Studying whilst ill

As I write this I’m waiting for my final results for my BA degree. It’s an agonising wait, especially as these past 4 years haven’t been the easiest.

I started university back in 2014 doing a foundation course in History, I’d just gotten out of an abusive relationship and my eating disorder was particularly bad, my mental health was awful and I’d been dealing with chronic migraines for about a year and a half. So, not the easiest time to move away from home to a new city, start a uni course and had no mental health  support what so ever because I’d not told people I was struggling.

I found that year very hard especially since I found myself in an unsafe and abusive household where I was being manipulated by people I thought were my friends and eventually threatened and forced out of the house with my partner. I didn’t do very well with my grades that year, I hadn’t worked a hard as I could because I’d been dealing with everything on top. I then had a large mental breakdown at the start of summer 2015 which meant I had to move back home so that my parents could look after me.

Luckily that breakdown meant I could finally get the help I needed and I slowly started to recover,  I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and bulimia nervosa and started therapy soon after.

The next year I went into my (proper) first year of uni (I’d managed to pass my foundation course because of the support from my department and uni) and was living with my partner in private student accommodation. My mental health started to get better, I still wasn’t great, my anxiety was the worst it’d ever been and I missed around 70% of my classes because of it. That year I also started getting more health issues pop up and get worse. But again I did what I could and passed that year again.

Second year was a lot better mental health wise but my physical health was terrible. I didn’t have ay answers as to what was happening to me. I’d always known I had hypermobility but I never put two and two together.

Thats when I bought my first stick, it helped a lot and I felt more at ease leaving the flat and traveling the 45 mins to uni. I finally got diagnosed with fibromyalgia and hypermobilty syndrome and started medication for the pain and was referred to physio.

This year I’ve worked my butt off because I found an MA course in Leeds that is a dream and I need a 2:1 to get on. This was stressful and at the start of the year I was at a mid-high 2:2 because of the past few years so I really needed to up my game

 

I wanted to share some ways in which I made uni a lot easier for me and hope they help someone else.

 

1. Ask for help

Your department and uni are there to help you, you are paying them after all. Visit your disability department and try arrange reasonable adjustments, I was able to get extra time  and rest breaks in my exams and extra time on essays because fatigue and pain can really get in the way of work. Talk to them about getting Disabled Students Allowence (DSA) because that allowed me to claim back any money I spent on books or printing and they can help with travel to and from uni.

Ask your department to make little changes to accommodate you, let them know if it takes you longer to get between classes or if you need to record your lectures. Recording mine helped so much because if I wasn’t focusing or feeling well then I could just listen back when I needed

 

2. Take breaks

It’s so important that you don’t push yourself and get burned out. Try not to pull all nighters, they just hurt and you won’t get the best work done. Explain to your tutors if you need extra time to finish work. Pace yourself, don’t try get 5 hours of work done in one go, work for a bit and then have a rest, watch tv, have a cuppa or talk to a friend and then go back to it. And if you can’t concentrate on work just don’t do it, go back to it in an hour, try a different piece of work, do some course reading. You know how you work best so don’t try push yourself to do something you can’t do.

 

3. Routine

For me routine is a big part of helping my anxiety stay low, I like knowing what I’m doing next. Create yourself a little timetable of what work you want to accomplish that day. But don’t set targets you can’t achive, don’t say you’ll write 1000 words in the morning and read all of chapter 12 in the afternoon. That just won’t happen (unless you’re some kind of super human) all it’ll do is stress you out. One of my therapists suggested I set minimum and maximum targets for my work, I needed to write a minimum of say 250-300 words in that block but no more than 800, that way if I can only manage 500 words that day it was fine, if I did 250 that was fine too. Schedule in breaks where you don’t work, during exam period I set a rule that I didn’t work after dinner and spent the evening chilling.

 

4. Self care/emergency boxes.

On the advice of a therapist I made a self care box (which is now a drawer), there’s lots of inspiration online for what to put in, soft things, nice smelling things, I had to get something that would stimulate each sense. Something I could grab quickly and calm myself down with or something to help me focus or distract me from pain etc.

I also have (now scattered around my flat because I’m a mess) a more physical health collection, things that help during a flare. Eye masks, hot/cold packs and pain killers etc. The Mighty is a great resource for learning to deal with chronic illness, they have lots of ‘hacks’ to make flares more bearable.

 

5. Be more kind

It’s okay to find uni difficult, it’s bloody hard for able bodied /neurotypical people let alone others. Be gentle with yourself. Listen to your body, don’t kick yourself for that week you only ate take out because you didn’t have the energy to cook, try not get frustrated because you missed class for whatever reason. Take your time. You’ll get there, and if you need to drop out that’s fine, there’s no point making yourself more sick for the sake of uni, there’s lots of other things you can do. Your health should always come first.

 

Ben x

ps. It’s been 2 hours and I still can’t get onto the website to check my results… help

 

UPDATE: I GOT A 2:1!!!

 

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