During my first year of university, I was your typical student: studying hard, partying harder, travelling the country with various sports teams and for dance competitions, volunteering, and working towards an honours degree. By the same time the following year, I was struggling to stand up on my own.
I’d been battling for answers to my mystery symptoms since the age of 15, but it was only when my health significantly relapsed and I was struck down by an onslaught of debilitating pain and fatigue, that I was finally diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS). Naturally, this all happened during my very first year of university, just as my young adult life was beginning.
With plenty of support and adjustments, I managed to continue my studies and graduated in 2016, but it wasn’t without its challenges. Adapting to life as a newly disabled student, I often felt lonely, isolated, and like nobody else in the world could understand what I was going through. I distinctly remember being shocked at what little support was available and how much I had to advocate for myself, how hard I had to fight for what I was entitled to, and how exhausting and disheartening it often seemed. Being a student can be a tough time for any young person, however dealing with a fluctuating health condition adds a whole new dimension of difficulty.
Despite this, however, my time at university formed some of the very best years of my life. I studied a subject I loved and graduated with a 2:1, met a wonderful group of friends who I’m still in touch with and see regularly, and got to live in the beautiful city of York… where I’ve remained ever since!
It’s no secret that the world of education and employment have a long way to go before they can be described as truly inclusive, and for some people more severely affected by chronic illness, higher education the way it exists now may not be the right option for them. However, I hope that by sharing my story, more people in similar situations to my own will feel better informed not only about the challenges being a student can bring, but also how to tackle these head-on and have the best experience possible.
After I completed my own higher education, I knew I wanted to create a resource that would fill the gap I so painfully felt during my own student years. Although there are some really brilliant personal blog posts from chronically ill individuals, sharing their own experiences, I noticed that much of the so-called official ‘support’ from universities and welfare services that presently exists for disabled students focusses on only the academic side of university life, rather than the overall student experience. Therefore, I’ve created a book that encompasses all areas of student life: socialising, independent living, managing your money, and what to do when things go wrong… naturally all with a touch of humour, of course. I hope readers will find the book empowering and informative, and most importantly, realise that they’re not alone.
Pippa Stacey is a writer and blogger based in Yorkshire. She studied BSc Psychology in Education at the University of York and was diagnosed with her chronic illness during the first year of her studies. As a graduate, Pippa now works in online communications in the charity sector, is a freelance writer, and blogs in a personal capacity at Life Of Pippa. Pippa is the author of University and Chronic Illness: A Survival Guide – comprehensive resource based on her own personal experience, that chronically ill people in the UK could pick up if they were considering becoming, or preparing to become, students themselves.