College and Chronic Illness: Finals Week
Things to remember during finals month when you are a chronically ill college student:
- Start early. Start at least a week before your finals week. Plan out small academic tasks to complete (or try to complete) each day. Splitting up your studying/workload will prevent cramming. You do not want to be forced to cram on the same day that your body decides to give you an extra dose of awful. The ideal situation is to get ahead so that if you need to take a day off, you can.
- Now is not the time to ignore your body’s needs. It’s really easy to eat microwavable meals, fast food, and drink nothing but caffeinated beverages to get through the week. It’s also easy to forget to eat and stay hydrated, but your body needs you to. Eat for energy, eat for fuel. Tip: do some food prep the weekend before your final exams! Tuperware, people! That way you have healthy microwave meals. Or, when you take a study break, cook yourself a decent meal (or buy one, whatever)— protein! Nutrients! Eat something healthy and stay hydrated— drink some water between those espresso shots. Avoid foods that will upset your stomach or trigger any kind of GI symptoms or exacerbate GI-related conditions.
- All-nighters are the enemy. Do you get a lot done? Sure. But will you exacerbate your symptoms or bring on a flare? Very possible. So do the benefits of an all-nighter (or three…) outweigh the costs? I don’t think so, if you’re no longer able to function through the rest of your finals week because you started it off with no sleep, especially for those of us that need more rest than the typical, healthy college student. If you spend a large portion of your day studying, turn it off at 10pm. Get in bed, spend an hour doing something mindless, and go to sleep. Your body will thank you for it.
- Give yourself a break! Yes, finals are stressful for everyone, but especially for those of us with malfunctioning immune systems that are already compromised. Taking breaks is imperative. Find a system that works for you: some people study for an hour+ at a time, then break for an hour. I find that studying for 20 minutes and then taking a 10 minute break (for hours on end) works the best for me. Do something stress relieving when you take a break, or at the very least distracting. Watch tv, read a book, take a nap, just relax.
- Get Some Air and Perspective. Seriously. Feeling a sense of impending doom? Complete panic or meltdown mode? Step outside. Get some air. Get some sunlight (if you can). Take some deep breaths. Keep perspective in mind. Your exams might be critically important, but walk yourself through the best and worse case scenario and how you can fix them in the event they happen. Case in point: I failed a class FOUR TIMES. I thought it was the end of my degree and my shot at grad school. Now, I have a 4.0 this semester and am passing the class with an A. No matter what happens, things will be okay, and it will be what it will be.
deathby Social Media. Avoid Facebook. Avoid Twitter. Avoid Tumblr (oops). Use them only on your breaks (this is why the 20/10 or 30/10 works so well). Make statuses full of self-loathing and sarcastic humor about your awful fatigue and finals predicament, but then get off the websites.
- Prepare your space. If you know you will be physically unable to study elsewhere, or you study best in your own space (dorm, apartment, wherever), prepare it accordingly. Do you need to go grocery shopping? Do it before finals. Stock up on the food you want for the week, bathroom space supplies (IBD’ers, you get it). If you have symptoms (migraine sufferers, this if for you) exacerbated by certain smells, sounds, or lights, do what you can to eliminate the triggers. Have a pillow or back support should you need it. Clean your space before finals week. Create the most distraction free, comfortable environment you possibly can. Try out local coffee shops or libraries to figure out where you work best. Tip: if you study best in your school library, but their chairs are painful for you, request a different chair! Most university staff are happy to help you out.
- Medication Preparation— many of us rely on daily medication in order to function. Whether this medication is over the counter or prescription, make sure you have exactly what you need for the week+ of finals and finals prep. What you don’t need is to be in agony because you ran out of pain medication, in a dangerous (read: hospital worthy) flare because you decided to opt out of the Prednisone monster, etc.— you get the idea. Avoid scheduling important health-related appointments that might cause you extra stress during these two weeks, if possible.
- Speaking of medication preparation, if you know you need pain medication in order to get your pain level to a tolerable point that allows you to focus, be mindful of this. Take your medication 30 minutes (or however long it takes to work for you) before you plan on studying. If you rely on other techniques or therapies to offset distracting pain or symptoms, consider when to use them and when to start studying.
- Now is not the time to skip out on pain medication. I hear from so many fellow students who ration their pain medication, who have doubts and fears about relying on such heavy meds (often fear generated by painkiller paranoia), but who can’t function without it. Now is not the time to feed your fears, doubts, or concerns. If you need, benefit from, and take prescribed medication responsibly (under a physician’s orders), there is no reason why you should be in more pain than necessary, especially when you need to be able to focus through the pain or without pain more than usual.
- Have a heating pad/ice packs available. Spending a few hours writing out math problems? Have swollen, painful hands? If yes, have ice packs already frozen and ready for you when you take a break. Same goes for heating pad if you use heat for an ailment.
- Don’t force it. Having a particularly foggy or painful day? If you know that studying is out of the question, put it away. Do not force it; doing so will only leave you frustrated, more fatigued, and further unable to do anything at all. Try working on something different yet still productive, take a power nap, etc., but do not force it. More stress =/= more productivity.
- Breathe. I have never met a college student that wasn’t stressed out during exams, so remember that the rest of your peers are (or should be) feeling similar. Unfortunately, our level of stress rises to an 11 on a scale of 1-10 thanks to the extra added fatigue, fog, and pain…which is why it is especially critical for you to breathe and remind yourself that this too shall pass, finals are not forever, and you will be okay whether you pass or fail. Don’t focus on the big picture, just focus on the task at hand. Meditate if you can. Some words of wisdom: C’s get degrees, this too shall pass.
- Reach out! Seriously, tweet me @chroniccurve with the #spooniestudent hashtag. There are others in the same boat and we like to motivate each other with 3 minute dance party breaks and encourage excessive amounts of caffeine. But really, we’re here for you. Feel free to vent.
- Check out the links at the bottom for more finals-related help
- Avoid spending any amount of time writing a post on how to be successful for finals with chronic illness when you’re supposed to be studying for finals with a chronic illness…
Best of luck! Keep calm, stay strong, and may the odds be ever in your favor,
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