Ten Tips For Surviving Uni When Someone You Love Is Dying

Packing up your bedroom and going to uni is exciting and scary whether you’re going into your first year, or subsequent years. Packing up and heading off to uni and leaving behind a parent (or other family member) who is dying brings a whole host of new challenges and worries.

My brother and I have put our heads together to try to come up with some top tips for being at uni while a loved one is dying. We’re not experts on the subject, but we have a few ideas after going through it ourselves.

I learned of Mum’s terminal diagnosis midway through my first year, my brother learned of it during his final year of school and attended a different university from me for his first year, last year. Our advice won’t suit everyone and some things will vary between universities, but we hope that these tips give you a few ideas, make you feel less alone, and put your mind at rest a little.

  1. Let the relevant people know about your situation as soon as you can. This may include pastoral care networks, college/welfare/halls tutors, those in charge of mitigating circumstances, and your academic tutor. This way, if a situation arises where you need to use these resources, it will be much easier to access the support you need, and don’t be afraid of asking for help when you do need it.
  2. Apply for mitigating circumstances if you need them. Nobody will shout at you if you end up handing a piece of work in late because your loved one was in hospital – but you need to let them know why that piece of work is in late, rather than having them assume that you’re just a ‘typical student’.
  3. Find a friend or a neighbour and let them know what’s going on. Sometimes you may need someone to help you look out for your wellbeing. It might be that they pop in every now and again and make sure you’re eating and sleeping, or make sure you engage with the more social aspects of uni from time to time if that becomes a struggle for you. Even regular Nandos visits with certain friends can be a real lifesaver – sometimes it’s important to have things to look forward to.
  4. Go to your lectures. Sometimes your mind will be full and the last thing you’ll want to do is go to a lecture. Go anyway and try to take some notes. Your mind might not be with it in that moment, but later when you come back to the work it’s better to have some rubbish notes than no notes at all.
  5. Stay in touch with your family if you can. It might be through emails, letters, phone calls, or carrier pigeon. Dad used to write me weekly letters about family life and a bit about Mum. Nowadays we mainly communicate online or by text.
  6. Find your local carers centre. See if they have a young adult carers (YAC) group. Even if they don’t have a specific YAC group, see if the carers centre can help you out. They can often provide a chance to chat with others facing similar issues and it can be really helpful.
  7. Don’t be afraid to go home. Lots of people may tell you not to go home during the first term (or at least half term) of uni, but it’s okay to want to: Your loved ones condition can change, and you may well want to spend more time with them if you can. I know I certainly had to find a balance between the fierce desire to get away from home as fast as possible with wanting to spend time with Mum while I still could It’s not an easy balance, it takes time to work it out, and it often needs reassessing, but that’s okay.
  8. Have fun! Just because somebody at home is dying, it doesn’t mean you can’t go out, it doesn’t mean you can’t drink, it doesn’t mean you can’t join a sports team, get stuck into societies or become a volunteering whizz. Make the most of uni while you’re there, it passes faster than you’d think.
  9. Don’t struggle on alone. If your grades are dropping because you’re too upset to leave your room and go to lectures, tell someone. If you’re missing deadlines due to spending time in hospital, tell someone. If you’re beginning to feel that you can’t cope, let someone know, because there are options and there are things that can be done.
  10. Look for help online. If you’re struggling with offline help, try looking for some online support. Hope Support Services offer online counselling for those who have a terminal illness in the family. Carers UK have lots of information on their site, and Marie Curie have lots of information as well as a helpline you can call. There are loads of resources out there even if they can take some digging to find. Lots of services will be local to you, so have a quick google.

Unfortunately, we can’t give you a step-by-step guide for being at uni while someone you love is ill. Every person, every diagnosis, every uni and every course is different, so we wouldn’t even know where to begin. Enjoy uni: make mistakes, stay up too late, meet new people, discover the city, perhaps even do some work(?!)…who knows that the next year might bring. The most important thing to remember is that there is no ‘right’ way to cope with terminal illness; you need to work out what’s right for you. Stay strong, and best of luck.

