Article Originally Published by Maria Lawson on North Texas Daily
Disabilities, both visible and invisible, can lead to a student’s adjustment to university looking different from others. Someone Like Me is an organization that was founded at UNT in September of last year to provide support for students with disabilities to get through college.
“Someone Like Me is an organization founded with the intentions and purpose of bringing together those at UNT who may suffer from invisible disabilities of any sort,” said Sabrina Allard, music education junior and Someone Like Me member. “It can provide a connection to those who understand your pain and struggle because [the] majority of the general public won’t understand the certain depth of what we go through and how every day can be the hardest one after the other.”
Biology sophomore Jessica Schlottman founded Someone Like Me because her freshman year did not go as planned, as she was balancing adjusting to a new environment with her medical conditions. She has been diagnosed with Lupus, Fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.
“I was accidentally assigned a dorm room that did not support my disabilities,” Schlottman said. “Then, ODA implemented a new AIM online system that delayed my accommodations. Changing classes resulted in a nightmare schedule that put my health at risk. I didn’t have time to eat and the amount of walking required on-campus totally crippled me. Mentally and physically this chain of events made me very sick. As a result, I took a terrible fall. My injuries caused me to be no weight-bearing on a mobility scooter for a few weeks.”
Schlottman said at that point, she decided that college was going to be too much for her, but people started to reach out to her and share their experiences.
“One by one, students started telling me their stories about their medical conditions [and] the stigmas and prejudices they face, feeling alone and isolated,” Schlottman said. “That’s when I decided to create Someone Like Me.”
Meetings allow members to share their experiences in a space with people who are willing to listen and provide support.
“This is a safe space where [members] share experiences and pictures that no one else can understand,” Schlottman said. “They talk about [gastrointestinal] problems, flare-ups, sleep issues, fatigue [and] morning stiffness. They exchange helpful information about diet restrictions, specialists, medical procedures, service animals and coping tools. Some members prefer not to talk about their illnesses and that’s OK.”
Ashlyn Hajek, Someone Like Me social media manager and medical laboratory science junior, joined to find a group of people who understand what they go through on a daily basis.
“I joined Someone Like Me originally because my counselor highly recommended it to me while I was going through the diagnosing process of my chronic illnesses,” Hajek said. “Once I got involved, for the first time I felt like someone actually understood what it was like to live a day in my shoes.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, members have discovered that the support group provided in Someone Like Me is also important because disabilities often lead people to be immunocompromised.
“Students like us have compromised immune systems, so having a place to go and vent is very important,” said Kiersten Akins, former Someone Like Me vice president and UNT alumna. “Our president also makes sure to keep us praised of all COVID news and university news regarding the pandemic. This pandemic affects us far more than the average student.”
Having people with similar conditions to turn to during the pandemic has been meaningful to members in adjusting their lifestyles, Hajek said.
“While many people may not take this pandemic as serious, our group understands how important it is to take precautions, and we share the same worries of knowing our bodies may not be able to handle a virus like COVID,” Hajek said. “Having people to support you and host Zoom parties while you are social distancing at home makes a world of a difference for people in our group, myself included.”
Someone Like Me accepts people of all backgrounds, even if they are not diagnosed with a chronic illness.
“It’s a safe place for students,” Akins said. “We have healthy people in the group too. Aspiring health professionals have garnered an interest in our group because they can interact with chronically sick people. This is a carefree space where students can play games, chat and make life long connections.”
Allard joined Someone Like Me because she wanted to share her story while validating the experiences of others.
“I joined [Someone Like Me] because I thought it would be a great way to bring about more awareness of invisible disabilities,” Allard said. “With my medical history and health stories, I’ve mostly grown to get used to dealing with my health on my own and just pushing through life anyways, but I’m weird and not everyone can do that. So I want to share my experiences to try to help others through theirs, and also learn more about those who are in a similar boat as me.”
The support that Someone Like Me provides, Hajek said, gives members a platform to feel heard.
“A support system is vital for someone’s growth and emotional support in life, whether it’s your family or friends,” Hajek said. “It’s difficult as a young adult when you are experiencing things that no one around you really understands. This organization gives a place of understanding and freedom to be 100 percent you, all symptoms included. This organization also gives you a chance to share medical experiences that can help lead someone in the right direction of getting treatment that you may not have considered before.”
Students interested in joining Someone Like Me can join the organization’s Facebook group, where they post updates and meeting times.
“There is a need at UNT to raise awareness and advocate [for] the legitimacy of invisible disabilities among students and eliminate the prejudice mindset that comes with it,” Schlottman said.
Courtesy Jessica Schlottman
Source: North Texas Daily