Studying with an invisible illness
Studying when you’re sick is one of worst things. Trying to study when you are always sick is even worse and having teachers or lecturers constantly debate your well-being or how sick you actually are, can be one of the most depressing situations. I have suffered with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since I was 16, all through my A-Levels and through my first year of University. I passed everything! Perhaps I didn’t get the perfect grade, but for me that is not the most important thing anymore. Here I have listed some of the tips which help me study:
1. Don’t overdo it! Set yourself a goal, maybe two or three pages of reading or a page of notes on reading. The worst thing you can try and do is bash on regardless. It is important you understand your body and your limits.
2. Study in small bursts. I find that studying in small sets of 20 minutes with a 20 minute break are great for me. It allows me time to focus on what I need to do, but I don’t tire myself out studying for hours and hours on end. Naturally, these times can be managed to your own personal needs.
3. Set up a nice space. I can’t stress how important it is that you are comfortable when you are studying, especially when you’re not feeling that great. If you know you are going to study in bed, make up you have everything you need in arms reach, including snacks and drinks. If you are going to study at a desk, the library, a café, the same rules apply! Make sure the chairs are comfy, that there is enough light and that you are comfortable leaving your stuff (in case of bathroom breaks or emergencies.) It is also worth noting that some pain medications can take up to 30 mins to work, so plan ahead and take them before!
4. Certain classes will need prioritisation. This was super hard for me. In A-Levels, I studied what I wanted to study, despite certain teachers trying to persuade me otherwise. I chose three relatively hard subjects; English language, German and Psychology. Both my German classes were at 9am, a time which I super struggle to get up for. Therefore, I knew I had to prioritise my German studies over my English studies, classes which I attended regularly. It is important to note that keeping a healthy balance between all subjects is important too!
5. Podcasts and audio books! Not feeling that great but still need to study? Find podcasts and audio books on relevant topics and listen to them while lying down or in bed. (I used to make my own recordings of my psychology book to listen to when I needed to take a day off.)
6. Don’t be afraid to take a day off. When I was at the peak of my illness, I was still trying to force myself to get to all my classes or to study. Now I realise that I don’t have to feel guilty for taking a day or two to recover. I try not to let these become weeks, but sometimes it happens. And that is ok. If you are constantly punishing yourself, you will never feel good about the amount of work you do complete!
7. Planning to go to University? This links in with my previous point. Don’t feel the need to rush into everything so quickly. You can take a year off. You can recover. You can do things you love to do in this time. I took a gap year, in which I mostly spent a lot of time with my Mum and sister before going to University. It helped me so much.
8. Suffer from brain fog? Use memory techniques such as colour coding words, highlighting important information, mnemonics, reading aloud and quizzes. When I suffer from brain fog, I find colour-coding and visual aids the most helpful. Study groups which break down subjects into easier, more manageable bites of information are also super great!
9. Stay away from caffeine! A lot of people I know depend on caffeine in order to get themselves started. While caffeine can help boost your energy levels for a small amount of time or focus your brain, too much caffeine can have negative effects on your sleep, which may make you feel worse the next day. Try and limit your caffeine to two or three cups a day if you absolutely need a cup of coffee!
10. Don’t panic. You are doing the best that you can. If you fail, it is not the end of the world. I wish somebody had told me this sooner. If you fail an exam, you can do it again, at a later date. If you fail a year, you can do it again. This happens to people who aren’t sick all the time. So don’t worry. Just do your best.