28 April 2022
In September, I was really looking forward to beginning my second year at medical school. However, shortly into the term I became ill with pneumonia, spending time in hospital and taking time off to recover at home. I had made a decent recovery and was ready to carry on and get stuck into the course and placements. However, shortly after I fell ill again, struggling with recurrent infections, feeling constantly exhausted and suffering from more unpleasant symptoms that were having a major impact on my daily life and my degree.
I spent 6 months in limbo between London and my home in Manchester where I was getting various tests, scans, investigations and meeting with consultants, causing severe disruption to my studies and personal life. The times I was able to be down in London there was no guarantee I would be well enough to attend teaching, and if I was I definitely wasn’t ‘well’, I was just getting by as best as I could.
When you’re sat in lectures, learning about different conditions and diseases and how to treat them, it doesn’t usually cross your mind that it could affect you or your fellow students sat beside you. It has been extremely strange but eye opening to be on the receiving end of health care services so frequently over the past year or so - I’ve struggled with life-limiting symptoms, the worry and uncertainty of what the diagnosis may be and what impact it may have for me in the long run, all whilst trying to keep up with uni as best as I could. When the diagnosis finally came through, it was a relief to have an answer, but my next challenge was to get my head around living with a life-long autoimmune condition as well as managing my immunodeficiency.
Throughout all this, I am so glad that I didn’t struggle alone and reached out to my friends and family as well as members of the faculty and my personal tutor.
Everyone was so understanding and provided emotional support as well as helping me fit my hospital appointments around my university timetable and accommodating for when I was too ill to attend.
I have four pieces of advice for anyone going through a similar experience with a chronic condition, be it physical or mental: The first is to reach out and let staff know if you feel comfortable doing so, as they are there to help and support you. The second is to know that you are not alone! It can feel really isolating and strange to suffer from a chronic condition as you feel like you are constantly being a ‘caretaker’ when we are training to be ‘caregivers’. There is a definite stigma around healthcare professionals who are living with chronic conditions, however, there are more people than we realise that are experiencing similar things so talking about it is key - I hope that by sharing my story I have helped others feel less alone. My third piece of advice is to educate others around you if you can. Many chronic illnesses are generally quite misunderstood but if you can educate your friends, family and the wider community it can make living with a chronic illness that little bit easier. My final piece of advice is to be kind to yourself. Living with a chronic condition is not easy, especially if it is an ‘invisible’ illness which won’t necessarily be obvious to others around you. Give yourself the rest and the space you may need. Be forgiving on the days when your symptoms flare, allowing time for your mind and body to heal, and allow yourself time to adapt and learn what is best for you and your condition.