Freshman year at college is an exciting time. It’s a whole experience of living off campus, away from home, at a place where you’re studying something you’re passionate about. Because you’re away from home, you get this opportunity to really define yourself; to explore all the different classes, majors, minors, activities, and anything else your university is offering.
When I went to college, I lived in a dorm with five other women and had to share a bathroom with all of them — all while navigating life with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). So how do you handle it all?
If given the opportunity to do it all over again, I would’ve done things a little differently. If I were talking to my younger IBD-self, this is what I would’ve told her:
Find your quiet place
Stress isn’t good for your body, whether you have IBD or not, so find a quiet place on campus where you can go to de-stress. That could be your dorm room when you know your roommate won’t be there, or a building on campus with a study room. Make sure you get that time in to breathe and do something to help you chill, whether that’s meditating, reading your favorite book, or listening to or playing music.
Find your on-campus medical center
Make sure you develop a good connection with your campus medical center so if you’re ever stuck in a not-so-great place (like if your prescription doesn’t get refilled), you can rest assured that you’re in safe hands. Ask your medical center for any information on IBD, what services they provide, and if they have any connections with gastroenterologists in the area. There’s a good chance that they do, or can at least connect you with a gastroenterologist quickly.
Talk to your roommate or suitemates
I know that talking with new roommates can be extremely unnerving. I told my suitemates that I needed the room closest to the bathroom because I had stomach issues. I also bought some Poo-Pourri and Febreze air spray so I could at least leave the bathroom smelling fresh. If your roommates don’t understand or make you uncomfortable, move to a new dorm. I dealt with some not-so-great roommates my freshman year and tried to stick it out. That wasn’t the best idea. Midway through my second semester, I transferred rooms in my dorm. Best. Decision. Ever. My new roommates were amazing and understanding. Talk to your Resident Assistant (RA) or Hall Director if you find yourself with some uncooperative roomies.
Map out your walks on campus
Head to your administrative center, and grab a campus map. When you’re figuring out how to get to all your classes, also look at the buildings on your route to see where the bathrooms are. I found a few places on campus that had private bathrooms, which was a huge perk. Remember to scope out the buildings your classes are in to find bathrooms there as well.
Talk to your professors, too
So long as I was communicating regularly with my professors, they were understanding about my needs. I let them know about doctor’s appointments and days when I was flaring.
It’s a good idea to read over the syllabus and make note of important exam dates or when major projects are due. Use that foresight to your advantage! Especially if you need to get started on something sooner or need to reschedule a test or project with your professor. If your professors aren’t understanding and willing to work with you, transfer out of their class. College is made up of a ton of adults, and professors know life happens. But there are tough professors out there who may not make any exceptions, and that’s not always great if you have IBD. Transferring or dropping a class is totally fine in college. I beat myself up over it a few times, but in the long run, I was a lot happier.
Reach out to CCFA
Reach out to the Chron’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) if you’re looking for more of the IBD community on campus. They have a dedicated CCFA Campus Connection to help empower you even more to conquer your freshman year with IBD. There might even be one of their ambassadors on your campus.
Usually there are tons of resources on college campuses. Don’t do what I did and hide in your dorm room, or have cramps so bad in class that you just duck out and don’t tell your professor what’s going on.
Now, I’m not guaranteeing that you’re going to get special treatment and a ton of really easygoing professors who let you out of everything, but you can make your experience better by being prepared, being talkative, and being you.
Mandy is a writer and cat mom who is slowly becoming a health-nut. She’s earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in professional writing. For her master’s thesis she wrote about patient education materials for those diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. She works full-time as a technical writer in Chicago, and serves on the board of directors and blogs for Girls With Guts, a non-profit organization to support women with IBD and/or ostomies. Follow more of her stories on HealthCentral and blog posts on the Girls With Guts website.