Being a student is hard.
It may seem as though we have all the time in the world (obviously, dependant upon what you are studying). But really, being a student with an invisible illness makes life a million times more complicated. As a Fibromyalgia sufferer myself, it means that days where you are able to be productive are, generally, hit and miss. This can really take its’ toll when you are up to your face in deadlines and all you really need is to sleep.
I am in no way a professional in this area. However, I have devised some tips that help me to, kind of, keep on top of student life, and these can be for everyone. I hope they form some sort of help if you suffer with any chronic invisible illness or are simply just studying too. I promise, if you have got this far, you are really amazing!!
1 – Do not force a schedule/timetable
This sounds strange, but let me explain. When I started sixth form (the years before college/university for those who are not UK education-system aware), I was obsessed with routine and structure. I re-did hundreds of schedules of my weeks and days, especially exam time, as my teachers told me to. But obviously, if you have an invisible illness, you are not going to be able to stick to these days. And ultimately, it makes you feel guilty that you are missing crucial work time because you are unable to do anything. Instead, have a timetable of your classes on your wall (in your view from bed is best so that you don’t have to move) and then use sticky notes. I used to have a diary, but it is too hard to keep up with, especially when you forget to even write in it! I break down work, stick them up on my wall, and when I have a good day, I am able to complete these tasks and it is a good sense of accomplishment when you do them and take them off. By breaking down tasks this way helps to pace yourself and also keeps you up-to-date with what you need to do.
2 – Keep one folder/course book for everything
I have tried to have a folder for each subject. I have also tried one big folder. What works best for me is one course book, so that I can use it to revise, but also I can print and stick and keep everything in one place without it being too heavy. Obviously, it is different for everyone. But keeping it in one place makes life much more convenient and weighs less to and from lectures and home. I also find that when I have separate places, I am more inclined to not put my things in the correct folder out of pure laziness. Having it in one place stops me doing that and keeping on top of everything, not losing relevant pieces of work.
3 – Break work down
When an exam, assignment, report, presentation comes up and it is a million things into one and you don’t know where to begin, it does become scary! Your brain has this weird way of over-exemplifying everything and making it feel too overwhelming… but why? When you write out each task on pieces of paper and lay them out together, you can easily see the structure of things, which part needs different types of work, the research that is needed, etc. It also means that by going through one-by-one and ticking them off, life becomes that little bit easier when it is done. It also sets it out in your brain to understand the parts that need the most and least work, for the days that perhaps you are unable to do too much, then the easier parts will be what you work on, and so forth. Studying doesn’t need to be over-complicated!
4 – Get a whiteboard
This is a recent discovery for me since second year and it has guided me through so much! I have mine with each day of the week so I can keep organised, but you can also use it for essay planning, revision, appointments and important notices for the week. Whiteboards are so assistive when you have a hundred ideas that don’t make sense just yet, but you know that will. They also really help when you know how much you have to do in a week, and by breaking it down per day makes it easier to come by and comprehend, so that it isn’t overwhelming and makes you feel more on-top of things.
5 – Use colours- for everything!
When my brain does not feel like concentrating, aka most days, colours really help separate words from scramble. Each module is a different colour, and I use highlighters for important information, using colour in and around all of my notes ready for exam time. It really helps doing little things now so that you don’t have to do more later! Colours are really good with revision and memory, so by writing notes and going by specific colours for different things, it breaks down loads of information and also makes it a bit less boring to look over.
6 – Do things at your own pace
I cannot stress how bad panicking over work is bad for you, especially if you have something like chronic fatigue, anxiety or Fibromyalgia. It is really hard to understand what it is that you need to do when you worry about it (and I get it, it is easier said than done, but just wait). If you know that you have a deadline in, say, a month, why not plan that little bit earlier if you know that you are going to struggle with it? This makes room for bad days, good days, sociable days, but also days where you really just need to know that you are doing ok. It also means that you don’t have to worry as much because it is a work-in-progress, and you know exactly what it is that you need to do in order to finish it and get the help that you need to do so. It also means that life can get in the way sometimes, but it won’t be detrimental to your studies, which, at the end of the day, is a really positive feeling.
I really hope these help give a little support for any kind of student you are. If you have any other tips, comment below and perhaps we can all help each other!