7 Tips for Taking Psoriatic Arthritis to College
It wasn’t long ago that my parents dropped me off at my dorm for my freshman year of college. It was an exciting time! My psoriatic arthritis seemed to be doing well, so I put my health on the backburner. I dove straight into college life with enthusiasm and kept myself busy making friends, joining clubs, and going above and beyond in my work.
By October, I was burnt out and flaring. College isn’t easy, but it’s even harder when you’re chronically ill. Looking back, I wish I had someone who had “been there, done that,” to consult. So, for anyone who’s heading to college this fall, I’ve compiled a list of things I wish I knew as a freshman.
1. Not all majors were created equally
Some majors are more demanding than others. Nursing, dental, medical, fine arts, veterinary medicine, music, and many other degrees can take a toll on someone with arthritis due to their physical nature. Do your homework to find out how physically intensive your major is.
While I don’t regret pursuing product design, there are days where model making takes a toll on my back and shoulders. I’ve sacrificed a lot for my coursework and unfortunately had to push my body beyond what I knew was healthy. Thankfully, I know this part of my life is temporary because model making won’t be necessary for the type of career I want.
2. Living on campus has its pros and cons
I highly recommend living in a dorm, if possible. Though my college doesn’t offer students housing beyond a sophomore year, I was able to live there all four years thanks to a medical request. Being a short walk away from my classes helped me conserve energy and reduce pain during flares.
That said, dorms tend to be dirty and loud. Freshman dorms can be rowdy at night, making it hard to rest. And since students don’t like to clean, it can be easy to get sick. If at all possible, arrange to have a single room, especially if you’re using medicines that suppress your immune system.
4. Professors are there to help
Though I was nervous to bring up my PsA at first, I found most professors are very understanding of needing accommodations. While it’s a good idea to talk with your college’s diversity office about medical accommodations anyway, I always made a point to talk one-on-one with my professors. My teachers have always been very understanding and willing to let me leave class briefly to stretch, take medicine, or take a short walk. So long as you complete all your coursework to the best of your ability, most professors will be happy to help.
College is a hectic time for most people between classes, friends, sports, clubs, and other things. But don’t feel like you need to do everything! You will have no less a college experience because you didn’t join every club and go to every party. Instead, choose a few things you want to focus on, and build in time to rest.
4. You will (probably) flare during finals
Exams and flares go hand in hand. The extra work, long study sessions, and stress can take a toll on your body. Keeping a normal sleep schedule and not overdoing the coffee is the best medicine. Even then, don’t be shocked to find your arthritis active during midterms and finals: blame the stress.
6. Take your time, if possible
Depending on your major, it may be helpful to take an extra semester or so to finish your degree. By allowing yourself to focus on three or four classes rather than five, you can help you avoid stretching yourself thin. Of course, this isn’t financially possible for many. In those cases, I highly recommend registering for online classes when you can to avoid commuting or sitting through long lectures.
7. Summers are for recovering
Allow yourself a break in the summer. Even if you plan on starting an internship or summer job, try to give yourself a week or two to recover from finals. I was fortunate enough to have internships where I could work part-time or work from home.
It can be hard to get a degree while dealing with chronic pain, but it’s not impossible. By prioritizing your health, college can be an enjoyable experience. While it was tempting to try to overwork myself to have the “college experience,” I found it wasn’t worth it. By caring for my health first, I had the energy to do well in classes and have fun.