Nine Tips on How to Study (When You're Chronically Ill)

It’s vital to stay on top of homework, draft that essay, attend that lecture, etc. when you’re in college. But add your chronic illness, and things are a little trickier. You have so much more - appointments, medication, limitations, dietary restrictions, mobility issues, etc. As someone who has genetic disabilities, several related co-morbidities, and a plethora of mental illnesses and learning disabilities - college can downright suck sometimes. It’s difficult, exhausting, and makes me want to cry more often than not.

But it doesn’t have to be like that all the time. After dealing with disability and chronic illness my entire life and I'm now in college, I’ve developed some hacks on how to do college without winding up in the ER (which I have done. Many times. Whoops).

  1. 1. Set Timers for Your Medication

    I’m serious. Set times for your meds, even if you’ve been taking the same medication(s) for years. It’s college. You’ll forget your anti-nausea meds and wind up throwing up in the dining hall. No one wants that. 

  2. 2. Don’t Sit at Your Desk

    I’m serious about this one. Don’t. Just don’t. You’ll probably wind up stiff and in pain if you do try to sit straight and unmoving for hours. Lay down on your bed with pillows propping your head and maybe a lapdesk on your knees and do your work. If you’re lucky enough to have a foldable chair in your dorm or an armchair in the library - use that. You’ll be glad you did.

  3. 3. Sleep Well

    Am I aware that sleeping in a dorm can be nearly impossible with roommates, hall mates, etc.? Yes. Am I super aware that’s nearly impossible to sleep with a chronic illness? Hell yeah. But we need a lot of sleep when we’re living with our malfunctioning bodies - so use that weighted blanket, put a sleep mask over your eyes, use a mattress topper, drink a sleepy tea, and come to an agreement with your roommates what time lights and noise can turn off.

  4. 4. Wear Comfortable Clothes

    Seems like a no-brainer right? Tons of people head to class in their sweats and messy buns. But there are some who wear four inch heels and a ball-gown.  Find a happy medium. If you feel good in your clothes - even if it’s just a fresh shirt, black leggings, and nice flats, you might feel a little better physically and mentally. 

  5. 5. Write. Everything. Down.

    Use your planner. The notes app on your phone. Both. A bulletin board. I don’t care. There is so much we have to remember in college - adding doctor’s appointments and procedures and blood tests and pharmacy trips makes it so much worse. Or better yet - see if your pharmacy can deliver your prescriptions to you or your college health center. Making a trip to the campus post office is so much less time consuming than hopping on the bus or in your car.

  6. 6. Don’t be Afraid to Use Your Mobility Aids and Devices

    Your mobility aids and devices are your lifeline on bad pain days. Who cares what people think? You’re taking care of yourself - so rock that cane and put the middle finger up to anyone who makes the comment “But you’re too young for (fill in the blank).”

  7. 7. Move Your Body

    If you can - do simple exercises like yoga or walking or even lifting light weights. You might not think it helps, but it really does improve your mood and prevents your body from stiffening up more. Not to mention - it allows you to focus on your classes and releases seratonine (the happy hormone!)

  8. 8. If You Work Part-time or You're on SSI/SSD'

    At your workplace - explain to your supervisor what you deal with and ask what modifications you can have. I guarantee you they will want to help in any way they can. If they won’t - well, the Disability Act is there for a reason. But please only work the hours you are actually able to, and don’t push yourself. 

    Having SSD/SSI - don’t be embarrassed or ashamed. Yes, I know there is a massive stigma against young people being on SSI or SSD. But if you need it for whatever reason, even if you do have a job - keep using it. You’re taking care of yourself, and that’s all that matters.

  9. 9. Take "Easy" Classes

    Really. Ask around, see what classes aren't heavy on participation, where you can get a C- on every assignment and still pass the class. You'll be so much less stressed, which will help tremendously with your physical and mental health. You don't want to fall asleep doing homework every night.

To end this article, I’ll be a little candid. This article was submitted past the due date because your girl had a few horrible panic attacks over the weekend. My constant panic attacks (numbering maybe five or six over a 48 hours span - I don’t remember) that weekend sent my body into a nasty flare for a few days. I nearly passed out at work because I kept having vertigo spells and failed a quiz on Monday due to the heavy brain fog and pain. I snapped at a few people and embarrassed my good friend because I was so ill, mentally and physically. If that isn’t life as a chronically ill student, I don’t know what is. Please, please take of yourself before school. You cannot achieve anything if you value a degree over your physical and mental health and wellbeing. Speak to a counselor, communicate with your teachers, talk to your friends about how they can help, let medical professionals do their job. 

I wish you all the best of luck.