How It Really Felt to Get Academic Accommodations for My Mental Illness

When I initially received my “academic accommodations” letter valid for the upcoming school year, I felt instant shame. My heart sank and waves of embarrassment hit me so hard, I was left stunned.

Because the truth is never in a million years did I believe this would happen to me. And I guess by this, I mean life, and life happens to everybody. Life happens to every single one of us whether we like it or not, and whether we deserve it or not.

Although my initial reaction was shame, it was closely followed by a mix of anger and fear.

I thought to myself, Having a “registered disability” and receiving an accommodation letter granting me academic concessions, what did this say about me, the me who had spent years getting A+ grades?

At first, being eligible to receive individualized concessions and being considered a student who might require a special sets of arrangements was unacceptable to me.

I thought, Will my parents be embarrassed on my behalf? Will my high school teachers be disappointed in me? And oh god, what will my professors think when they see the letter?

Then, I got angry with myself, because my whole life, I had never thought I’d be that kid needing a different room, a different assignment and certainly not a different set amount of time to complete an assignment.

But after pondering for a moment, I realized the key word here was “need” not “want.” I didn’t want to be eligible for academic concessions, but my mental illness chose differently.

And for the first time ever, I realized the people who needed that kind of extra support weren’t weaker, lazier or inferior. They were students just like me, and that’s all that mattered.

Today, I understand others might envy me because I have a piece of paper that gives me so many privileges, but the truth is if you can write your exams in a big lecture hall with a bunch of other students, you’re the privileged one. Consider yourself lucky.

I know I never did, and I should have. Academics always came so easily to me, and I took my skills and abilities —such a being able to read faster, focus for hours and finish papers on time — for granted for my whole life.

Guess what?

Not anymore.

Lastly, I want to take a moment to sincerely apologize to all the students I befriended over the years who required special needs or Individual Education Plans (IEPs). Part of me thought I was smarter and a better student, so “obviously something like this would never happen to me.”

Now that I’ve been on the other side, I understand how my pride got in the way and for that, I’m sorry. Being on the flip side of the coin, I have gained so much more respect and compassion for all the kids out there for whom school happens to be a daily struggle.

I’d like to tell each and every one of them: I appreciate and admire your resiliency a whole lot more than I used to, and I am so proud to be one of you.

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Thinkstock photo via Jacob Ammentorp Lund.

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