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Living Away From Home

Taking a Leap Into Unknown Territory

The whirlwind that comes with leaving for college is exciting! But there are a lot of changes to manage, and some can feel disorienting and abrupt. And it’s amazing how much bigger the whirlwind becomes when you add living with Crohn’s disease (CD) into the mix.

For many new students, the journey into college means living away from home for the first time. This is a significant transition, not to be taken lightly. Transitions challenge our resilience. Resilience means the ability to adjust to or recover from changes or misfortunes in our lives. And it’s an ability we can work to improve! (Read more about making the transition to college in with Crohn’s in the Fall 2009 issue of Crohn’sAdvocate magazine.) I’d like to introduce you to a few different ways of building resilience, as outlined by the American Psychological Association in 2008.

Make connections

There are many Crohn’s challenges one must face. Having Crohn’s means sometimes feeling different, misunderstood, or alone—especially if you arrive at college and experience a flare-up in symptoms. But connecting with others is the first step toward building resilience. So even as you enjoy the newfound freedom college has to offer, accept help from family and close friends who know you and who know how your disease has impacted you thus far.

At the same time, look for new opportunities to make connections. There are countless ways to get started, including joining a club at your university, becoming active in civic groups or faith-based organizations, or talking with your residence hall staff for ideas.

Don’t get overwhelmed

Let's say you have a flare shortly after starting college, or perhaps you arrive on campus with your disease very active. As best you can, try to remember that a flare is temporary. It’s important not to get overwhelmed or see it as an insurmountable problem. While you can’t change the fact that you’re experiencing a flare, you can change how you deal with it.

Accept and move forward

Learning that you have Crohn’s disease is a major life change. As someone who is living with Crohn’s, accepting that my disease is here to stay was one of the most challenging aspects of this change. But changes and new challenges are part of living, and accepting what can’t be changed has helped me focus on what I can change. (Read more about coping with Crohn’s in with Crohn’s in the Fall 2009 issue of Crohn’sAdvocate magazine.)

First of all, work on taking care of your body and taking your medications, even when you feel good! Then decide how you can take action to move toward your goals. Your energy levels may be compromised if you aren’t feeling well, but goals don’t have to be accomplished all at once. Work towards your goals regularly, even if the steps feel small. Working towards and reaching our goals keeps us engaged and empowered.

Get to know yourself

Being sick is hard. Being sick and living with Crohn’s in college is even harder. Hardship, such as illness, tries every ounce of our strength. But surprisingly, many people who experience hardship report having better relationships, an increased sense of self-worth, a heightened appreciation for life, and a greater sense of strength even at their most vulnerable. It’s a bit strange that hardship makes people appreciate their lives more—or is it really?

I say no, it’s not strange at all. Hardship means self-discovery. Learning how to deal with illness shows us a lot about who we are and just how much we are capable of. And you better believe that’s something to be proud of! Get to know yourself and the immense strength you possess.

Trust yourself to stay positive

It can be scary to move away from home for the first time, but trust your ability to solve problems and your instincts about how to take care of yourself. This confidence will help you nurture a positive view of yourself, even when you are feeling very sick. Try to take the time to think about the long-term perspective, about how your college experience will be when you’re feeling better. And remember that you will feel better again. Though it isn’t possible to be 100% positive all the time (and that’s okay, too!), perspective helps you keep an optimistic outlook.

Take care of yourself

Above all, take care of yourself. Pay attention to how you are feeling and what you need. First, try to get in tune with your body’s personal signs that tell you when you can take on a little bit more, or when you might need to take it easy. Next, make it a priority to act on these signals. It’s an essential part of a positive, healthy outlook on your college experience.