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9 Little Ways My Illness Affects My College Life

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Living with myalgic encephalomyelitis (also known as chronic fatigue syndrome) while also balancing a full-time college course load can be immensely challenging. Attending each class and meeting—never mind all of the actual work to prepare for them — can be unfathomable when your body will not let you continue without rest. I’ve learned, however, that some of the ways that ME/CFS sneaks into my life are small, relatively harmless, and sometimes entertaining. Let’s check out nine ways in which my daily college life is shaped from chronic illness.

1. I’ll show up, but I may not like it. My body may be in the classroom, but my mind is sometimes too exhausted to be found. If I’m hurting a lot, I’ll show up just to avoid using a precious excused absence, only to have to recopy notes later because I had nothing left in the reserves to actually participate. (I go to a pretty small school, so I can’t just expect my professors to not notice if I’m absent.) Recently, I attended a rehearsal armed with an ice pack in hand. Had I just injured myself? Nope, just achy. Believe me, I’m adding this to my regular bag of tricks to get through those obligatory class nightmares.

2. Unlike every other college student, I cannot live on coffee alone. Caffeine is truly a
wonderful thing, and there is hardly a student I know who doesn’t at least occasionally enjoy a cup of coffee or some sort of energy drink. And while I love coffee, I simply can’t drink it every day. Caffeine makes me hyper-aware of my chronic pain and only further facilitates my inevitable energy crash. I mostly stick to tea.

3. I hate Fridays, not Mondays. I personally feel like Mondays are bullied a little too much. Unless my weekend was overflowing with work, I generally start off a week feeling pretty OK. By Friday? I’m barely hanging in there. Props to my bassoon teacher for not giving up on me despite several end-of-week lessons in which I was all but useless.

4. I wear dresses most of the week, mostly out of convenience. Post-secondary academia is the home of sweatpants and free T-shirts for all, so my classmates will often perceive my dresses as a sign of effort into my appearance. Nope. Putting on a dress means I don’t have to put on pants, and I will save those tiny bits of energy wherever I can find them.

5. What’s a party? Despite what the media may tell you, there are plenty of 18-to-22-year-olds who do not binge drink every weekend. Some choose not to out of moral or religious opposition, others because of alternative obligations, some simply aren’t interested. Me? Even if I wanted to go out every weekend and shove my awkward personality into the party scene, I couldn’t ever make it. Let’s be honest: I’m asleep way before the parties start, even if I do sometimes wake up as late as my hungover classmates on Sundays.

6. I was once almost late to class because my shoes weren’t comfortable enough. The inspiration for this article, in fact, came from a recent morning in which I walked five steps out of my dorm and realized that my extra-achy feet were not having that pair of shoes that day. Were they high heels? Nah. Sandals? Nope. They were hi-top sneakers, which normally pose no issue for me. I went through the same trouble when I tried a pair of booties. I finally made peace with my canvas
slip-ons and scurried to class, arriving only just in the nick of time.

7. I am the professional procrastinator. No, really. On many occasions, I’ve planned to work on major papers and projects in the early evening, only to realize that I do not have strength enough to focus and do it. I have learned that trying to work through this outside of emergencies is often for naught, because I will spend so much time redirecting myself that the work never really gets done, anyway. Instead, I’ll go right to sleep, set my alarm early, and pray I feel better by morning, which is still better than stressing and pushing myself only to still not complete the assignment. In all honesty, I passed Intro to Music Therapy on this method alone.

8. I chose my dorm this year solely based on nap convenience. One privilege of being an
upperclassman is the right to choose your own dorm. I proudly chose to forgo the comforts of air conditioning and a kitchen space in other halls in order to live right next to the building where most of my classes occur. It doesn’t matter to me that this residence hall is the oldest and least glamorous on campus; naps are too convenient for any of that to matter.

9. I alone keep the dry shampoo industry alive. Perhaps one of the biggest personal differences in my daily life from pre-illness to now is my frequency of showering. In high school, I showered every day — sometimes even multiple times a day — and washed my hair each time. Now? I still shower enough to keep from smelling funky, of course, but my hair will get washed three times a week at most. It’s just too much work for me at the end or beginning of the day to hold my arms above my head for an extended period of time. Dry shampoo, which only takes seconds to spray and be done with, is a staple in my routine. Besides, who really wants to spend more time than necessary in those nasty communal showers?

Originally published: September 27, 2016
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