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10 Rules That Got Me Through School With Chronic Illnesses

There are many lessons I’ve had to learn (and tried to learn) while living as a young person with more diseases than your average Joe. I found that as I attempted to get through school, I had to develop and acquire a whole new set of lessons to get me through. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

1. Listen to yourself.

Your success is within the palms of your own hands. Do not discredit yourself by allowing others to dictate when or how you attain it. Listen to your body. If it doesn’t work out today…work harder tomorrow. Education is one of the only constants in life — it will be there during the bad days and will still be there though the good. Remember to stop and make time for yourself when you are wearing thin. A car can only run so long without fuel.

2. Brace yourself. 

There will be days you begin at your weakest and end beyond the point of exhaustion. These will be the days the parking lot is so full you have to park across the street. These will be the days your classes are on opposite ends of campus, on the top floor of the building with a broken elevator, and the only available seat will be at the very top of the auditorium. The good news is that bad days aren’t forever.

3. Pace yourself. 

Finals, exams, projects, papers and quizzes may stress you out so much that you end up with physical symptoms and stress-induced anaphylaxis that may cause hospital stays, leading to the possibility of you missing it all anyway.

Girl sitting in hospital bed
Sabrina sitting in a hospital bed

4. Prepare yourself. 

Keep a stash of pain and nausea medications in all your textbooks and notebooks. Take it from me: Pain and nausea will not always be kind enough to wait for you to get to home before they flare with a vengeance.

5. Assert yourself. 

You can provide your professors and teachers with any and every piece of documentation from your doctor’s appointments or hospital admissions excusing your absences, but most of the time they will still give you a hard time because “you don’t look sick” so you couldn’t have possibly been that sick. Try and remind yourself that ignorance is a choice — your illness is not.

6. Applaud yourself. 

You can work your butt off keeping up on notes and assignments for every class and keep in contact with the respective professor while recovering in the hospital, but they might still give you a hard time because “you don’t look sick” and you caught up with work, so you couldn’t have possibly been that sick.

7. Celebrate yourself.

Your professors, teachers and peers will never be able to fathom what it entails for you be where you are, working toward an education. Make sure to remember that not every day will be good, but there will be something good in every day. Celebrate your victories, no matter how small; today your victory may be completing three papers while tomorrow’s victory may only be attending one class.

8. Remind yourself: 

Sometimes you’ll try to be a superhero and work tirelessly to find the balance between your school life, social life and healthcare. It will rarely be possible, if possible at all. So don’t let your mind trick you into thinking you are a failure because you can’t find the “happy medium.” Every day is different — some days you’ll require more time for school work and some days you’ll require more time to address your health. That’s OK, too.

9. Trust yourself. 

What works for one student may not work for you. Please know that’s OK. Learning is already a complex individual journey, and adding an illness into the mix that may compromise the way you perceive information is even more difficult. Find the style of learning that works for you and apply it to a timeline that works for you. If it is too difficult to be in school full-time, you can create a schedule that works best for you. An important thing to remember is to take your time. You can complete your education over four years or over 14 years; the ultimate success is loving what you do and doing what you love. Your education can wait, your health cannot.

10. Know yourself. 

We use kilometers and miles to measure distance, we use liters and ounces to measure volume and we use letters or numbers in an attempt to measure our success in educational assessments. If there is anything I’ve learned throughout my 17 years of school, it is that success is immeasurable. I cannot begin to tell you how many tears I have shed over the grades I have received. I cannot begin to tell you how inadequate I felt each time I saw a grade that did not reflect what I knew I was capable of. I still get lost in that trap to this day, but this year my dad reminded me that as long as I know I’ve done all I can, no one can take that away from me. This year my success didn’t come from a 4.7 GPA; instead, it came from the fact that despite multiple hospitalizations and absences, I completed a semester of college for the first time in three years.

Success is subjective and success is individualized. Of most importance, however, is that success amongst humans is relative. At the end of the day, the grade you receive at the top of a paper is a pathetic attempt to scale your intelligence, but it really has no more of an impact on your success than the color socks you were wearing that day. Your successes reflect your goals, and your goals reflect your experiences. Yes, we may have these diseases and disorders, but our conditions will never have us. We may have disadvantages, but our illnesses will never put us at a disadvantage.

Amongst my many years of primary, secondary, and post-secondary education, I have refused to let my success be represented as a number or a letter. I have refused to be held back from success because of a number or a letter, and I proudly refuse to allow anything or anyone to define my success other than myself, and I hope that you won’t either. Zig Ziglar once so eloquently said, “The real opportunity for success lies within the person and not in the job.” Within those words is a lesson for success.

Boy and girl wearing cap and gown
Sabrina and a friend graduate from school

Follow this journey on #SimplySabrina.