Life as a student with chronic pain often leads to isolation and frustration. When I first started college, I found myself ignoring my pain, pretending it didn’t exist, and attempting to leave that chapter of my life behind. Despite my efforts, college life made my pain worse. I have come up with methods and strategies to manage my symptoms to have the college experience I want. For those who also live with chronic pain in college, here are some tips that helped me find that balance. 

  1. Do not be afraid to reach out and get help

Looking back, my initial hesitation to ask for accommodations made my first semester much more difficult than it needed to be. Accommodations are solely there to help and nothing to be ashamed of. Franklin & Marshall’s Students Accessibility Services department is made up of very understanding and helpful people, so please do not hesitate to reach out to them. 

  1. Attend the chronic illness support group

F&M offers a chronic illness support group for students. I strongly suggest going to it if you feel alone at all. The prospect of attending it seemed very scary to me, but in reality, it was not intimidating at all. Additionally, it was freeing to speak to other students experiencing the same issues. While speaking to a trusted friend can be a great resource, finding people who deeply understand what you are going through is so helpful, and has given me a community of people to talk to.

  1. Establish a basic routine

I have found it extremely useful to establish a basic routine. While this is easier said than done, meeting all your daily needs prevents your symptoms from snowballing and feeling deeply unmanageable. I have also found creating a list of potential pain alleviators can help make me feel better when experiencing a pain flare. During times of extreme pain, it can feel overwhelming and hard to remember that there are things that can help, so I recommend creating a list to turn to when symptoms ramp up. This can be as simple as listing medications for certain symptoms because it can be hard to keep track, or habits like a walk in the park with a friend, just whatever works for you! 

  1. Communicate with your professors

I strongly recommend meeting with a professor when needed and explaining how symptoms can affect your academic performance. Every professor I’ve met with has been extremely understanding so don’t be afraid. Also, I have found that many professors are more than willing to advocate on your behalf if you feel there is something the school should be doing to better meet your needs. With communication, I discovered new resources. For example, beginning next semester, F&M will establish a gluten-free house created for students with celiac. 

  1. Accept and respect your illness

The biggest piece of advice I have is to not beat yourself up for taking more time for yourself or doing less than the students who do not struggle with chronic pain. I still have to work on this daily. Having a chronic illness means that doing basic tasks is innately more difficult for you than your peers. It is more than normal to have to take extra time caring for your well-being because of this.

While college with a chronic illness can be challenging, there are a variety of resources to make it easier. While these are some of the things that have helped me, everyone’s experiences are unique, and I hope that this article has given some useful advice on the resources available!

First-year Nayelli Whitehead is a contributing writer. Her email is nwhitehe@fandm.edu.