During my final semester in college I suffered from the second worst IBD flare in my life. Here are some tips and tricks I used to help me graduate before completely losing my sanity. As always, these are my opinions and experiences. Make sure you keep in touch with your doctors to help keep your condition under control. I hope some of these ideas can be helpful to you.
10. Fatigue issues:
IBD makes it extremely hard to deal with fatigue. I had to brute force my last semester so that I could graduate but if you are not in a rush, I don’t recommend it. Lack of sleep and rest has always led my flare to become a lot worse. One of my personal issues was getting over the fear and guilt I felt from sleeping in on the weekends and taking additional naps. This included sleeping on campus in quiet areas that had couch or benches. I would throw my coat over me and take naps with my phone as my alarm so I wouldn’t oversleep. Sometimes your body just needs it. Get enough rest!
9. Start your assignments/studying early:
Probably one of the hardest things to do and adhere to while you’re in college. Simply because the workload can absolutely throw off your schedule and then it is hard to catch up. I had issues with group projects and yes, they still do this in college. It is difficult to plan my schedule around other people. Thankfully, with options like google docs/skype/group text messaging it is a lot easier to communicate and get things done even when you cannot meet with people. You get to stay home and use the bathroom all you want and get your work done. It is a blessing for IBD people. For assignments and readings, I tried very hard to complete my assignments on the weekends and this gave me a nice breather for the weekdays. Granted this meant that I had no life on weekends, but it was for a good cause. I read my assignments or novels and took notes about what I read. Then I was able to read through the notes before class especially if the class was mid-week and refresh my memory and I was able to keep up.
8. Waking up early:
One of the most dreaded things for me because I have a hard time sleeping and a hard time staying asleep (because I wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom). I would wake up earlier than necessary and this gave me enough time to use the bathroom and get to class safely on time. Did I get to class on time every time? Nope, however, I was pretty consistent with arriving on time for most of the semester. Honestly with IBD that’s the best you can do.
7. Courtesy Email:
I never followed this step prior to my final semester. However, my flare was so bad that it was going to start looking obvious that I was randomly rushing out of the classroom. Granted you don’t have to tell anyone your condition, that is your own private matter. I felt a need to express myself to the professors who would be watching me run out of their classroom urgently for the next 4-5 months. I sent out an email (which was quite detailed) about my ulcerative colitis diagnosis. It stated that I had a difficult time with my colitis flare and that I have been flaring since the summer. It also stated that I was starting new medication to help me get it under control. I also attached an image of my disabilities card and a few links of my condition that they could read about. I was nervous about the replies I would receive and honestly not all were supportive. Four out of Six professors were extremely understanding. They offered me their best wishes and hoped that I would reach remission soon. They also told me I was free to run to the bathroom as needed. One out of professors simply told me that her class was difficult, and she linked me her attendance schedule. She also told me that people who missed her class a lot were more likely to do bad on her exams. One professor didn’t know what to say and he simply Cc’d the disabilities office that he understood I would need the bathroom more often than other people. Which was strange because my personal letter was now forwarded to some random person in disabilities. I can honestly say that none of the professors gave me any troubles during the semester even if some of their replies were less than kind. I am thankful for that.
6. Locate the nearest bathrooms:
Extremely important when you are in a new building or class. I tend to look for two bathrooms because occasionally one of the bathrooms might be out of order for cleaning and this can lead to a panic when you need to use the bathroom. Some of the buildings I was in even had single stall bathrooms available.
5. Have a bathroom baggy:
This was a lifesaver for me especially on long days. There were days (often) that I was out of the house for 17 hours. My bathroom baggy contained wet bathroom wipes, I buy the box from Costco because I go through them so quickly. I pack a full size bathroom wipes container (the travel size is not enough when you are flaring) and I even carried an extra pack with me in my backpack just in case. It also contained bathroom spay (Poo-purri, in lavender vanilla) which really works by the way and makes using shared bathrooms a little less embarrassing. I also carried an empty plastic bag with me and an extra pair of underwear. The extra plastic bag is there for me in case the stall I am in does not have one of the receptacles for feminine hygiene products. I don’t like to flush the wet wipes down the toilet because I don’t like to cause trouble. Instead, I throw them out in the garbage in the stall or I use the plastic bag as my garbage and then throw it out in the main bathrooms garbage. I also keep the bathroom spray and the underwear in their own ziplocks bags. Once in the past I had one of my sprays leak on me once and keeping it in the bag kept my other items safe. The underwear I keep in its own ziplock bag for hygienic reasons. Keeping these items with me at all times made me feel safe with IBD.
4. Extra clothing:
If you have a car it is a lot easier to store away some extra clothes while being far from home. I commute to school and work and so I carried a spare pair of pants with me in my backpack. Although no one wants to admit it, accidents happen to those of us with IBD and it is always best to prepare for the absolute worse.
3. “Safe Foods”:
I spent my last semester with all home-cooked food. I have to be honest it was heavy and clunky to carry but it helped me a lot. My foods consisted of a breakfast food, usually just a banana during a bad flare. When my medicine kicked in, I was able to enjoy some oatmeal with a banana mixed in and a little honey. My lunch was a sourdough sandwich which had sliced turkey or boiled chicken, half an avocado and boiled dandelion greens/boiled spinach (I also would pour on a teaspoon of evoo right before eating it). My dinner was usually rice, sweet potato and a lean protein (boiled chicken/homemade turkey burgers/baked cod) I also would pour some evoo on it right before eating it. I honestly would rarely bring snacks. However, my snacks would be similar to a banana, some walnuts, peanut butter or crackers. I believe eating foods that were easy to digest and worked well with me help me during my worst flares. Nothing at the cafeteria even looked remotely easy to digest for me and I know it would cause me extra pain and running to the bathroom. Keep in mind that foods that work for some people, might not work for others at all. This will be something you will personally need to test. I actually went to see a nutritionist to give me advice on what foods were easy for me to digest. Even this required trial and error.
Support is crucial to mentally prepare you for IBD. I tried to surround myself with people who were going to be the light when a lot of my medication was not working as well as it used to. Mentally it was one of the hardest things to prepare myself for. My mom was really helpful and helped prepare a lot of my meals, so I always had my staples to pack with me. My partner and sister were the best people to express my frustrations while I was suffering through exams, bland foods, and endless doctor exams. The prednisone I was taking would also make me cry uncontrollably and let me tell you it was a comforting thing knowing I always had someone to message. Not only was I going through a hard time but everyone with me was also going through a hard time watching me. This made me feel less alone.
1. Disabilities Office:
The single most important thing I did was in college was sign up with the disabilities office/special services offices. It took me awhile to sign up with them because I felt embarrassed. After a few semester the IBD pain and embarrassment was too much. I’m sure every college Is different but for my school I had to present a letter from my doctor which stated what I had and how it affects me. From that, the disabilities office was able to assign me accommodations. I received bathroom break during class for up to 10 minutes without being asked where I was going. I also was able to have 10 sick days during the semester with a doctors note. However, they could not be more than 2 days consecutive. The most important accommodation I received was I was able to take my exams in a special room with a proctor and I was able to use the bathroom if needed during the exam. Time stopped for me when I used the bathroom and would resume when I returned. Strangely enough I never used this accommodation but I felt so safe knowing it was there for me. In the past, you were given a letter to present to your teacher which stated your accommodations. Later on they gave me a card (it looked like my ID card but it did not contain my name) instead it had my student ID number. The back of the card stated your accommodations and you could present this card to your professor at the beginning of the semester. If you are in college don’t be afraid to go sign up with the disabilities/special services office, it will literally change your life.