Emily’s story

Published: September 17 2022
Last updated: September 28 2022

Emily talks about her experiences at university

Starting uni was a daunting experience. Moving out, studying something I’d never studied before, not knowing anyone, and having full independence – it was scary and tough to navigate. My parents were certainly worried because this would be my first time away from home. However, they were also extremely supportive and encouraging, which helped to ease my worries a lot.

I decided to live in halls because I knew that it would push me out of my comfort zone and ultimately make me a more independent person, which is something that I really haven’t been since my diagnosis. Even the day before I moved out, I was close to cancelling my accommodation and staying at home because I was so scared of going into the unknown. But in the end, throwing myself in the deep end and moving out has been the best decision I’ve ever made.

I met my flatmates in a university group chat a few weeks before moving out and told them I had epilepsy. I didn’t want to make a huge deal about it, but it was only fair in case I did have a seizure and they had no idea what to do. They were really grateful that I told them prior to moving into my flat because they were able to research how they could help me.

Because of the intensity of my course (I’m a law student), I knew that I had to keep myself organised and make sure that I got enough sleep. I have a weekly pill box so that I know that I have taken my medications. I also keep reminders on my phone when I am due to take them in case I forget.

I used a weekly planner to write down when my lectures and seminars were, and any other work that needed to be done. I split my work as evenly as I could to allow me to have a relatively structured week; I woke up and finished around the same time so that I had the rest of the evening free to cook and wind down.

Whatever you study, university is difficult and it’s important to prioritise your wellbeing over everything. My medications can affect my mood, my concentration and make me tired. I use different study techniques with regular breaks, so that I don’t get too stressed and experience burnouts. I keep as organised as possible throughout the working week to minimise the amount of work on the weekends. This way, I have free time to see friends or just chill out. But, whenever I am unwell, I put my work away and take time to recover – you are more important than anything.

My uni has been really good with my epilepsy. Soon after I accepted my place, they sent a ‘Reasonable Adjustments Plan’ that had been emailed to all tutors and lecturers to notify them of my condition and any instances where I wouldn’t attend uni. The plan included things such as any extra time that I’ve been given during exams, and the ability to rearrange my exams in case of a hospital appointment or a seizure. I have also kept in close contact with my personal academic tutor throughout first year to discuss any issues I have, such as coming into uni for early lectures and seminars as one of my main triggers is lack of sleep.

There’s no escaping the fact that drinking culture is a huge part of uni. But for me it hasn’t been a huge deal. One of the great things about university is that there are so many different activities that accommodate everyone. There are close to a hundred different societies within my university that anyone can join, and some you wouldn’t even believe existed – there’s even a battle re-enactment society! There’s a society called sober socials, a place for those who don’t drink to hang out and have fun. I really thought that the only way to make friends was to go to parties, and if I didn’t I would have a rubbish uni experience. But it’s so easy to meet like-minded people.

I have been so lucky to meet people who have taken the time to get to know me and my condition, and make sure that I’m okay. One of whom I’ll soon be moving into a student house with for second year. Being open and upfront about my epilepsy has helped a lot; I now have friends who I feel completely comfortable and safe around.

I have had a couple of seizures whilst at uni. One was in the kitchen while I was cooking dinner. It only lasted about a minute, but my flatmate was there to help and calm me down after, and I called my parents for a while to talk through what had happened.

In the past, I have struggled with anxiety and self-consciousness and they don’t go away completely. But throughout my first year I pushed myself just a bit at a time, and now I’m a completely different person to who I was this time last year. Even doing little things that seem easy to others, like shopping by myself and getting the train on my own. These things were out of my comfort zone but eventually they got easier. I think moving out has been a big step in all that.

There is no denying that moving to uni is one of the biggest things you’ll ever experience, and at first it is so overwhelming. Meeting new people, getting through welcome week, settling into your accommodation – it is all very big. However, it is such a great experience. One of the biggest lessons I learned this year is to not let my condition rule my life. You can either choose to let it stop you from doing what you want to do, or tackle it head-on. It’s so important to stay conscious of your triggers, be responsible and look after yourself, but also have fun! Put yourself out there, join societies, attend freshers events and talk to new people.

Also, don’t try and change yourself to fit in and don’t do anything you’re not comfortable doing. Another great thing about uni is that everyone is so different, so embrace it, and don’t be afraid to be yourself.

But most importantly, make sure that you stay on top of things and not stress yourself out too much. Make sure you have a good balance between work and your social life.


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