Series | How my ulcerative colitis impacted my education
These are simply the raw and honest thoughts that I have when I’m feeling a bit annoyed with my life. Times when the fatigue gets too much, I’m stuck indoors, or I’m laid awake at night. I’m sharing this with you simply because I want you to know that you are not alone.
What would my life be like without ulcerative colitis?
I can’t help but wonder what my life might have been like if I didn’t have ulcerative colitis. I think about all of the things that would have been different, and then I wonder how much different, or better my life would be now.
Fortunately, I had got through school before any IBD symptoms appeared. I can’t imagine having to go through it at school, because teenagers can be so cruel. I didn’t like school anyway, so I can’t imagine having to go through it while also dealing with a chronic illness and symptoms which most teens probably don’t want to talk about!
I left school with very little in terms of qualifications. I had shrugged off the warnings from family about education being important and had always said that I was happy to work in a factory.
It turned out that I wasn’t happy to work in a factory. I worked in a few, and because of things like commute time and unsociable hours, I had left.
Job hunting and employment before my UC diagnosis
A friend of mine was a presenter at a local community radio station, and he suggested I help out there to prevent gaps in my CV. They needed a volunteer to cover reception and to do some admin work. It wasn’t something I had thought about doing, but I had no other ideas either, so I went to see the owner and started the next day.
I liked being an admin! The reception wasn’t busy, so that didn’t take up a lot of my time. I set to work on organizing the filing system and typing up template documents for the stuff that was regularly needed. The owner was impressed, and I was enjoying myself!
Employment changes and qualifications
The trouble was, I wasn’t being paid, so I still needed to continue with my job hunting. I began applying for admin roles, but having no qualifications was a problem.
I was lucky because my aunty worked in a job that helped teens access funding for education. She found me evening courses to re-do the basics that I had failed at school. I say failed, but the reality is that I just didn’t turn up for my exams.
I could do it all, but I needed a certificate to prove it. Then, she found me more evening classes so that I could gain certification in Microsoft Office packages and word processing, to help with my admin job hunt.
The radio station had closed due to a lack of funding, so I got a job in another factory and continued to apply for admin roles, but we were heading into a recession at the time and there really wasn’t much going on. What was available, a lot of people were applying for, so me and my minimal experience didn’t even get a chance to get my foot in the door.
Overwhelming fatigue and unable to work as I had before
I was too tired to even look for jobs after I had finished work most of the time, and I was in the process of getting my health back on track so that I could have a j-pouch built. I was certain nobody would want to employ someone who had two upcoming surgeries planned, so I stayed where I was.
When the surgeries were all done, the fatigue stuck around, which I was disappointed by. I still didn’t feel I had the energy to look for a new job.
My way out was via voluntary redundancy a few years later. By then, it had been five years since I had done any admin work and my qualifications were old. Apprenticeships seemed like the only route forward. I got a lot of knock backs due to my age, which was so frustrating. Again, I blamed my IBD. I was behind with my life because it had been on pause for so long.
Finally, I found a role in a marketing agency, which was within walking distance from my home. I completed a Marketing NVQ, but that had to be extended because I’d been suffering from frequent pouchitis which had left me exhausted.
Everything became more difficult after my IBD diagnosis
Then, I did another qualification in team leading through the same college that I’d done the Marketing NVQ with. I was so worn out by work and studying at the same time, that I’d barely had a social life or stayed in touch with friends throughout. Having IBD felt so hard like nothing was simple and easy anymore.
After five years, I felt like I had outgrown my role where I was. I started looking for more qualifications which might help me find a role elsewhere, and I found some useful bits on an open university website, so I updated my digital marketing qualifications through that. Again, this was around work, so it left little time for anything else.
I looked at what jobs were available and everything was a long commute away or too many hours. Then, of course, my health started to decline, and again I was stuck because I wasn’t sure what was coming. Long trial and error with meds, time off for infusions, and possible surgery left me feeling stuck in a rut. How could I apply for new roles with so much uncertainty?
Progress in my career felt impossible because of UC
I felt like everything I had done was a waste of time. I felt like progress was impossible. I felt like every time I took the initiative to push forward and keep my qualifications up to date, IBD pushed me straight back into chronic fatigue, and uncertainty.
I got there in the end, but it felt like a constant battle the whole time. I can’t help but wonder what life would have looked like without the frequent pauses.
What is your comfort level disclosing your IBD to your employer?