I have not talked much about being a disabled university student and what that means. It means different things for different people, and we each have our own challenges. I joke around that I do not understand how I am an honour student while at the same time spend a lot of time stressing out about my GPA and what happens if I miss a class or assignment.
I have been given accommodations from my university to help me succeed. Being the stubborn ass that I am, most of the time I refuse to use them. I do not like asking for special treatment. What complicates this is I am a stubborn ass and insist on taking 18 credit hours a semester. Disability and chronic illness plus a heavy course load makes things interesting. I have no one to blame but myself. I could take 12 credit hours like a “normal” person.
I have a family member who thought that 18 credit hours was normal and did not realize my course load. They thought everyone had 21 books to read and 32 papers to write in 16 weeks, that I had no reason to be complaining when everyone else was under the same stress. My complaining was not about my course load, it was about my family not allowing me to have the time to do my homework or study. It got worse during online classes due to Covid.
Online classes were their own nightmare without dealing with my family demands. Being chronically ill it is too easy to stay in bed and sleep through classes. I have a planner I write everything in, but it was not enough. I had my Google calendar synced across every electronic device I had and often set alarms for classes and appointments with my professors. I still missed some of those meetings. I forgot to attend a class one day. I showed up late for another because I forgot. It was all seriously stressful.
Now add my family. I was home therefore available to everyone whenever they needed me. I was expected to attend class while driving people to and from work, while grocery shopping, while taking someone to doctor’s appointment.
It is not my physical disability that makes things hard as much as it is my chronic illness. However, the chronic pain does affect everything. Sometimes I cannot sleep because of pain, then I am sleep deprived for class. Pan makes it hard to concentrate. When I am in too much pain my body revolts and I randomly throw up. All of this is bad enough but the cognitive impairment, the brain fog, that comes with my chronic illnesses is the worst. Zoom fatigue made this even worse.
On a good day I forget words or forget what I am saying halfway through a sentence. Bad days I need adult supervision. I wish I were joking but I have gotten lost going to the same grocery store I have gone to for years. I forget how to do things like use university website, or how to use a program on my computer I need. I have to take classes in this condition. There were days I could not comprehend anything the professor was saying. It was like they were speaking a foreign language. I need write down everything or I will forget. This was something I could not do from the car. I do not know how I managed, but I pulled a 3.6 for the semester and remained on the Dean’s List. I was sure my grades were going to suffer, and my final papers were going to be garbage. My best friend told me I had little faith.
It is not a matter of faith. It is a matter of knowing what I need. I need time to read. I need time to do assignments. I need a quiet place to do these things without being interrupted. I need time.
I ended up asking for extensions for a few final papers. I just did not have time to make things happen, and I had no notes for the one final I had to take and ended up needing to reread every book we read for class. It is a good thing I am a fast reader. One professor I had to pull my university issued disability card on and tell them “I have accommodations and I will be using them.” It was obvious to me that one professor had not had to accommodate disabilities too often.
It has taken me a long time to learn to advocate for myself, and it was even worse with university. I was inducted in to two different honour societies. One for English majors and one for disabled students. Disabled does not mean the inability to do accomplish things. I have succeeded this far in spite of chronic pain, in spite of debilitating exhaustion, in spite of brain fog that might as well be a learning disability.
I have not overcome my disability or health issues. I have learned to work with them and around them. I do not see this as a major accomplishment as some would. I see it as an adaptation. Just like everyone else I am working with what I am given.