I graduated from high school in June, and I’m so excited to finally be going off to college this month. The only part I’m not excited about is all the stuff related to my Crohn’s. I’ve had IBD since I was 13, but I’ve never spent much time away from home. After I move, I’ll need to find a nearby GI doctor, share a bathroom, figure out what to eat, and go to class and study. I’m overwhelmed!! How can I make this whole thing easier?
-Freshman, Valdosta, GA
Congratulations on starting college! College is a little slice of life that’s like nothing else you’ve had before or will probably have again—tons of autonomy while getting to explore what interests you and grow up a little before getting a job. It can be pretty great. But the one thing you don’t have complete autonomy over is when your IBD will act up. You’ll have more control, however, than you would if you hadn’t planned ahead.
The dorm experience is unique: It can be claustrophobic and noisy, but you can form lifelong bonds with your commiserators. I went to a city college where it was optional and I opted out, but I’m a little jealous of those who didn’t. Try for the most luxurious dorm you can afford—look for a kitchenette to make IBD-friendly meals, and a semi-private bathroom (instead of sharing one down the hall with 25 people).
For meal plans, scope out offerings ahead of time; if not enough IBD-safe options, tell the school you need them. Or do an off-campus meal plan, or ask your parents for grocery store gift cards instead. For snacking, get your mom to send care packages stuffed with quick, gut-safe foods.
But be forgiving of yourself – it’s hard to practice restraint when everyone around you seems to have none. You’re gonna eat some 3 a.m. pizza, and drink some midnight coffee during finals week, and you might even do some tequila shots (once you’re 21, of course.). Don’t beat yourself up for it, but do pay attention to how it makes you feel, and try to choose better next time. And sleep in when you can! Too much lost sleep is one of my quickest paths to a flare.
If you do end up with a shared bathroom, have matches, incense or candles ready to burn (if allowed), or use a deodorizing spray. Bring lots of your own favorite toilet paper, wipes, and soothing butt ointment—try Calmoseptine or Boudreaux’s Butt Paste. Don’t forget to buy toilet cleaning supplies, too; you might have an unexpected guest pop by when your toilet bowl looks like a crime scene.
Become acquainted with your college’s student physical and mental health services before you need them. They can serve as your referrer to specialists nearby. Make sure to ask your health insurance plan how much of the school health center fees are covered, and find out whether you need a referral to see a specialist.
And, finally, the actual school part. Start studying and writing papers the day you receive the assignment, even if it’s just opening Word and free-associating ideas or an outline. Getting started is always the hardest part. If you always have gut problems in the early morning or after lunch, avoid classes at these times if you can. Plot your bus route for each day on campus and know where the closest restrooms are at each major stop.
If you’re sick and falling behind, ask for extensions on your assignments! This has an exclamation point because so many students don’t think of this or are too proud (including me)! Contact disability services ASAP, and ask what forms you and your doctor need to fill out. You may get documentation notifying your professors, a free notetaker when you’re too sick to attend, and validation for requesting extensions. It was a little awkward at first telling my professors I had Crohn’s, but in the end it was a huge relief to know I had a safety net of understanding behind me. Good luck and have fun!
Author Katie McLendon is a CCFA support group facilitator in Atlanta who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2005. She is a Certified Health Education Specialist with a Master of Public Health degree from Emory University, and works as an editor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Follow Katie on Twitter: @katiefmclendon
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