For most Exeter students that began their wild week of being a Fresher on September the 12th, being nervous was quite a popular emotion. Being thrown into a flat full of people you have never met before whilst being expected to chug a dirty pint and do 3 shots of vodka every single night can be pretty daunting.
However, taking this giant leap of independence can seem even more overwhelming if you are doing all these things with an invisible illness. An invisible illness can be anything from anxiety to arthritis – it covers a whole range of disabilities and difficulties that cannot be seen at first glance.
the way I survived my first week of mayhem at Exeter was by being totally open and honest with my flatmates.
This brings about many problems for the sufferer, especially when meeting new people. I suffer from an invisible illness called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome which causes chronic pain and fatigue along with many other symptoms that you can’t see. The thought of moving in with a group of people who have never heard of this illness loomed over me for the weeks before I became an official fresher. Worries about having to keep up with everyone else on nights out or going for walks around campus kept me awake at night, and I feel like many people embarking on this journey with a disability feel similarly.
For me personally, the way I survived my first week of mayhem at Exeter was by being totally open and honest with my flatmates. Luckily I have been placed with six caring and compassionate people who are always on hand to help – but I understand this isn’t always the case. Being open about your illness and attempting to raise awareness can be so beneficial in many ways. For example, if you suffer from social anxiety and you are on a night out with your flat, having someone who knows this makes it a lot easier to explain why you may need to leave early. Another positive aspect of being honest about your illness is that it means people will be more understanding towards others in the future. It may mean that someone will think twice about judging someone who gets out of their car after parking in a disabled bay and looking ‘normal’.
One of the most important things to remember as a fresher with an invisible illness is that you are not alone. There are many students around you who will have some form of health issue that you are unable to see. And one of the most important things to remember if you are a flatmate or friend of someone living with an invisible illness is that they are living with this every minute of every day so please be patient! Having to cancel plans or not being up for going out are usually because of legitimate reasons and usually leave the sufferer feeling very guilty.
Another positive aspect of being honest about your illness is that it means people will be more understanding towards others in the future.
Being a fresher has taught me so many things already and the support and love I have received from both the University and students has been overwhelming. Two years ago I never thought it would be possible for me to move out and live independently but now here I am and I am loving every minute of it. Yes there are times when I can’t get out of bed due to pain and it frustrates the hell out of me, but there are also times when I go to my lectures and feel inspired by what I am learning. Or times when I go on a night out and dance like crazy. Before I left for Uni someone told me that the most important thing to keep in mind when living with a chronic illness is that there is “no such thing as a typical university experience” and I have to remind myself of this often. University is your own experience to enjoy so don’t let anything get in your way and grab the opportunity with both hands!
Being a fresher has taught me so many things already and the support and love I have received from both the University and students has been overwhelming.