Thursday 16 May 2013

Guest Writer - Lindsay

When I first started university, I had three classes on my timetable – film studies, French and beginners Spanish. I reckon I missed at least a third of my lectures and tutorials.

This wasn’t standard freshers’ flu/hungover/skipped class to watch Jeremy Kyle/couldn’t be bothered getting out of bed before midday behaviour. The summer before I started my studies, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. I spent a little over a week in hospital, being poked and prodded in ways I didn’t want to think about, having gallons of drugs pumped into my system and protein shakes passed my way in an attempt to get my weight back up before the C-word came into the conversation – you, Lindsay, have got Crohn’s disease.

I had lots of grizzly inflammation in the join between my large and small bowel. It was almost blocked. I was sent on my way with a load of medication, some leaflets and promise of getting signed up to the local IBD clinic. I was in the system.

I’d been accepted to a prestigious Scottish university earlier in the year, and when I lay in my hospital bed, I thought, ‘Am I going to be able to make it? Am I going to get to go to uni?’ But I was assured that yes, I could do it. And I wanted to. So I did.

Before I started class, I made sure I had a meeting with my advisor, told them all about my condition, that I might have to take time off, that I might have to leave the room to go to the loo at short notice – I probably went into more detail than she needed to know. I was told that this was all fine, it would go on my file.

Classes started and, well, it didn’t entirely go to plan. There were mornings that I would get out of bed, feel really unwell and have a panic attack at the thought of trying to face the real world. I’d miss classes. Miss film screenings. Spent a fortune buying the DVDs to try and catch up. Sent many emails of apology, explaining my situation. And every now and then, I made it into class, where I was falling further and further behind.

Lindsay at Uni
There was one class which was particularly difficult. I emailed the tutor after missing one class to explain that, sorry, I have Crohn’s, I wasn’t feeling great and asked what had happened that day, what I needed to do to catch up. She replied to say, “I noticed that you have been off a lot. You will have to ask your classmates as I cannot help every student that cannot make it to class.”
Really helpful when I’d missed lots of classes and hadn’t actually managed to speak to any of my classmates properly.

In a French tutorial, I had to get up and leave mid-grammar lesson. I could feel my stomach knotting, I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. The tutor looked at me like I’d lost my mind as I mumbled, “I’m sorry, I have a... I feel...” and left. Nobody bothered to come after me.

Sitting on the train into town with my head in my hands, clutching my stomach, willing the painkillers to kick in. People looking at the student thinking, ‘Probably hungover!’

Because that’s what people think. They don’t get it. Crohn’s and Colitis UK’s recent survey of young people showed that 50% of survey respondents who were still at school believe that their teachers don’t know enough about IBD. And I can completely believe that. IBD isn’t straightforward. It’s different for everyone. But one thing is true – it can have a huge impact on your life. And there will be the people who won’t bother to find out more about this.

But it’s so, so important that they do – especially education professionals. They need to find out what IBD means for their student and what they can do to help make life easier for them in class. For some people, stress makes symptoms worse, so on the run up to exams or essay deadlines, it might be wise to offer extra time or a special room to sit the paper. Getting through school, college or uni is hard enough as it is. Throw in the complication of a bowel problem when you’re in your teens, and life just got even harder.

Which is why I think that the charity’s new appeal, encouraging education establishments to get clued up on IBD, is massively important. Schools make adaptations and adjustments for kids with a range of impairments, so why not bowel disease? Understanding and offering support alone takes a huge weight of anyone’s shoulders.

Head over to the Crohn’s and Colitis UK site and download the information packs for schools. Pop into your local primary, secondary, college or uni and hand it in – it’s so important that we spread the word, not just for those of us who are struggling to meet deadlines and panicking about exams mid-flare. But for the next generation of young people who’ll encounter this unpleasant condition in the middle of their studies. If their teachers already know about IBD? Life is instantly much easier.

So get downloading, printing and spreading the word – it might be a small gesture to you, but for someone else? It’s going to be huge.


  1. Hi Lindsay,

    Your words seem very relevant to me! The end of my education, from the start of sixth form, when i was diagnosed, and onwards became a nightmare, stress brings out the symptoms of Crohn's, especially for exams!

    I had a similar experience at University for my first year, although I was relatively fine for the first semester, doing all my assignments and attending 95% of my classes and lectures. Then came the spring where I became increasingly ill and had to go into hospital at home, 200 miles away and missed over a month of my course.

    Explaining it to my tutor when I returned, I felt like I wasn't being taken seriously and had already been judged as just another lazy student who couldn't be bothered attending my course. This was very disheartening.

    After that it was a game of catch up as I had to quickly do all the work I had missed and it started to pile up, this was extremely stressful. A month or two later, I had to have an ileostomy and therefore had to quit University altogether because I missed a number of my exams during the period that I was in hospital.

    I think that stress is my number one concern with me and my Chrohn's disease. Unfortunately, education is a very stressful time for most people.

    I agree it would be so much easier if you didn't feel embarrassed about running to the toilet or that you have to awkwardly explain what is wrong with you to everyone you meet so that they would understand when you appear so drained and act so erratically. After all, It is not exactly the easiest subject to talk about!


  2. Hi Lindsay. Read your piece with compassion, concern and empathy. I had colitis and had my colon removed in 2001, aged 37. Still suffering the effects now, and have gone downhill since further surgery in 2010. Still trying to maintain an active life!