Saturday, September 19, 2015

Balancing school and mental illness

I promised this post a while back, but never got around to making it. So here goes.

School is tough. And being sick is tough. Unfortunately this doesn't create some sort of double negative situation where the toughness cancels. In fact, it multiplies. I'm in the process of attacking my third year at University, and to be perfectly honest, I am not what one should strive for. I tend to prioritize my school work above my mental health, which has caused me trips to the ER, hospitalizations, and a lower GPA then I know I could achieve, because in the end, I was too sick to perform as well I as I knew I could.

This year I am trying to remind myself of a few things.
- It's better to do a few things well then everything poorly.
- There is more to life than math (or whatever you happen to be studying)
- No matter how much of an introvert you are, you are also human. You do enjoy other people's company.
- Having someone you can be brutally honest to about your situation is important.
- Dropping a class, skipping a lecture, or handing in an assignment late does not make you worthless.
- Just because other people can get X grade, or take Y courses, doesn't mean you can.
- Being in school while suffering from a chronic illness is incredibly difficult and you are doing an amazing job.

Here are some tips I have to get through the year, that have helped me in the past.
1. Set a bed time. Even if this means that your assignment will be late, or you can't study the last chapter of your book, go to sleep. You'll do better overall if you are well-rested.

2. Make doctor/therapy/social work appointments. Even if you don't think you need one next week. Set one. You don't know what assignment will be thrown at you last minute, or who will say something insulting. Make the appointment. And go to the appointment. Talking about why you're doing is well is just as important as why you aren't.

3. Be honest. It doesn't have to be with everyone, but try to find a prof that you can explain what is happening. Even if it as vague as "I am struggling with my mental health". You'll be surprised about how useful and helpful they can be. Do be careful though, not all will understand. It's usually pretty easy to figure out which ones will based on the first lecture though.

4. Use the services available at your school. Get registered with disabilities services in order to get accommodations for classes, assignments and exams. Also, a mental illness crisis/bad episode etc is a reason to miss a deadline. If you haven't eaten in x amount of time and can't focus because of it, don't write your exam. Speak with a doctor and get it postponed. If you spent last night in the emergency room because you didn't feel safe, don't worry about the assignment that is due the next day.

5. Stay active. This is a tough one because it's hard to find a balance. Struggling with an eating disorder may make this point not applicable. But by active, I don't necessarily mean exercise. I mean sitting at your desk to do some work. Walking to class. Studying in different areas. Listen to your doctor first, exercise restriction should always be followed. But if you are allowed to exercise, the endorphins will help.

6. Be mindful. Schedule some time every day to turn off the outside world. Turn off your phone. Watch a movie, read a book, color, knit or do yoga. Focus on what you're doing. Let the thoughts of school, work and your social responsibilities drift away.

7. Join a support or treatment group. Therapists and doctors are great. But they aren't currently going through university. They are somewhat distant from the student world even if they work at your school. Groups are a great opportunity to gain perspective, advice and support from students facing similar challenges, as well as making friends who understand what you're struggling with.

I hope the first two weeks of school have gone well for all of you. I won't admit to getting through school in the most ideal way, because that would be a lie. But I've gotten through two years of university, and am working on year three now, and have returned to a full course load. I might reduce my course load, but I am hoping to be able to stick with it. These things have helped me stay (somewhat) grounded during tough times.


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