Kids are now back to school and soon enough university students will go back to their studying as well! For many young people, the step between university and high school can be huge. But for university students with an Inherited Metabolic Disorder, it can be an even bigger step with there being even more things to take into consideration.
Here, our guest blogger, Chloe Easton, gives her top tips on things you should consider before heading to university if you have an Inherited Metabolic Disorder.
Hi, I’m Chloe and I have an Inherited Metabolic Disorder – Phenylketonuria (PKU for short) – which basically means my body can’t break down large amounts of protein. So, I have to keep track of my daily protein intake. As I’ve just recently finished my undergrad degree, I thought I would put together a list of top tips for starting university with an Inherited Metabolic Disorder. If you are starting university soon, I’m hoping this will be of some use to you!
Living with PKU means that sometimes I have to eat special low-protein foods and my meals often have to
be homemade. A large part of my diet involves making low-protein bread. So, before I started uni, I had several trial runs of baking this, as it was something I had always relied on my Mum for. If you, like me, need special foods for your metabolic disorder, I would definitely recommend spending a bit of time practising baking or meal preparation. As when you finally come to do this yourself at uni, it might not feel as daunting.
2. Contact your new doctor
This is something I didn’t actually do myself, but in hindsight it would have been beneficial! I think it is always a good idea to get in touch with your new health centre or doctor, prior to starting uni, just to let them know what’s what. Tell them about your metabolic condition and what will be required from them. In my case, my new doctor had never even heard of PKU until meeting me, and arranging prescriptions was sometimes frustrating because the system was slightly different to what I was used to back home. However, if I had tried to work this out before moving to uni, the transition probably would have been a lot smoother.
3. Invest in a mini fridge
If you have certain foods which need refrigerating, you can request permission to have a mini fridge in your
room. This is something I did throughout all three years of university, just because I didn’t feel completely comfortably storing my protein supplements, etc, in the communal fridge. Most, if not all university halls will have no problem with this, because, after all, it is for a medical purpose. My university halls certainly didn’t mind – but it’s always best to check. This also means people won’t eat your food!
4. Pack plenty of supplies
Upon moving to university, it is important to make sure you are stocked up on the essentials of what your condition requires. For me, it was making sure I had enough of my low-protein foods to get me through the first few weeks, just in case there was any trouble sorting out prescriptions. I didn’t want to risk running out. If you have PKU like me, I would say the Mevalia pizza bases are a good item to pack. If you and your flatmates decide to have a takeaway night, then you don’t have to miss out!
5. Chat to new flatmates before moving in
If you are a bit nervous about meeting your new flatmates and having to explain your metabolic condition to them, then I would recommend trying to get in touch with them before moving in. I managed to find my new flatmates on a university Facebook page and then we started up a group chat together. This was great because I was able to get to know who I would be living with, but I also decided to tell them about my PKU in this chat and mentioned that I would be bringing a bread-maker machine too. Getting all of this off my chest before arriving calmed my nerves slightly, and also meant I wasn’t as worried about turning up on the first day with a bunch of “strange” food.
6. Get involved with societies
Although you might feel slightly different because you have a metabolic condition, this doesn’t mean you have to have a different university experience compared to the typical student. Make sure you get involved with societies and the various things your uni has to offer. I was a part of the English society at Lincoln for 2 years and during this time I took part in many socials (from bar crawls to student nights at a kid’s play zone). In my final year, I was a writer for the university’s online student newspaper – The Tab Lincoln. Don’t exclude yourself, just because of your condition!
7. Mingle with other students
Following on from my previous point – another great reason to get involved with societies is because this will help you to mingle with other students and hopefully build up friendships. In my experience, having a friend at uni is even more important than in any other situation because when things sometimes become overwhelming to deal with, (whether that be in relation to your metabolic condition or not), they can be there to support you when your parents can’t.
8. Student Wellbeing are here to help
Another great support system that will always be there for you is Student Wellbeing – designed to help students with any problem at all, be it financial or emotional, they are there for you. Moving away to a new place, amongst new people can be daunting in itself, but when you have a metabolic condition to deal with as well, it can be even more of a challenge. So, don’t be afraid to ask for support if you need it.
9. Don’t be afraid to just be yourself
I have always been a shy person and very self-conscious about my condition around other people. Before starting uni, I remember feeling anxious about how people (my flatmates in particular) would receive my PKU. But honestly, this was an unnecessary worry because they were so understanding and just let me get on with what I needed to do. In fact, they once told me they loved it when I baked my low-protein bread because it made the flat smell so nice! I learnt that, generally speaking, people aren’t going to have an issue with your condition – so don’t worry.
10. Have confidence!
Above all in my opinion, the most important thing is to have confidence that you can do it! When I first started university, it was one of the first times I had dealt with my PKU independently, and so it was quite overwhelming. But, like most things, with time it became easier. Now three years later, it feels like nothing has even changed.
Thank you so much Chloe for sharing your tips on things to consider before heading to university – some really great advice for students heading to uni for the first time, and for those heading back to university for yet another year of their degree!
Chloe writes a blog called “What it’s really like living with PKU...”, which includes some really great tips for young people growing up with PKU. Take a look at her blog on the following link: https://thepkulife.blogspot.com/
If you’d like to be a guest blogger for Metabolic Support UK, please contact Maggie on firstname.lastname@example.org