College with a Chronic Illness

Mira Cooper

Mira Cooper,
Senior, Civil Engineering

Athens, OH 12 November 2016

I’d like to take the opportunity to use this blog post to apologize to all the professors whose classes I’ve fallen asleep in. I can promise you that it’s never been because you’re bad teachers, or that I don’t appreciate the topic, or that I’m recovering from a wild night out. It’s not for lack of respect, nor lack of effort. It’s not something I can control. In fact, it takes every ounce of strength that I have in me to stay as conscious as I do in an hour long class. I have fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue is something that comes with it.

I wish I could give a definition of fibromyalgia to add some scientific backing to this post, but unfortunately, doctors have no idea what causes it. The current theory is that it has something to do with how the brain interprets pain signals, which explains the chronic soreness, muscle fatigue, and joint pain; but it doesn’t explain the anxiety, mental fatigue (sometimes called “fibro fog”—seriously the worst part about the illness, but more on that later), or digestive distress. Most of these symptoms don’t hurt my academic performance, luckily, but they sure as sugar don’t help it.

“Fibro fog” is the hardest symptom for me to deal with. It makes me think slow, fall asleep at strange times, and do weird things. For example, recently I tried to unlock my apartment with my car key fob. Silly mistake, I know, and most people would just laugh and get the right key out without much thought. Unfortunately for me, it was a “foggy” day, so I stood outside my apartment for five whole minutes trying to figure out why my door was broken and not unlocking. Funny to think about now, but very distressing in the moment. It causes me to work on homework much more slowly, and I’m constantly worried that I’ll have the bad luck of having a “fog” day the same day as a major exam. It hasn’t happened yet—knock on wood—but I’ve still got many an exam ahead of me.

College is hard. College with a chronic illness can be even harder, but it’s something that is entirely doable. I’ve heard that many illnesses are eligible for assistance from the Office of Accessibility Services on campus, but I’ve just recently come to terms with having fibromyalgia and have yet to look into what can be done for this invisible ailment that affects me, and other students on campus who are also suffering in silence. It helps to have a good sense of humor about it. My favorite thing to tell people about my experiences is that now I have an amazing talent: I can fall asleep almost anywhere, any time, in any position. I’m getting close to being able to sleep with my eyes open! In all reality, sometimes you just have to learn to play the game of life with the cards you’ve been dealt. My deck just happens to have a different card.

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