“As an 18-year-old waiting to receive my A-level results, the thought of going to university played on my mind and raised a lot of questions. Would I get a place? Was I going to fit in? Would I seem different to everyone else? Would I be able to cope with university? Could I receive the same support that I have had throughout my GCSEs and A-levels? Should I stay at home, or would it be better to move into accommodation?
“While most of these questions would be the same for many other students, I found myself worrying about how the after-effects of meningitis would affect me. Although I had meningitis when I was 8, the after-effects that I was left with still affect me now. I have an ABI (acquired brain injury) which affects aspects of my life such as my memory, planning, organisation, and also my emotions. This means that I can struggle with retaining information and managing my time which affects how I am able to get things done.
“I also found that my anxiety was heightened because going to university meant that there would be a lot of change. I would have to leave the school I had been at for the last seven years, I’d have to make new friends, and I didn’t know if I would still stay in touch with the friends that I had at home.
Able to plan
“When I got my A-level results back and I found out that I had a place at the university I had chosen (I only applied to one), I felt relieved as I knew that I didn’t have to try and make another plan. It helped me to feel a bit more settled and I was able to plan for university. I joined a Facebook page for students joining the university the same year. It had events for freshers’ week and enabled people to figure out who would be on their courses or in their accommodation.
“Even though I looked on the page, I couldn’t find people on my course because it was a very small group. The fact I would be going in for the first day without knowing anyone made me nervous. However, I was also excited to see what the course would be like. The fact that I was also staying at home meant that I didn’t get to know anyone in accommodation either, which made me feel a little bit left out. However, it also meant that I could keep my job and things that I did outside of university the same.
“Looking back, the fact that I was staying at home didn’t impact my studies at all, but it did impact my social life because it meant that I couldn’t stay out as late at night – something that the other people on my course were able to do.
Contacted by the student disability team
“Before my course started, I was contacted by the student disability team to discuss what support was available to me. After speaking to them on the phone, they created an ISP (inclusive support plan) for me. It means that I have arrangements in place such as extra time, a smaller room and a laptop in exams.
“For my first year my course was mostly assignments. This meant that I had essays to write that I had to submit by a certain date. My ISP also meant that I had an extra two weeks to write them which helped me with my time management. Having the conversation with the team and being honest with them about my after-effects and what I can find difficult was really helpful because it meant that I was able to get the right help for studying.
“I also made sure that I knew where I would have to go. I went to the campus that my course was on with my mum so that I knew which train and bus I would need to take to get there. I found this helpful because I was able to do the journey with someone else on a day that I didn’t need to rush on before I had to do it on my own for my first day of uni.
First day nerves
“When I went in for my first day I was nervous because I was meeting new people. But because I had practised the journey beforehand, it was less stressful, and I was able to get there early so that I had enough time to find the right room and get there before most people had arrived.
“When I found the room there was a student ambassador there to greet me and he spoke to me about myself and what I liked about the course that I had chosen. When most people had arrived, we got to speak to each other which made us feel a bit more relaxed. The lecturers on our course also came to introduce themselves. They were all a lot more casual than we had expected and they spoke to us about what to expect on the course as well as how to make the most of student life and the night life in the city.
“Throughout the year, I have come to know most of the people on my course (there are only about 30 of us). I have a few close friends whom I have been able to speak to about my after-effects and my mental health. Although I haven’t gone into detail with them, it’s nice to know that I have a few people who understand and are willing to give me support whenever I need it. It also means that there is no pressure for me to have to ‘act normal’ and try to fit in when I’m around them. I found that being honest with people that I knew meant that I could be myself and people were accepting of that.
“Overall, my first year of university has been quite a positive experience. I have had times where I’ve struggled in lectures or found it difficult to write all my essays for similar dates; but I’ve been supported when I’ve needed help and asked for it, I’ve made friends with the people on my course and I’ve made some great memories of evenings/nights out. I’ve done really well in my assignments, and I am looking forward to the rest of my course and creating more memories.
“For me, the moral of the story is that my meningitis experience hasn’t limited me in terms of my ability to experience university life.”