University and Chronic Illness: A Survival Guide. My Debut Non-Fiction Book!

headshot of pippa outdoors, smiling and holding letterboard sign reading 'university and chronic illness: a survival guide'

Before we go any further, I’m thrilled to finally share that my non-fiction book, University and Chronic Illness: A Survival Guide is available for purchase in paperback now. SQUEEEEE! You can grab your own copy by heading to this page!

And now we return to this post from November 2019, the day I *finally* got to share my news…

Oh guys. Where do I even start with this one?

This project has been a secret for over two years now, and it still feels incredibly alien to be talking so openly about it. But having kept it all bottled up for so long, may I utilise this opportunity and take you right back to the beginning? Here’s everything you need to know…

Back in the day, I completed my undergraduate degree (BSc Psychology in Education) between 2013-2016, and also studied for my postgraduate diploma (MSc Health Psychology) from 2016-2017. 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, working towards an honours degree and generally living my best life. 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, all this took place during my very first year of university, just as my young adult life was beginning.

pippa's wheelchair on grass with graduation cap and gown draped over top of itWith plenty of support and adjustments, I managed to continue my studies and graduate, but heaven knows 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 possibly 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 the whole situation seemed. Being a student can be a tough time for any young person, but dealing with a fluctuating health condition adds an entirely new dimension of difficulty.

Despite all this, however, it’s safe to say that my time at university genuinely formed some of the best, most rewarding years of my life. Therefore, my primary goal going forward is to ensure that anybody in a similar situation is better informed on how to make the most of their student life whilst managing and, most importantly, without compromising, their own health.

You may recall that I used to be rather vocal on social media about my experiences of being a student dealing with a fluctuating health condition- both the humorous sitcom-eque situations I managed to get myself into, and the relentless challenges I faced. However, once I’d finished my formal education in 2017, I pretty much ceased talking about student life online altogether… or so it seemed.

And now you finally know that it wasn’t because I had nothing else to say, but quite the opposite. I had all of this insider knowledge and experience, all of these practical tips and tried and tested advice that I couldn’t have possibly known before being thrown into the chronically ill student vortex myself. The challenge was figuring out how best to put it all to good use.

I wanted to create a resource that would fill a 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. There is no comprehensive guide that chronically ill people in the UK could pick up if they were considering becoming, or preparing to become, students themselves, much less one that’s been written by somebody who’s experienced the process first-hand: somebody who knows that your reasons for going to university often stretch far beyond only the lectures and textbooks.

pippa and five university friends, stood outdoors in formal dresses and smiling

Therefore, I’ve aimed to make University and Chronic Illness: A Survival Guide a chatty and relaxed, yet balanced and informative, resource: one that’s sincere and realistic about the challenges of studying with a fluctuating health condition, yet one which will hopefully empower future students to make informed decisions and to really get the most out of their time at university. I wanted to share my own personal experiences and struggles that many others are likely to relate to, as well as universal tips and tricks that will hopefully make life a little easier for future students. Essentially, this book is made up of all the things I wish I’d had somebody to tell me back then.

The lack of disabled and chronically ill young people in education, employment or training is becoming an increasingly topical issue in the UK. I cannot emphasise enough that not every chronically ill young person will be well enough or capable of becoming a student in any capacity, and let it be known right now that I will not tolerate my book being used as ammunition to try and prove otherwise. However, the percentage of disabled students attending university is increasing year on year (despite many young people continually choosing not to disclose their condition) and quite frankly, better support for this population is needed. The little information that’s currently out there undoubtedly isn’t coming from chronically ill people themselves, and it’s high time we change that.

University and Chronic Illness: A Survival Guide therefore goes beyond your typical standardised advice on academics and exam arrangements, and encompasses all aspects of student life: socialising, independent living, managing your money, and what to do when things go wrong. As well as this guide hopefully being useful to individual students with long-term conditions, I’m also going to do everything in my power to make sure it also reaches university, college and school support staff, to help them better understand the unique challenges such students can face.

pippa stood outdoors wearing white dress, graduation cap and gown, holding black clutch bagOh guys. This book has been a long-time coming. Although I started this process slowly and steadily in September 2017, the first time I told anybody that I’d even been secretly writing was March 2019, after I had a completed first draft. I have so much to share about the creation and publishing process for this book, which I’ll be breaking down into future blog posts and videos… so if this is an industry you too may be interested in one day, I’d love to welcome you to our little online family. You can subscribe for blog updates here, and also find me on social media here. It hasn’t been an easy road, but my goodness, it’s already been worth it. Knowing how much time, energy and dedication has gone into this book means that even before it’s been published, it’s one of the proudest achievements of my life.

And so, here we are. There is so much more to come, and even writing this now, I still don’t think it’s sunk in that this is actually happening. This book has been a secret for so long, with most of my weekends and free time over the last 18 months in particular being taken up with writing, and yet I still can’t believe there’s not long to go until I can hold this book in my hands. Holy cow.

So for now, the final thing I wanted to say is this. There’s a part of me that wishes they could travel back to my university days, to newly diagnosed student Pippa living her best life around other people and then bawling her eyeballs out in private because everything felt like such a relentless battle. In fact, there’s a part of me that wants to go back even further, to little Pippa with her head in a book who secretly dreamed of being an author one day, but who would never admit it because it just seemed so unattainable. If you’d told either version of me that we would be here now, under these particular circumstances, I know they wouldn’t have believed such a thing was even possible.

But fast forward to now? Well, let’s just say that I’m learning to believe in myself a little more each day.

I am so grateful. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

If you’re keen and would like to order your own copy of University and Chronic Illness: A Survival Guide, you can get your hands on one here. EEK!

headshot of pippa outdoors, looking down and holding letterboard sign reading 'university and chronic illness: a survival guide'

Thanks so much for reading! If you’re new, you can find out more about me on this page, and read my chronic illness story in this piece. You may also be interested in my Personal Statement Support Service for prospective university students!

I’ll be back with updates soon, but in the meantime, you can find various other chronic illness posts here, and also some bookish shenanigans here. Enjoy! 

6 responses

  1. So exciting! Congratulations! What’s astonishing is that there hasn’t really been anything like this before.
    Clearly much needed

  2. Well done you Pippa you are amazing, I have a chronic illness and I have suffered 17 years in april I had MY bladder out AND have suffered lots of infections since OUT, but I thought a new start for me and i enrolled to become a student in September doing an aCCESs IN to health course to go on to university, I Am finding the course rewarding and I enjoying it and hope I can go on to become a nurse I will look out for your book and enjoy the read.

    1. Thank you so much for the support and kind words Debbie, and how amazing! Wishing you all the very best with your studies!

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