It was difficult to press “submit” on my application to grad school. I was having vivid flashbacks of my 2-week stay in the hospital with a severe ulcerative colitis (UC) flare that almost claimed my life. It had been years since I finished my bachelor’s degree, and my UC was in a critical state.
Thankfully, my doctors worked relentlessly to find a treatment that helped relieve my symptoms enough for me to be able to take my education to the next level. But I had a lot of questions running through my mind. Would my UC get in the way of my dream of earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA)?
I’m happy to say my diagnosis didn’t stop me from getting my MBA, but it did throw some obstacles in my way. Here’s my advice for getting through school and making it to graduation with UC.
On top of my schoolwork, I was working full time and taking care of four children.
Balancing all of these responsibilities gets much more difficult when you add UC symptoms. People with UC don’t want to have their lives defined by their diagnosis, but I was unsure of whether I would be able to do it all.
Despite the fears, questions, and anxiety, I decided to press “send,” and I don’t regret it. If I never tried to go to school, I never would have known just how much I’m capable of.
A few weeks after applying, I received an envelope from my school of choice. I nervously opened the envelope and the first words I read were: “We are pleased to inform you… “
I immediately dropped the envelope and screamed with tears of joy running down my face. I was proud of myself.
Accomplishments like getting accepted to a school or earning high marks on an exam are no easy feat when you also have a chronic illness, and you deserve to recognize that. Celebrating your wins can help you get through all of the hard parts.
I was accepted into the program, and now I had to start setting myself up for success. The first thing I did was make a couple of calls to my faculty advisor and student support advisor. I wanted to learn all of the school protocols for assisting students like me who are managing UC.
To my surprise, there wasn’t much support or information available. It left me feeling frustrated and alone. It’s amazing how common this situation is in this day and age. With all of the advancements in technology and medical research, it’s still difficult to find the support you need, especially as someone with UC.
I got access to the health center hotline on campus and to a nurse practitioner I could reach out to should I ever find myself in an emergency. It’s instrumental to your success for you to know the resources available at your place of education.
Never hesitate to reach out for help if it concerns your health.
Over the few months before my semester began, I set up appointments to make a plan with my gastroenterologist to ensure my time at grad school would end with a graduation and not a hospitalization.
My UC medication weakened my immune system, which meant protecting myself in large populations was vitally important. My doctor suggested I take certain vitamins and prescribed a vitamin that supported my immune system.
By the start of the term, I felt confident enough to take on my program with my eyes on reaching my graduation destination. I knew there would still be bumps in the road, but preparation made managing my health a lot easier in the future.
It let me put more of my focus on my studies because I knew what to do for my UC.
The next few months were a bit difficult. Adjusting to being both a working mom and graduate student really drained my energy, which unfortunately contributed to a bit of stress. The stress also triggered some mild flares with UC.
I worked on finding ways to balance my stress by taking up kickboxing and Pilates. Those exercises helped me find the energy I needed to navigate my hectic school, work, and parenting schedule.
Relieving my stress through exercise made me feel stronger. I needed every bit of the strength I could muster to ensure I was able to get my assignments in on time after a long day of work.
It’s important to make time for stress relievers like exercising, journaling, or spending time with friends, even if your schedule is already packed. If you have activities that help you relax and make you feel good, you’ll be more productive when it comes time to sit down and get to work.
Around winter midterms, I noticed that I was having difficulty getting rest, and I was crying a lot. I began seeing a therapist, and it forever changed the way I looked at how I had been navigating my stress and my diagnosis.
I believe, as people with UC, we suppress a lot. We strive to maintain some sense of normalcy in a world that overlooks our diagnosis because we outwardly appear to be healthy and well most of the time.
My therapist helped me understand that, while my desire for normalcy was typical, it was also adding to my stress. It kept me from accepting and expressing how difficult living with UC can be.
From those months of therapy, I learned to focus on myself and my health more without making excuses or fearing judgment from the outside world. I gave myself permission to live without feeling like UC was some sort of punishment or life sentence.
I graduated from my MBA program with flying colors and walked across the stage plump from a fresh round of steroid treatment. I also graduated with my family and a community of support cheering me on.
I’m proud to say that UC didn’t hinder my MBA journey, and it made me realize what people with UC are truly capable of despite the diagnosis.
UC is a part of me, not the sum of me. There were many obstacles on my path to graduation, but I navigated them by knowing my resources, investing in self-care, and reaching out when I needed help.
I’m now in doctoral school, and I look forward to walking the stage once again, UC in tow!
Winter Harris (Williams) is an author, minister, speaker, conference host, and media personality who inspires her global audience by delivering a fresh message of hope rooted in truth, wisdom, transparency, and compassion. Winter has authored eight books. Her most recent release is called “The Obedience Exchange: Accessing Favor Through the Currency of Obedience.” Winter is the founder of a growing mentorship community, a professional consultant, a doctoral student, and a cast member in season 1 of “Love and Marriage: DC.”