By Jake Borrett – Contributing Writer
University can be challenging, but it can be harder if you have a disability. I have Crohn’s disease and dyspraxia. If you told me five years ago I would have graduated from the University of Hertfordshire in September 2016 with a First-class honours in English Literature and Creative Writing, I would not have believed you.
It was stressful at times having to balance assignments and socialising, not only with my health but also having a father who lives in a nursing home because of his severe multiple sclerosis. However, university was also creative, hilarious and fulfilling; and I have made some lifelong friends.
I was asked recently what piece of advice I would give to others students with similar personal challenges. I responded: “Do not be afraid to ask for help, never be scared to enjoy yourself and always believe in oneself.”
It is true that there were days where I felt lost, alone and angry, but what made a positive difference was having the courage to ask for support when I needed it most. I am grateful to those people who listened, not with the intention to judge but the intention to understand; to those who understood when I too fatigued to get out of bed, or too anxious to go on a night out.
I must also commend the Disability Services at University of Hertfordshire. Having had Disabled Students’ Allowance and a Study Needs Agreement in place gave me relief when having to complete examinations and assignments. I was rushed into hospital with a Crohn’s disease flare-up in October 2013, and due to further emotional complications I deferred my second year. Nevertheless, the assistance the staff gave me allowed me to continue my studies again the following year. Without this in place I would not have finished my course.
While studying is important, university is also about finding out who we are as individuals. I believe the experience has made me a more independent, determined individual; for instance, I had a greater need to plan and organise my time between lectures and seminars, going to the Elehouse and the Forum, and having some alone time. I also discovered some new interests in the form of radio and poker by joining Trident Media and the Poker Society respectively. These gave me further opportunities to meet some great people.
On my website, Jake Borrett’s Writing Blog, I often reflect on the impact Crohn’s disease and dyspraxia have had on my education. When I started secondary school my English skills were poor to the extent I had to take tri-weekly ‘Learning Support’ lessons that focused on developing my language, literary and speaking skills. It was from encouragement of teachers, friends and family, and an inner drive that has made me come this far. I will never stop believing in myself.
So please remember this: do not be afraid to ask for help, never be scared to enjoy yourself, and always believe in oneself.