and your lecturers should be accommodating and may even share notes.

Be aware that things will not always go to plan, and there will be days that you just do not want to study, are constantly fatigued, lose your appetite or suffer side-effects from medication. You may need to develop your own strategies to manage, try not to let your condition be an excuse. Very few people will take into account your health struggles while navigating college assignments. Be strong and make sacrifices to catch up, since you have a lot more on your plate than the average student.

You do not have to get involved in every club and activity on campus; pick a couple that interest you and focus on them. Likewise, with social meetings and parties, mixing alcohol and medication is a recipe for disaster, so know your limits and do not be afraid to say no.

All moms worry but now you know that there are options for students with chronic conditions, you can reassure her and yourself that it will be ok.

If you’re going through hell, keep going… Winston Churchill.

Martin J. Young is a former correspondent of Asia Times.