Someone sat writing whilst in a wheelchair

Chronic illness life hacks for mental and physical health

As someone with lifelong experience of chronic mental and physical illness, I thought I’d share my favourite life hacks that have hugely improved my quality of life as a student!  

It’s important to note that disability isn’t a dirty word, and I’ve personally been on a long journey to feel comfortable applying the term to myself. We are constantly fed the ableist narrative of ‘the only disability is a bad attitude’, when this is simply not the case and undermines our mental and physical struggles. There is a HUGE stigma surrounding disability in young people and I am here to share tips on how I accepted that I do in fact have limitations and how I address these.  

A feminine person sat at a desk writing on a notepad. They are sat in a wheelchair.

Social Media

As someone who spent a significant portion of their teenage years stuck in bed or in the hospital, I found that finding online communities that represent me became my lifeline to prevent social isolation.  

For me personally, I discovered a whole new world of positive disability and mental illness representation which has totally changed my life and allowed me to accept myself. Surrounding myself with authentic, positive communities rather than air-brushed and disingenuous celebrities and influencers has been so helpful

You don’t even have to delve into advocacy if you don’t want to – I think it’s important to build online relationships or have a community that you enjoy participating in, wherever your interests lie. The chronic illness community showed me that we are still human beings despite having dysfunctional health and that having actual interests and hobbies don’t undermine my health at all! I had felt guilty for indulging in my hobbies of record collecting and tattoos, but now I’m grateful for the good days that allow me to write articles or see friends or travel.

Some of my favourite Instagram creators are:  

  • creamcrackeredblog – Lorna writes about cats, life with ME, activism and is just a generally hilarious babe.  
  • Nina Tame – Nina writes about life as a mum with Spina Bifida, as well as inclusive disability activism and her love of bright colours, her family, and Elton John.
  • thechroniciconic – Jess shares her experiences as a chronically ill, neurodivergent babe, while also navigating her many creative hobbies and being a fashion icon. She has taught me so much about inclusivity and how to rock a mobility aid, and I’m very invested in her DIY projects.
  • jessicaoutofthecloset – Jessica showed me that you can have some semblance of a normal life despite pain, as she and her wife Claudia navigate vintage fashion, pregnancy, and queer and disabled history together. She makes disability glamourous!
  • notyourgrandmasuk – Hannah created the #babewithamobilityaid movement, and provides the handbook you were never given on disability and chronic illness!

Positive representation makes the world of difference and online communities can also provide an excellent distraction when you’re feeling bad.  

Mobility and Life Aids

Not Your Grandma’s totally changed the way I see mobility and life aids, proving that using aids or hacks to make your life easier when you are unwell don’t have to look like they belong in a nursing home! Here are my personal favourite products:  

  • Shower chair and rails – I don’t have a bath and used to just sit on the floor or forgo showers on bad days, but now I am able to sit down and spend as long as I like in the shower! I refused to get rails or a chair for a long time as I was adamant I was too young for it, but they have made my life so much easier. I regret all the time I spent rejecting my own limitations out of shame. I also fully encourage you to make use of baby wipes and dry shampoo when you can’t manage a shower!
  • Physio/KT Tape – I use physio tape all the time and it makes a huge difference to my mobility and ability to spend time out of the house, but it doesn’t have to be boring! Here are some funky designs that are also available on Amazon so you can co-ordinate your tape with your outfit! 
  • Walking sticks – again, I was so reluctant to buy myself a cane out of shame, but accounts like thechroniciconic and rubyrouxbijou showed me that mobility aids could be fashionable. You can customise your mobility aids using Duct Tape or buy from brands like Neo Walk that sell stylish canes. Unlearning stigma around mobility aids has been so beneficial for my health as I’ve been able to get out more and have more of a life.  
  • Bed desk – this is by far my favourite hack for chronic illness. I’m kicking myself for not buying one years ago! A bed desk lets you comfortably work from bed, and I’m far more productive as I have a set space to work on. I did the majority of my A Level work lying down in bed, which was difficult and time-consuming. Now, I can work at my normal rate in comfort, as well as having a proper space to eat on bad days! This is the one I bought, and they are pretty inexpensive. 
Three bowls of salad and a chopping board on a table.

Food

Disabledmeals on Instagram have a platform for sharing disability or illness hacks for cooking, so I definitely recommend checking them out. Here are my personal favourite devices and hacks to make cooking easier:  

  • Vegetable chopper and spiralizer – this has really revolutionised cooking for me. I love to cook but often don’t have the energy or strength to prepare veg, so this is amazing and means that I don’t have an excuse to not eat vegetables! I also really like this mandoline as I struggle to cut food into small slices due to having shaky hands. 
  • Pre-prepared food – to make cooking even easier, I often buy frozen or pre-chopped stuff so I can eat on high fatigue days or when my mental health has taken a hit. There’s no shame in saving your energy when you need to! I’m a big fan of inexpensive packet meals, including couscous, Pot Noodles, Weetabix or rice. I also recommend getting an electric can opener if you struggle with opening things!
  • Conserving energy – this may seem obvious, but I find that sitting down when preparing food helps me loads and even allows me to bake on days when I feel awful.

I hope you have found this helpful! Remember, you can contact Student Services for more help and advice.