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  • Writer's pictureLucy Harman

Living at University with IBD

Living at University with IBD can be very daunting, especially if you're very used to living at home with your parents, near your doctors and having a nice comfortable room for when you are in a flare up. There's no doubt that living in shared accommodation is definitely an interesting experience, for some it's exactly what they want, but it doesn't suit everyone. When I started Uni in September of 2020 I didn't have Crohn's Disease, I was incredibly fit and healthy, it was only in the middle of the 1st semester that I started getting symptoms and then at the end of the 1st Term I was diagnosed. I am now in my 2nd year of uni and have experienced Crohns in both shared accommodation and in my own privately rented place.

I am creating a 4 part series with Blogs, Videos and Instagram posts about University with IBD in which I document my experience and advice for students.

Check out my upcoming blogs, posts and videos on how I access treatment and medication, How I cope at Drama School and advice for new 1st years.

My experience of shared accommodation and advice:

Living in shared accommodation at Uni can be difficult with IBD for a range of reasons but it is definitely possible and still enjoyable. Living in flats in 1st year Uni is extremely helpful as it allows you to socialise and get involved with as much as you can with extra-curricular. There is a large stigma around IBD and often people won't know the full extent to it, so if you can contact your flat mates before you move in and chat to them about your disease it can break down that barrier earlier on and make things less awkward when you actually get there. I found that my flat mates were incredible when I was diagnosed and were so caring and understanding, they didn't treat me any differently, they just made sure to keep an eye on me more (Kinda like a uni parent). When I moved back in after my diagnosis they ensured to keep the kitchen clean for my safety and I had my own section of the fridge for liquid feeds and injections. However, I do know that not all flat mates will be this kind, and so if you do move in and feel as though you don't feel comfortable with your Crohns around them, make sure to contact your university and see if you could move flats.

My 1st Year Uni Flatmates

One problem with living in shared accommodation is that people go out and get colds and if you are immunosuppressed this can be a little dangerous. To be as safe as you can I would ensure to get your flu jab as soon as possible every year, take multi vitamins and keep your flat very clean to prevent any bacteria or mould build up. The one week I would avoid going out to parties and socialising with large groups of people is freshers week, there are students coming from all over the world with a magnitude of different colds and viruses, and eveyrones spreads them around. Freshers flu is real and its gross, non immunosuppressed people struggle to get over it so us IBD fighters would be even worse. I would avoid it at all costs! However, to ensure you still get involved and aren't left out, make sure to sign up to societies and be active on social media group chats so when freshers is over you can go out with them and still be sociable.

The next thing to think about when deciding on which accommodation to apply for is whether or not it is catered. I personally think as a Crohn's fighter, it's essential you're self catered as you can control what you eat, when you eat and what's in that food. I unfortunately had no choice in my 1st year and had to be catered, the food was disgusting and sadly was one of the contributing factors to my first flare up that led to my diagnosis. If you cannot get self catered, contact the university and explain your dietary needs and they should personally cater towards you. Adding onto this, your university should have some accommodation options with ensuite, although a little more pricey, it is 100% necessary as an IBD fighter to have your own toilet, if you're assigned non en suite accommodation, you can contact your university, show evidence of your condition and they should change your assigned room to one with a toilet.

My 1st Year Uni Room (Sept 2020)

Finally, when moving into accommodation you will probably notice that its not the best standard, some universities have brand new blocks that are very modern and in that case you're extremely lucky. But if your room is anything like my 1st year room, it was pretty old, small and cramped. It's essential you try and make that room as comfortable and IBD accessible as possible because on your bad flare up days you don't want to be feeling uncomfortable in your room. I would start by buying a mattress topper, I don't think I have ever heard of a comfortable Uni bed, so getting that topper really helps on those bed bound days. I would recommend a memory foam one. Next I would make sure to get as many blankets and comfortable clothes as you can, anything to make it feel more cosy. Uni Rooms tend to be quite small and a lot of your storage will inevitably be taken up by meds and so If you can get yourself a box for your medication it will help you feel more organised. I decorated mine in order to make me feel less like I was living in a room filled with medication. Having storage boxes and colourful bags to put all your Crohns treatment and essentials in will allow your room to feel less Hospitaly. Finally, I would ask the University for a mini fridge (Your uni may be able to supply one, or you could buy your own) the reason I found it so helpful was that I had a place for my liquid feeds, injections, cools packs and some food that I could access easily and I knew wouldn't be tampered with in the shared flat fridge. I worried that if there was a party, a drunk student may go trying to look through the fridge and damage my meditation. A mini fridge is also great for when you aren't feeling well because you don't have to go far for some food or drink.

Overall, I believe living in shared accommodation is totally fine for people with IBD, its a bit of a fuss and can be a bit gross but as long as you can make your room feel comfortable and the university has supplied you with a toilet and the right dietary needs you should be totally fine. I wouldn't recommend it for people who are very prone to flaring up alot, as you will probably want a nicer place and not be at as much risk to any colds or flus, but if you are stable, are on your way to being stable, or have a good Crohns flare up action plan it would be a great option.

Moving into a house in 2nd year:

So, normally when you go into your 2nd year of studying at University you move into a privately rented house with some friends. There are some things worth considering when it comes to choosing a house and who to live with. Personally I am living with my boyfriend (Who is my registered carer) in 2 attached studio flats together. Its perfect for the both of us and suits my Crohns perfectly. The reason I chose a studio flat is so I could have my own ensuit toilet, my own fridge for medication, my own cooking area without the worry of mess and contamination, and just my own space so if I am flaring up I can feel comfortable. I am very strongly immunosuppressed so having my own room apart from my partner (even though we always stay in one room together at a time) is perfect because if he gets a cold I can avoid catching it. I chose a studio with my boyfriend but I wouldn't have done it if I was alone. IBD can be very isolating at times so I think it's important to live with people who can be caring and understand your Crohns and are not judgmental. If you choose a studio, make sure you know people close by or your neighbours in case you need any help.

When choosing a house or flat in 2nd year it's worth considering how many toilets there are in the house, if it's a group of 6 of you, just 1 toilet may not be a great idea especially with IBD. If you have a large fridge in the house try to get one shelf that you can just have for your medication and feeds just to avoid contamination. I would definitely recommend getting a place close to the uni because after a long day you don't want to be walking a long way home if you're fatigued or if you urgently need the toilet. I only live a 5 minute walk away from uni and that is the perfect distance. I would also recommend making sure shops are close too to avoid similar issues. If you can drive I would try and get a house with a parking space, this shall mean if you're struggling with toilet trips or fatigue you can reach places easier, and personally for me it means I can go home for hospital appointments and to see my family more. Finally, when deciding who to live with in your 2nd year it's really important they are kind and understanding with your Crohns, there is nothing worse then someone who doesn't get fatigue and calls you lazy when you ask for help or someone banging on bathroom door because you've been in there a long time.

Overall, I would recommend both a studio flat or shared house in 2nd year for IBD fighters, what I would say to do when deciding is to picture your worst days and where you would like to spend them.

Lucy :) x

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