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Disabled at University

How My First Term at University Has Taught Me a Lot About My Health

Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash

When I was first diagnosed with ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia, I did not think that going to university would ever be achievable for me. I was bed bound. I spent most of my life asleep. I couldn't get up to go to the toilet, let alone go into school. I was devastated because I had always known that I wanted to study theatre later in my life, and I just couldn't ever see myself being able to. 

Years went by I got better. I reached a point where I was able to look after myself. I wasn't cured, definitely not, but I was relatively okay. 

I applied to university—a top university. 

I waited months. 

I got in. 

The thoughts and feelings that ran through me were immense, but above everything I was proud. I was so proud of myself for putting in the work to get to this point. At that moment I didn't need to be humble or modest, because I had achieved the impossible. 

As September rolled around I started to get a bit of anxiety about moving away, nothing I hadn't expected to come. I was scared that my health would get worse, I was scared that I wouldn't be able to look after myself, and I was scared that I would have to drop out. Everybody around me was so reassuring and supportive and the stormy tides of anxiety deflated to light butterflies that could have easily been mistaken for excitement. The day came for me to leave home, and as I had hoped for, everything was fine for a while. I went to a club for the first time and survived, I got along with my flat mates and I loved the city. It was all looking rather peachy.

Then, my course actually started.

I already knew that doing a 9-5 day was too much for me. But I did it anyway, because I didn't want to miss out. I thought that maybe my body could handle it now, that my illnesses would cut me some slack. You won't be surprised to hear that that wasn't the case. After that first day I felt myself starting to shut down, I was experiencing symptoms I hadn't felt in years. I tried to convince myself that it was just the shock, the sudden change of lifestyle, that if I carried on it would only get better. So, I carried on doing my 9-5 days for a couple of weeks until I woke up one day and my body had given up on me. I could barely move, I was experiencing pain everywhere, I couldn't think straight. I had pushed myself too far. 

It had only been two or three weeks and I had completely crashed. I was in a state of sickness that I hadn't been in for so long, and I was devastated. I contacted my faculty to inform them of what had happened, and thankfully they were actually very understanding and supportive. But there's only so much they could do for me. I very quickly started falling behind on my work, missing entire weeks due to sickness. Whenever I did manage to drag my body out of bed and into university, I paid for it the following few days. I started to feel completely helpless. I wondered whether it would be better to just drop out now, before I got too attached. 

Eventually, I rang my mum to tell her what was going on. I was reluctant to do this not because she would be disappointed, but because I was embarrassed that I thought I could actually manage on my own. She told me was she always tells me when I have a bad flare up; I am strong, I am stubborn, and I will do everything I can to live my life how I want to live it. 

She's always right. Especially about me being stubborn. 

I told myself that it's okay that I'm sick right now. I can learn from it, and next term I will do better to look after myself and not push myself to breaking point. I had learned my limits. 

That brings me to now, where I'm currently on my winter break. I'm back home for a few weeks and I know that my top priority right now is to get my health back on track so that when I go back to university in January, I'll be prepared. 

It's not easy. In fact, it's really hard. But I will get what I want, I will live my life fully, one way or another. 

I am strong and I am stubborn. 

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