Featured: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/naomibarrow/freshers-week-advice_b_8203948.html

Social Media is a Carefully Constructed Facade

Yesterday, I met up with a friend. After a couple of hours of window shopping (and a little too much actual shopping – sorry bank balance!), we sat down for a drink and the kind of chat I wish were more common: a proper conversation. None of this ‘how are you, I’m fine thanks, how are you’ crap which most of us seem to spend the majority of our time reeling off because that’s what we’re expected to do.

We spoke a lot about all that’s going on in our lives. Both of us have great stuff going on at the moment, but naturally we’re also both dealing with things which aren’t exactly ideal, and we’re managing them alongside jobs, university, and some sort of vague attempt at a social life.

I spoke a lot about Mum; how she is, how the rest of my family are, how our house is, basically lots of cancer related stuff. My friend responded with words I’ve heard so many times in recent weeks: ‘I’d never have known’.

From so many people, for so many reasons, I seem to be hearing this a lot more than normal lately. ‘I’d never have known your mum dying affects how well you’re sleeping’. ‘I’d never have known it affects your studies’. ‘I’d never have guessed that ‘x’ was going on’. Usually accompanied with ‘you’re coping so well with this, I don’t know how you do it’.

If you look at my Twitter and Facebook, they paint a fantastic picture. I look after two lovely boys for four days each week, and you’ll see pictures of their various baking endeavours, their glittery creations and their muddy wellies, usually accompanied with something amusing that one of them came out with. You’ll see photos of volunteering things I’m doing: whether it be a selfie on a train to London, a photo of somewhere pretty I’m sitting, or something else, you can be sure it’ll be as photogenic as I could make it in the moment. And that’s before we get to the various updates about the revision I’ve been tackling, culminating with a photo of all my notes last week before my exam. There will be some jokes on my immediate family’s Facebook walls, conversations with other family on Twitter and every now and then a link to a news article I found thought-provoking.

But the stuff I don’t post on social media are the things that keep me up at night. The discussions I’ve had with Dad about Mum’s health. Worries about whether Mum will make it up the stairs tonight. How exasperated I feel that my family seem to have stopped leaving the house. The crying that comes when it hits me that Mum really is dying. The questions I mull over each day: ‘what will it be like when…’, ‘what about if…’, ‘how do I cope with…’. I certainly never post my fears about whether I’m coping well, if I’m making the right decisions, and what’s going to happen in the future.

The thing is, I’m not the only one. If I did start posting all of that stuff, kinder people would think it was quite odd, and less kind people would probably react with hostility – how would you react if this popped up on your feed: “crying because I just walked past people graduating and Mum probably won’t be around when/if I graduate”?

I have a number of friends going through a lot of tough situations at the moment. Physical health problems, mental health problems, family issues, you name it. I have friends in hospital, friends who’ve recently received difficult test results from their GP, and friends going through family break ups. If you looked at these people’s social media profiles and then they told you about these issues, you’d probably say ‘I’d never have guessed’.

More than any other area of our lives, social media lets us choose exactly how much or how little we say to the wider world about our lives. No-ones social media profile can fully represent that person – after all, how do you capture a human personality in 140 characters, or a well-filtered selfie? And that’s before you get to the unwritten social rules on what you can and can’t post – don’t cry for attention, don’t post anything that could upset or offend anyone, do your best to be funny – that actually restrict the freedoms we’d so dearly to love to have, and make the whole social media thing so much more difficult.

Assuming a friend is fine because they posted a happy Facebook status is like seeing someone wearing makeup and assuming they look the same without it. Facebook and Twitter and Instagram can so easily turn into makeup for your whole life: social mascara, if you like, personal concealer, maybe societal hair straightening. Please don’t ignore hints that they might not be so okay right now, if there are any. Reach out to your friends, drop them the occasional text, start some real conversations. Summer can be an incredibly lonely time, seeming to stretch on forever if things are difficult. Take out your makeup wipes, and find out if your friends really are as ‘okay’ as their internet presence suggests.

Featured: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/naomibarrow/social-media-is-a-carefully-constructed-facade_b_8000484.html