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5 Study Hacks for Spoonies at Uni

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Studious spoonies everywhere, listen up! If your chronic illness symptoms are as unpredictable as mine, and your study drive as ravenous, you’ll know the frustrations of wanting to do well at university, but being held back because of your health. It’s a huge bummer, to say the absolute least. As a way of helping myself stay on track and accountable, I made some go-to university tips for people with a chronic illness or disability. Since I’m not the only spoonie at uni (heh, that rhymed), I thought I might share them!

So, here they are, five hot tips from one uni spoonie to another.

1. Ask for access to the course content before the term begins.

Thanks to my POTS and mental health, brain fog is a huge issue for me. The only way around it is quality time management. This, for me, looks like asking for and familiarizing myself with the work before I begin the school term. It gives me the chance to space out my learning, and ensure nothing catches my foggy brain by surprise.

2. Access your university’s disability services.

Most universities have disability and counseling services free of charge. Use them. My disability support team are there to advocate for me when organizing classes and assessments. Not only that, but they are a fantastic group to sound off when I need to voice ideas. Medically, they know what to look out for if I become unwell on campus (if I were to faint), and can assist staff to respond to that emergency appropriately, should it arise.

3. To succeed as a university student with chronic illness, break your study sessions into smaller, more manageable pieces.

I love studying, but I am one of the most well-practiced procrastinators I know. Ironic, huh. It’s not that I don’t want to study, it’s that I can’t focus for long periods, courtesy of brain fog. I like to split my study sessions into half-hour chunks, divided by 10-minute breaks in between. I like to spend these on TikTok, but you’re welcome to do as you please. Not only does this help me navigate the brain fog and lack of focus, it helps minimize feelings of shame if I’ve not achieved as much. Half an hour is enough time to make some valuable progress without overloading.

4.  Don’t overcommit yourself by trying to take too many classes or do too many activities.

Speaking of overloading, not overcommitting sounds so simple, and yet, it’s such a challenge for me! I love my studies with every fiber of my being, so it can be super tempting to take four, five, or even six units in a term, when I ought to be taking just the compulsory three. I’m here to tell you, fellow spoonie – and me – to take the bare minimum. As a university student with a chronic illness or disability, you need to look after yourself before anything else. This includes your mental health and wellbeing. If doing the minimum full-time load, or even dropping down to part-time, is what it takes for you to manage the workload and cope physically and mentally, then that is all you need to commit to. Never be ashamed of how much or how little you can commit to doing. Everybody’s journey looks different.

5. Use a mobility aid if it’s going to be helpful.

As a wheelchair user (#hellonwheels), I’m convinced that my uni campus was built by the winner of last season’s Ninja Warrior, AKA the most able-bodied person ever. While navigating campus on wheels is a challenge, navigating it on foot is virtually impossible for me. I’m here to tell you that it’s OK to use a mobility aid if that’s what helps you function. People don’t care as much as you might think they do, and if it’s the difference between arriving to class or not – or arriving ready to work or not – then it’s totally worth it. Walking stick, crutches, walker, wheelchair, mobility scooter – you name it, I’m talking about it. Your future as a disabled person is just as valuable as the futures of the able-bodied, and if mobility aids get you through your degree, then a mobility aid is worth investing in. Whatever keeps you going is worth it. Promise.

Originally published: September 20, 2021
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