The following article appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of ME Essential – the exclusive magazine for members of the ME Association. You can also read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series which we have published on the website as part of our September focus on education.
Emily Bailey continues with the third in her series on university life with M.E: The ME-friendly university packing list!
As I write this, I have just submitted my final piece of coursework for my first year at university.
That’s it, I’m done. I now have four months of rest and recuperation time ahead of me. The past twelve months have been a rollercoaster; physically, emotionally and mentally.
So much has happened that it’s hard to put into words. Some of the time I feel like absolutely nothing has changed, yet at other times I hardly recognise the person I was a year ago.
I feel stronger now, more confident. I’ve coped with one of the scariest, hardest things I’ve ever had to do and come out the other side. What’s more, I’ve enjoyed it.
I’ve made friends with my course mates and with my flatmates; spent evenings talking about anything and everything; founded a society; disastrously decorated a birthday cake… the list goes on.
University has simultaneously been exactly how I expected it to be and nothing like I imagined. There’s a lot of things I’d like to tell the person that I was a year ago, the girl frantically trying to foresee any and all potential bumps in the road. Mostly, though, I’d just like to tell her that she’s going to be okay.
Yes, she may crash her mobility scooter an embarrassing number of times and have to get rid of some uncomfortably large spiders, but she’s going to be okay. That being said, I’m not sure she’d hear me, surrounded as she is by lists upon lists of packing guides, pots and pans, bedsheets and towels, cups, plates and cutlery, hole punch, stapler…
From stocking up the kitchen cupboards to decorating dorm rooms, there was many a thing to cover and plenty of online lists proffering advice. But what about the things most people don’t need, the things which make life with M.E. a little easier?
The ME-Friendly University Packing List
A filter water bottle
Tap water isn’t necessarily the nicest water and, if part of your M.E. management includes avoiding exposure to the nasty chemicals/bacteria that may be found in tap water, a filter water bottle (such as those made by Brita) may help.
Whilst they may not filter out everything, a little filtration is probably better than none. I find a bottle works better than a full filter jug as… well, it’s light enough for me to actually lift.
A compact water heater
Not only can kettles be heavy to lift multiple times throughout the day, fatiguing you unnecessarily, but they are also generally supplied only in the kitchen.
If this is a long (or even short) walk down the corridor, it’s going to build up your general level of fatigue every time you want a cup of tea.
A freestanding water heater which expels boiled water into your cup at the push of a button can be a good solution to this. Whether you want to store it in the kitchen, or your room is, of course, up to you.
I have the Breville HotCup 1.5 Litre, which does a good job but is quite noisy.
An electric can opener/multi-tool
I don’t know about you but opening cans of tuna is one of my biggest challenges in the kitchen department.
Manual can openers make my hands feel like they’re being ripped to shreds, and by the time I’ve got the can open my arms are too tired to do anything with the food inside.
This is a big problem for me as I am a massive fan of tuna sandwiches (apologies, vegetarians).
There are a variety of different electric can openers you can try; from something small like the Culinare One Touch (I’ve tried one like this and, while it gets the job done, it can be a little flighty) to a larger, freestanding one like Morphy Richards. This one incorporates other handy kitchen tools (e.g. jar opener, water bottle opener).
A mini fridge
If you have medication which needs to be kept cold and you don’t want stored in a communal kitchen, or if you want to have some chilled foods easily accessible on days when leaving your room is too much to ask, you may want to consider getting a mini-fridge.
A SAD lamp
A Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) lamp, is one which changes its colour throughout the day to mimic the pattern of sunlight.
They can be used as gentle alarm clocks, slowly brightening your room in the morning, and to wind you down before bed by producing a more orange-tinged hue.
As someone who struggles to keep on a normal sleep schedule and whose university dorm room is dark about 90% of the time, this has been really helpful for keeping me functioning on the university’s timetable.
There’s quite a range of these at different price points with various bonus features. Lumie is a brand with an extensive collection.
Whilst most universities supply some form of seating for your desk, they’re generally not the most comfortable, let alone ergonomic, option.
In an effort to reduce the number of extraneous factors which can cause you pain and/or fatigue, get yourself a good chair. What this will be depends on you.
Spend some time finding an option that best fits your needs. I was supplied with an office chair as part of my Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) package (information on how to apply for this was published in the previous issue). I believe that it was sourced from www.ergochair.co.uk.
My favourite thing about my chair is its pivot mechanism. Sitting in one position for an extended amount of time tends to exacerbate my joint pain, but this mechanism allows me to frequently adjust my position without having to manually realign the chair.
A lap tray/ bed desk
That being said, it is a touch optimistic to assume that all of your university work is going to be completed at your desk.
Some days M.E. bodies just need to lie down (and, to be honest, sometimes you just want to lie in bed watching Netflix).
However, you can still do this ergonomically with a good lap tray. I have the Lavolta Folding Laptop Desk (again supplied by DSA).
Its adjustable legs are useful for adapting its position according to my own. However, it does take a little bit of time to work out what degrees to place the legs at to stop the desk from falling over.
A sturdy backpack
Whilst they may not be the most fashionable, a sturdy backpack that fits you well is important for transporting things to classes. Again, it’s all about minimising the things which may cause you unnecessary difficulty, like messenger bags applying uneven weight to your shoulders.
You’ve got to get to lectures, and you may need some help. For the most support, you can get a mobility scooter or electric wheelchair (make sure your mobility scooter is small enough to get inside particularly compact lifts, if they’re common on your campus – mine cannot).
However, if you need less support a walking stick could be all you need.
I have a foldable one which I can keep in my backpack or handbag to pull out when needed (although my dream is to one day have a black one with a silver dragon as the handle).
Mine is by the brand Classic Canes England (do you think we can make #stickpic a thing? I think it most definitely should be).
Earplugs come in very handy at university, whether that’s to dampen sounds in seminars and social situations or to block the noise of drunken students when you’re trying to sleep.
However, the cheap yellow foam earplugs amassed at gigs and on aeroplanes are neither comfortable nor particularly inconspicuous (I always think they make me look like Shrek).
Moulded earplugs, however, are comfortable and inconspicuous, not to mention more effective. There are a variety of suppliers, such as Emtec (where I got mine) and Mercury Hearing.
Some offer increasingly customised options with specific decibel filters and even Bluetooth speakers.
An alternative could be noise-cancelling headphones or earphones, depending on what suits you best.
Make sure that you’re kitted out for flare-up days. For me this includes a well-stocked snack pile by my bed and lots of two-minute microwave meals.
I also make sure to have symptom-management supplies handy (painkillers; travel sickness tablets; my favourite mints and ginger biscuits for when I’m nauseous…).
The summer before leaving for university is both exciting and scary. Thinking about what to pack to best support your experience helps ensure you have as much support in place as possible, come the big day.
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