13 Back-to-School Essentials for Students with Chronic Illness

Back-to-school time is almost here, and I know from experience how stressful this season can be for students with chronic illness. After all, when you have a chronic illness, you have to worry about staying healthy on top of completing homework, going to class and/or work and overall just kicking butt at school life.

13 Back-to-School Essentials for Students with Chronic Illness

Since I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia at age 11 and celiac disease at age 16, I’m no stranger to going to school, college and now grad school with a chronic illness. So today I thought I’d share 13 “necessities” I think all students with chronic illnesses should have for the coming school year, regardless of their age, chronic illness and education level.  

1. A planner. 

Like I’ve written before, you can use a planner for so much more than just writing down homework for class. You can also remind yourself about when to take your medication, foods you need to prep, phone calls you need to make to your doctor and anything else you need to do to kick life’s booty with chronic illness. 

2. A heat pack and ice pack. 

If you have fibromyalgia or another chronic pain condition, having heat and ice packs on hand is a total must. These are two items I didn’t think about the first time I went to college. I was so used to my parents having several of each that I didn’t even think of buying my own! But when a fibromyalgia flare-up hits, being able to lay down with a heat pack on my back and an ice pack on the back of my neck makes a huge difference. If the same is true for you, make sure you add these two packs to your back-to-school shopping list. 

13 Back-to-School Essentials for Students with Chronic Illness

3. Blackout curtains. 

If you struggle with getting enough sleep, black-out curtains can seriously transform your life. I need more sleep than the average bear (thank you, fibromyalgia), and my black-out curtains ensure that the sun doesn’t wake me up hours early. In a pinch, clothes-pinning a light blanket to your curtain rod will work too (not that I’ve ever been desperate enough for that...cough, cough), but black-out curtains are a worthy investment for lots of restful sleep. 

4. A good lunch box. 

Remember how excited you were as a kid to buy a new, cool lunchbox for the school year? Well, packing yourself a delicious, nourishing and allergy friendly lunch to eat at school is just as important in high school, college and even grad school. I’m always a fan of leftover gluten free pizza, vegan mac and cheese or any of these other gluten free packed lunch recipes. As long as you have a good lunch box to put them in, your stomach is destined to be very happy all school year long.

5. All the emergency snacks. 

Ever been busy running around town to do errands and then realize, “If I don’t eat something right now, ‘hangry’ is going to be an understatement!”? When you have dietary restrictions (like from celiac disease), finding a snack can be more challenging. That’s why I always have a few bars, homemade energy balls or pieces of fruit stuck in my purse or backpack - just in case! If you need ideas of allergy friendly snacks to pack for back-to-school, check out this gluten free snack recipe roundup or this list of some of my favorite premade snacks lately!

As a bonus, here's my favorite gluten free and vegan snack lately! These homemade energy balls are insaaaanely thick, fudgy, and full of chocolate flavor. Plus, they're pretty healthy since they're only sweetened with banana and get some extra protein and fiber from Foods Alive's Raw Chia Protein Powder, which I used to make a chia egg and bind the whooole thang together (I'm an ambassador for Foods Alive, FYI!). Find the full recipe for these chocolate bliss balls on my Instagram post here

6. A reliable pair of shoes. 

Depending on how large your school is, you’ll probably be racking up the steps once the school year starts up again. As a result, having a reliable pair of shoes is a MUST. Personally, I wear my Adidas sneakers with orthotics as often as I can, but find out what works for you and stick with it! 

7. A note or paperwork from your doctor. 

Like I wrote in my comprehensive guide for going to college with celiac disease, my college required certain paperwork and documentation from my doctor to get the accommodations I needed from my college. So before the school year starts, I’d encourage you to reach out to your school’s disability resource center and ask what paperwork you should get done before school begins.

