Nine ways I survived college in an IBD flare

Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that the following opinions are based on my experience during college. I am not a professional and this is not professional advice. It is meant as a guide to help others. However, please talk to your doctors, support systems and families to find ways to help support your individual needs during college.

9. Fatigue issues: IBD makes it extremely hard to deal with fatigue. I had to brute force my last semester so I could graduate but if you are not in a rush, I wouldn’t recommend it. Lack of sleep and rest has always led my flare to become 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 couches 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. Don’t feel guilty and get enough rest!

8. 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 it is hard to catch up. I had most of my issues with group projects. Yes, they still assign group projects 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 busy 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 in order to refresh my memory. This made it easy to try and keep up.

7. 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 safety 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 usually the best you can do.

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 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 small trash receptacles. 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 Ziploc bags. Once in the past I had one of my sprays leak in my bathroom baggy and keeping it in the plastic bag kept my other items safe. I kept the underwear in its own Ziploc bag for hygienic reasons. Keeping these items with me at all times made me feel safer 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, peanut butter, crackers, or pretzels. 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.

2. Support: 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. You don’t go through this disease alone. Your support system is fighting through this disease with you!

1. Disabilities Office: The single most important thing I did 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 semesters 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 extended bathroom breaks during class. I also was able to have a certain amount of excused sick days during the semester with a doctors note. 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 teacher 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.