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HomeCampus LifeAdvocacy Matters: Chronic Illness and Finding Community at Belmont

Advocacy Matters: Chronic Illness and Finding Community at Belmont

Mairi Collins is a third-year student studying corporate communications.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 in 10 U.S. adults are living with a chronic illness, and 4 in 10 adults are living with two or more. The CDC goes on to define chronic illness broadly as “conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both.”

As college campuses across the nation continue to become more diverse, there are a growing number of students with one or more chronic conditions living on campus, earning their degrees and managing their illnesses simultaneously.

Being a Belmont student with multiple chronic health conditions, I have struggled to manage the stress and responsibilities of school while also maintaining my health.

Managing a chronic illness can be lonely and isolating. I have often wondered about other students like me but have struggled to find resources. As a third-year student, I was determined that this would be the semester to find a community to share my life experiences with. And if I couldn’t find one, I’d organize one myself.

As it turns out, third year student Jessie Lang had the same idea. Earlier this semester, I saw an ad for a new chronic illness support group on campus, organized by Jessie in partnership with Accessibility Services and University Ministries. I immediately knew that I needed to become involved with this group, and already it has been life-changing for me.

From hearing others’ experiences—which are remarkably similar to mine—making friends and having a safe space to vent about the burdens of chronic illness, our group is fast becoming one of my favorite parts of being a student at Belmont. It has made me realize how important it is for schools to provide resources for students with chronic health conditions and emboldened me to advocate for myself and others. Community is life giving and having spaces to share and brainstorm matters.

Jessie is a friend and classmate, but I never knew she also lived with chronic illness until she organized our support group. After sitting down to chat with Jessie further, it became even more clear that my experiences are not singular.

“I was diagnosed with POTS—postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome—freshman year,” Jessie said. “I didn’t feel like I could really talk to anyone about it. It was hard to meet people.”

After meeting with Counseling Services, it was clear that a student support group was needed for students to share stories from their experiences. With encouragement from her mom, Jessie reached out to University Ministries for help in starting the group.

Within group meetings we share stories of what it means to be a student with chronic illness, from needing to take time off, to struggling financially, experiencing isolation and needing to ask for special accommodations.

Jessie shared her story of needing to change her music performance major due to physical demands. I’ve learned valuable lessons through my chronic illness and have been given the chance to get to know some wonderful people. Through our group, one idea is clear: though oftentimes invisible to the outside world, chronic illness has the power to derail plans and force us to pivot.

On changing majors, Jessie said, “The constant pain I felt while practicing wasn’t worth it, and it was a big deal. I didn’t have many people to talk about it with.”

While guitar was what brought Jessie to Belmont, she was faced with a tough decision, ultimately choosing what was best for her health. “Guitar was a big part of why I was here, and unless I explain it to people, they don’t understand why I changed.”

Now a publishing student, her experience is one story, similar to many students who manage their own chronic illness while in college. I am forever grateful for the opportunity at Belmont to connect with other students like me who are living with chronic conditions and for the space to share our stories. Nothing is too big to overcome when we know we aren’t alone.

For more information on the chronic illness support group, students can contact University Ministries 

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