Content Maker’s Award Overall Winner: Going it Alone
We’re delighted to announce the winners of our Content Maker’s Award, the theme was ‘going it alone’. We’re kicking off with Pippa Stacey, our overall winner.
My name is Pippa Stacey, and I’m a chronically ill writer and blogger. I studied BSc Psychology in Education at the University of York in 2013, and graduated with a 2:1 in 2016.
During my first year of university, I was diagnosed with a debilitating chronic illness called ME/CFS. This condition completely changed my sporty, active way of life, and finding my feet whilst continuing my studies was relentlessly challenging. Therefore, my entry is a letter addressed to my past self, shortly before my health declined.
Although my condition has taken so much away from me, it gave me the greatest gift of all: reinstating my love of writing.
I blog at Life Of Pippa, freelance for various publications and projects, and recently published my debut non-fiction book, University And Chronic Illness: A Survival Guide. Find me at @lifeofpippa on Instagram.
Going it Alone
Dear Past Pippa,
Right now, you’re sprinting out of dance class, tearing through campus to try and get back to your room with enough time to get some make-up on your face. You’ve spent the morning in lectures, the afternoon in performance rehearsals, and now you’re off ‘out-out’ to spend the evening with friends. You’re shattered, but you’re glowing. This is everything you hoped your university experience would be.
You have no idea what’s to come.
The aching in your limbs will set in gradually at first. You’ll barely register the brief moments of dizziness or the gnawing pain in your head, brazenly attributing them to your workload or the classic student hangover. You’ll keep on pushing through, doing all the things all of the time, internalising the ‘mind over matter’ approach that society instils in every young person leaving home to pursue their studies.
During this first year of university, you’re a typical high-flying student. By the same time the following year, you’ll be struggling to stand up on your own.
Chronic illness really can happen to anybody. There’s never an ideal time to become disabled, but being diagnosed with an incurable condition right at the beginning of your independent life is far from ideal. Over the coming months, you’ll find yourself confined to a dark room for hours and days at a time, unable to tolerate the slightest noise or light. Your brain will feel swollen and foggy, sifting coherent thoughts away before you can even attempt to process them. You’ll think about those post-night out hangovers of your past life with scorn, because they pale in comparison to the level of flu-like unwellness you now feel every second of every day.
Fortunately, experiencing the worst of your health decline during the long summer break means that you’ll have four months to attempt to make things more stable. Although you’re yet to truly come to terms with the situation, September will come around and you find yourself transferred from your bed at home to the one in your new student house, reluctantly preparing to face an entirely new battle: life as a disabled student.
One of the most appealing things about university for you back then was the sense of community: the feeling of belonging, and being a part of something. However, adapting to life as a newly disabled student, you’re going to feel lonely, isolated, and like nobody else could possibly understand what you’re going through. You’re going to be shocked at how hard you have to fight for the support you’re entitled to, and how disheartening the whole process often seems. Being a student can be a tough time for any young person, but dealing with a fluctuating health condition adds an entirely new dimension of difficulty.
There are going to be days where you’re crying into your phone, seeing photos of your friends doing fun things on social media whilst you’re stuck in bed struggling to catch your breath. There are going to be nights you’re laid awake, relentlessly fretting over how you’re possibly going to finish your degree and make a future for yourself when even writing a paragraph feels like climbing Everest.
Not sounding too appealing, right? If you could meet your future self, I’m sure you’d be wondering why they didn’t just call it a day, turn their attention to figuring out a new plan instead.
Well, here’s why.
Despite being relentlessly challenging, your student years are still going to be some the most rewarding and fulfilling years of your life. Even though the pain will never go away, you’re quickly going to learn to find humour in your situation; everything from directing friends to navigate your wheelchair after cocktails, to learning how to swallow medication whilst wearing red lipstick. You’re going to fight for the support you’re entitled to, stick it out until the end, and graduate with an honours degree to be proud of.
But y’know what the very best bit of all is? You’re not going to simply disregard the struggles you experienced as a chronically ill student. You’re going to harness them, and use them to make sure those in similar situations never have to feel as alone as you did.
You’re going to be the one to create the resource that fills the gap you so painfully felt during your own student years. Before now, there was no comprehensive guide that chronically ill people in the UK could pick up if they were considering becoming, or preparing to become, students themselves, much less one that’s been written by somebody who’s experienced the process first-hand.
It’ll take you a good two years, but you’re going to combine your niche insight with your love of writing, and it’s going to result in a published book with your name on the cover. You’re going to author a bespoke non-fiction resource, full of tips and advice for making the most of university when you have a chronic illness- always with a touch of humour, of course. You’re going to fill the space between the covers full of all the things you wish you’d had somebody to tell you, back then.
Your book is going be enjoyed and appreciated by individual students, who are going to thank you from the bottom of their hearts and ask you to sign their copies… and it’s going to be purchased by staff in various higher education institutions, in order to better understand and support their own disabled students. You’re the one who’s going to facilitate that change.
So to you, Past Pippa, gallivanting through life without a care in the world, all I’d like to tell you is to hang in there. It’s going to be tough, and at times the whole situation is going to feel hopeless, but please don’t ever lose the hope that it’s all going to be worth it.
You don’t have to believe that everything happens for a reason to know that this experience has shaped you and set you on a completely different path in life… remarkably, one for the better. Every movement begins with one person who hopes to show others that they aren’t alone, that they can do this. And in you building the foundation blocks of that very movement for others, you’ve shown that you too are capable of greatness as well. Your time is coming.
No matter what happens, you’ve got this. Keep your eyes on the horizon and your cup of tea full, and it’s all going to be okay.
Why we loved this piece:
An incredibly powerful piece, people need to hear her story, she has to be a winner! A fantastic example of someone showing strength at a time of adversity. Pippa helps the reader to understand the journey illness has taken her on, from shock and change, to acceptance, courage, bravery and a new career path. She doesn’t seek pity but reminds herself of how far she has come. The format of a letter illustrates the time it has taken and the rollercoaster it has been. Honest and vulnerable, yet there’s hope, the future is different but bright.