13 Back-to-School Essentials for Students with Chronic Illness

8. Frozen meals or foods for busy days at school. 

I typically cook at least once a day, but during crazy busy days at grad school, having frozen foods or meals that I can heat up and eat in a few minutes is seriously life-saving. I plan on doing a round up of my favorite frozen foods and meals soon, but lately I’ve been loving Dr. Preager’s GF veggie burgers, Path of Life’s quinoa meals and frozen portions of my vegan mac and cheese, stacked enchilada, oil-free fries, and granola. I’ve also loved eating Foster Farm’s GF chicken nuggets and chicken tenders in the past. 

9. All. The. Medications. And a pill pack to stay organized! 

In college, my friends used to joke that everyone should run to my dorm room if there was an emergency because I had all the food and all the medications. But on a serious note, making sure you stock up on your pills and know how and when you’re going to get them refilled is super important before every school year. When you move somewhere new for school like I did last year, it can feel really overwhelming to figure out your medical care on top of your new school and classes. So the sooner you make a game plan for your medications, the smoother your school year afterward! 

13 Back-to-School Essentials for Students with Chronic Illness

Depending on how many pills you need to take, I recommend investing in a simple pill organizer (or even a pill organizer + water bottle like this one!) as well. Always having a week’s worth of pills organized makes it super easy for me to just pour that night’s pills in a plastic bag to keep in my backpack if I have a night class or am going out with friends. Spending ten minutes or so organizing my pills for the whole week always saves me lots of time during my busy days later on! 

10. The phone numbers of several friends you can call for support. 

I’m not going to lie. Going to school with a chronic illness is hard. That’s why you should try to have at least one person you know you can call and vent to anytime you need. Having a solid support system can keep you from feeling alone in your struggles and give you important reminders about how awesome you really are! If you don’t have any close friends or family that could fulfill this role, you can always explore online support groups for your chronic illness as well. Some of these online groups are definitely better than others, but as long as you find someone who makes you feel safe and understood, that’s all that matters. 

11. A backpack loaded with all the necessities, from extra meds to backup snacks. 

There’s no point in loading up on emergency snacks and medicine if you don’t take them with you for when you might need them! That’s where a sturdy backpack or purse comes in. I’d also encourage you to have fun with your backpack and show off your personality...and perhaps even your chronic illness. My favorite part about my backpack (besides all the goodies inside it) is the buttons - including some about slaying life while gluten free - I have all over it.

13 Back-to-School Essentials for Students with Chronic Illness

As for what emergency items to include in your backpack, I always have a few bars (so I can choose whichever one I actually feel like eating) and some backup migraine, stomach and pain medications. There’s nothing worse than being trapped in class while battling a flare up, and these meds saved me several times last year! 

12. A self-care checklist. 

I get it. When you’re trying to be a rockstar student while managing your chronic illness, self care can often fall to the bottom of your to-do list. But taking the time to relax your body and your mind is vital during busy times at school - especially if you have a chronic illness that makes you extra prone to getting run down or sick from stress. So I’m challenging you to make a list of three self care practices you’ll try to engage in every week. They can be as simple as painting your nails each Sunday night and as quick as just taking a 10 minute walk during your lunch breaks. If you need inspiration for easy ways to practice self care, check out my lists of self care activities you can do in 15 minutes or from the comfort of your own bed.

13. The belief that you are gonna rock this school year, no matter what obstacles may come your way! 

Most likely, the school year will come with some challenges. Most likely, there will be days when you think, “If I was normal, school would be SO much easier!” But know this: with enough determination, support and hard work, you can kick the school year’s butt, even with a chronic illness. And you’ll be amazed at how much the challenges you overcome make you grow in the end.

13 Back-to-School Essentials for Students with Chronic Illness

My Reminder to All Chronically Ill Students...

As the school year creeps closer, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little anxious. However, I also know that I’ve survived much harder school years on the past - like being hospitalized for celiac complications during my freshman year of college - and that this year will be full of adventures, memories and opportunities to learn. 

And if you’re also feeling a little anxious about going back to school with a chronic illness, I hope this list makes you feel less alone and gives you a better idea of how you can prepare yourself for success!

What's one of your chronic illness necessities? Tell me in the comments!


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