The transition from undergraduate to postgraduate is hard for anyone and when you’re juggling a chronic illness as well it can feel as if you’re drowning.
The first time I tried to get a Master’s degree was when I was first started developing symptoms of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). I was admitted to hospital in my second semester and subsequently missed so many lectures that I was told to take a year out. In the end, I had to give up my place all-together because it took me too long to get a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Because of this upsetting experience, I was quite apprehensive about starting a new course, especially one with fees three times higher than the one I was doing before (tuition fees increased from ~£3,000 to ~£9,000 in 2012 in the UK). Going into this new degree, I expected to be lagging behind everyone else because of my illness and I expected to be treated differently because I was receiving disability support. I found that this was not the case. Even though I didn’t have as much time as everyone else to spend on assignments, I ended up getting one of the highest marks in my class for my first assignment.
I purposely chose a course that was assessed by coursework only as my illness causes severe brain fog and other cognitive issues. Another perk of my course is that we only have lectures and seminars one day a week which means that I study from home most of the time. I expected to miss one or two days this semester due to my illness. Luckily, I only had to miss one week due to a mistake with my prescription which meant I was left without medication for a week. I was able to get an extension on my coursework deadline without issue for the time that I’d missed.
The first module of my course had no lab work or fieldwork which made the transition to being a full-time student again a bit easier. I found the 6- hour day of lectures to be a bit challenging at times, especially if I was having a bad symptom day. I found it easy to blend in with my peers as my symptoms are quite similar to having a hangover after a night out.
The biggest thing that helped me with my studies this semester was making myself a flexible schedule that I could change up each week. This helped me to stay productive, even when my POTS was flaring up.
Check out my post on flexible studying with a chronic illness here.
When I was an undergraduate, I took part in 2-3 extracurricular activities per year. Of course, this is not feasible now that I am studying with a chronic illness. I decided to sign up to be the student representative for my course because it only required me to do 2 extra hours per semester and it was something extra to put on my CV and job applications. This is the perfect role for me as I am nosey and a bit of a control freak. It also means that I get to know everyone on my course really well.
With my course, there is an option to do a placement over the summer that makes up part of your final thesis. I was a bit apprehensive about applying for a placement as I don’t usually plan things so far ahead due to my POTS. I decided to give it a go anyway because I wanted to do everything I possibly could to guarantee myself a job after graduation. I sent out some speculative emails in September and was surprised when I had a placement confirmed before the end of the semester.
In this first semester, I found juggling my chronic illness and my studies to be difficult, but not the huge challenge that I was expecting. Planning out all my assignments and appointments in advance really helped. I did not have time to do all the things that I wanted to do this semester, but that’s okay. I achieved better grades than I expected and have found my peers and staff members to be kind and welcoming. I no longer fear losing my place because of my illness and I am excited for the next semester of my course.
Are you a student with a chronic illness? I’m currently taking contributions for my ‘Spoonie Student’ segment. Please fill out this google form if you’re interested in submitting an article.