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PKU & UNIVERSITY LIFE

Taking the next step to university and potentially moving away from home to a place you have never been before, living with total strangers and studying something new is a BIG change for anyone – but coupled with PKU this can be a massive change to your life. Therefore, it is important to be prepared so here are my experiences and some tips to help you from what I’ve learnt along the way.

by Annie Skidmore

MY EXPERIENCES

After college I decided I wanted to further my education and go to university which I knew was a big change, but I was ready for it. After doing my research and travelling to many university open days, I finally decided on studying a BSc Sport & Exercise Science degree at Newcastle University – it was a great course, conducted within the medical school in an ideal location and I fell in love with the place when I visited! The next 3 years were a whirlwind to say the least – finishing a degree in a pandemic was not what I had planned! In first year, I lived in a flat of 8 people and it was the best year – exploring the city, making new friends, studying a degree I loved and then learning to manage my PKU independently. The past three years have been a massive learning curve and it hasn’t been a smooth ride but moving away from home meant I had to step up take control over my PKU and manage it so I could perform well in my studies and be healthy. I found that I had a love for cooking and this year particularly I have experimented with new meals, different ingredients and looked after myself the best both physically and mentally. It has taken me time to reach this point and I have had to overcome challenges which mean now I can live independently and healthily away from home.  

CHALLENGES I’VE FACED:

Moving away from home comes with MANY challenges and issues that you wouldn’t even think about, but don’t worry sharing mine may help you to be more prepared and making mistakes is all about learning. Firstly, before moving in I made sure I had a mini fridge in my room as this meant I had comfort knowing my food wouldn’t be ‘accidently’ eaten and gave me more space. I was really lucky and also had a freezer in the kitchen dedicated to my food so I had space for all the meal prepped foods (just in case I couldn’t cook haha!). I would recommend contacting the accommodation team prior to going to enquire about this too – it was a great help! Deliveries were also a challenge to ensure they came to reception and I had enough people to help carry the boxes to the top floor! Eating around the university schedule and training at the gym was challenging too and sometimes I didn’t always get this right – but making mistakes will help you to realise what does and does not work for you. Batch cooking also was a BIG help in first year when I wasn’t quite experienced with cooking – and the freezer space supported this too! I also chose to stay with my home GP as they have always been supportive of my PKU diet and have dealt with it great – this was something that I am grateful of and although I do sometimes still not get the prescription rotation right all the time they will always sort it out for me.

MY TOP TIPS:

1. BE PREPARED: this is essential! Know the accommodation you are going to and the facilities they have, know where your deliveries will be and tell your GP you are moving to ensure you still receive your prescriptions in advance of leaving and in term break.

2. EMBRACE THE CHANGE: these will be the BEST years of your life so go with it don’t stress too much about getting it wrong you WILL find your feet in time.

3. GET CREATIVE: try new recipes! Get your housemates involved and get cooking – it’s so much fun!

4. STOCK UP ON FOODS: prescription and low protein foods are essential to have plenty of – especially if you stay with your home GP so make sure you do some batch cooking before you leave and stock up in term breaks.

5. FIND YOUR LOCAL SHOPS: know your surroundings, find your local supermarkets and plan a day each week when you are going to go and what you will buy.

6. ASK FOR HELP: if you are struggling don’t be afraid to ask for help whether this be your housemates, parents, dietician etc it will take time to adjust so don’t be hard on yourself!

I hope that these help you to be prepared for taking the next step in your education whilst supporting your PKU to help you live a healthy, happy, and successful life!

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