Going to university might prove more difficult for young people with epilepsy. You’ll face challenges that most won’t. But with careful planning and preparation, it can still be an exciting and rewarding experience.
Whether you’re already in university, or just considering your options, here are some practical steps you can take to make the most of your days at uni.
You’ll be spending the next few years of your life at university, so it’s important you choose the right one. Do plenty of research and don’t be afraid to ask questions. There are many organisations that can help with the decision-making process, such as UCAS.
Each year, UCAS helps thousands of students with physical or mental health conditions apply to university or college in the UK. They have plenty of information to help you choose the right education and prepare well for it. Learn more about applying to University with UCAS.
Make the university aware of your circumstances during the application process. Make sure they know how to support you. Living with epilepsy is an individual experience, so don’t be afraid to ask your own questions. Ask your potential tutors about their knowledge of and experience with epilepsy. Find out how they have helped their students in the past, and how they would be willing to help you in the future.
If you’ll be living on campus, get to know the surrounding area. What public transport options are there? Do you feel comfortable using them? If you’re trying public transport for the first time, be sure to take somebody with you.
Whether it’s a local library, a park or a coffee shop, try to find a local public place that brings you peace. This place can act as a safe haven should you start to feel overwhelmed at the university campus.
To avoid too many changes at once, learn to manage your time before you move to university. Establish a good routine of waking early, eating regularly and studying each day. Doing this can help you find any potential flaws in your routine while you’re still in the safety of your home. The Transitions Guide from Student Minds is a great tool to help you adjust to your new lifestyle.
In Your Dormitory
Missed medication, lack of sleep and stress are three of the most common seizure triggers. Thankfully, each of these can be addressed in your dorm. How?
Leave your medication in a visible place. Try keeping it next to your toothbrush, your favourite mug or something else that you use daily. Put a reminder on the back of your room door, so that you can see it before you leave for class. If you have a roommate, make sure they are familiar with your routine. Let them know how important your medication is and don’t be afraid to ask them to help you keep track of it.
Maintain a good sleep schedule. To help you relax before bed, don’t spend too much time on your phone. Give yourself a break by setting limits on certain apps. These could be games, social networks or streaming services.
Keep your space tidy. Clutter and mess can create stress, but a tidy room promotes mental clarity. Keeping a clean and tidy room helps us to feel in control of our environment. If your roommate struggles to be tidy, be reasonable with them. Keep in mind their busy schedule, they may not have time to tidy up. Try to focus on your space alone.
Make your room a safe place in the event of a seizure. If you have hard floors, buy rugs and other soft items. Keep your bedside clear and sleep on a bed near the floor. If you like preparing meals in your room or dorm, avoid doing so while tired or alone. Talk to your friends and have them come and eat with you. Try to make food and get it ready while they are nearby.
In Classrooms and Lecture Theatres
Classrooms and lecture halls are the most important spaces of a university. So, how can you make them a safe place for you to learn?
Arrive early to avoid large crowds of people or potential rushing.
Find a seat that is free from any photosensitive triggers. For example; avoid sitting near a window. Partial sunlight can create triggering patterns on your desk. You could also try to avoid sitting directly under overhead lighting.
Don’t be afraid to ask to sit next to somebody you’re comfortable with. This might be a roommate, or anyone you feel knows how to handle your epileptic seizures. You can even provide them with a printed action plan, available from Epilepsy Foundation.
If allowed, record your lectures. Epilepsy can affect concentration and the ability to store new information. Recording your lectures will allow you to review and process information in your own time.
Outside of school
A well-rounded university experience usually involves going out and making new friends. While having a good time is important, a party lifestyle can make seizures more likely to happen. So it’s important to be aware of potential triggers and have a plan in place.
Tiredness is known to trigger seizures in many people, so avoid staying out late.
Be aware of visual triggers. Parties often involve colourful lights, a sea of phone screens and camera flashes.
For parties involving food and drink, learn to stay in control. Alcohol and foods high in sugar increase the chance of a seizure. Think about the food and drink before you attend a party. Decide how much alcohol is safe for you to drink, if any. Then stick to your decisions. Ask a trusted friend to help you do so. Practice saying ‘no’ if you need to.
For more information on the impact of alcohol, visit www.drinkaware.co.uk/advice
Finally, avoid attending on your own. If you can’t travel to a party with a friend, at least make sure somebody is aware of your location at all times. There are a variety of tools that make this easy. Take for example the Embrace2, a wearable seizure sensor from Epilepsy Alarms UK. If the device detects a possible tonic-clonic seizure, its companion app will send an automated call, message and GPS location to the person you choose to notify.
Speak out about Epilepsy. Unfortunately, many people don’t know much about epilepsy. Students are at university to learn, you have the opportunity to teach them. Not only will you be educating people on epilepsy, but you’ll also be allowing them to support you. When your friends know how to support you, you’ll feel much more confident hanging around them. Watch this video, where Dr Hilary Jones interviews some young reps from UK charity, Young Epilepsy, about living with epilepsy. Joe, a university student, says that normalising epilepsy among his friends has helped him to deal with negative feelings around the subject.
Having epilepsy might make your school life different from other people. But, it doesn’t mean that you can’t still enjoy yourself by making the best of your situation and focusing on what you can do, not what you can’t. Remember to do your research, take time to prepare, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
There are many companies and organizations that help young people with epilepsy. We have listed a few below. Why not contact them and find out what help you can get?
- Young Epilepsy supports children and young people throughout school, college, and university.
- Epilepsy Action is a British charity providing advice and support for people with epilepsy.
- UCAS help you apply to universities.
- Epilepsy Alarms help detect and manage seizures. They come in many different styles and features to fit different needs.