10 Things I’ve Learned as a Chronically Ill Student

University is hard. So is being chronically ill.

Here are 10 things I’ve learned as a chronically ill student:

1. People, including professors, really do care. If you give them the information they need to help you succeed, and ahead of time, they are almost always super accommodating.

2. Speaking of accommodations – there is no shame in registering with accessibility services. They are there to make your life easier, and they will.

3. Self-care, especially in the middle of a chaotic semester or an illness flare-up, is about the basics. Food. Water. Rest. Repeat. Put your oxygen mask on first, folks, and you’ll be grateful for it.

4. Slow down. If you have to drop a course or back out on a commitment, I promise, it is not the be-all and end-all. You have time. Give yourself breathing room in your every day routine. Slow and steady wins the race. Do whatever you need to do for you. It’ll be OK. You will get where you are going and there is no harm in taking the time to do so.

5. You’re doing better than you think you are. We are often our own worst critics. I don’t know if this is true for you, but it definitely is for me. I’m learning to congratulate myself for sticking it out. Some days, for simply existing. One step at a time.

6. Also – it’s OK to quit. It’s super helpful to know your limits. It is also super helpful to abide by them. I know there is so much pressure to be able to handle everything in your life and even to thrive on stress and chaos, but pushing yourself past your limits is not worth it. Know there is no shame in taking a break and putting your health first. Easier said than done, I know.

7. Not everyone will understand. It’s a complete contradiction to number one, but it’s true. There are few people who truly understand, or even are able to empathize with how you feel at your worst. Or even at your best, which I know, still probably isn’t great. Keep the people who “get it” close. If it is easier, get involved in the online spoonie community. It is full of wonderful, uplifting people.

8. Plan ahead. But be reasonable. I know so many give the advice to get all you can done on your good days, so you are still ahead of the game or even just barely on top of all your assignments when your health takes a hit, but, be mindful. Yes, use your good days to your advantage. But don’t overdo it. You deserve and need time to relax, even when you feel good and just want to be productive while you can. Prioritize and stay organizedso you have one less thing to stress over.

9. Ask for help. I’m still learning how to do this. I feel like I have to handle everything on my own, all the time, or I’m somehow failing as a human being. This is far from the truth. Utilize the resources available to you and lean on your friends and family when you need to.

10. Allow yourself to be present. It can be so easy to get caught up in assignments and anxiety about your health, assignments, and about anything and everything – but take a moment to just breathe, and acknowledge the present. Focus on what is good about where you are in that exact moment in time. Learn to notice the simple pleasures in life and celebrate the smallest of successes. Not every day is a good day, but all days have something good in them. Even if it’s just, “Hey, the sky is super pretty today!”

Ultimately, reflect on what is best for you and abide by it. You’ve got this.

Follow this journey on Jennifer Colleen.

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