Ankylosing Spondylitis Doesn't Give a Damn About College Deadlines

Being a student is hard enough as it is. Being a student with a chronic illness is a whole new level of hard.

I am in my final year of studying Social Care Work. Each year we must complete work placement. This really worried for me as at the moment I can't work due to my pain and fatigue. Thankfully this year placement has been cancelled due to COVID-19 and we have an extra module now instead.

My course is heavily assignment based, I have a lot of deadlines to meet. I find deadlines are hard to meet with the unpredictability of this illness.

Completing my assignments on time is what is hardest for me at the moment. I get a lot of assignments to do each week. Trying to plan when to research and write the assignments around my unpredictable body is difficult.

Zoom school isn't often AS-friendly

Sitting at a laptop and typing causes a lot of pain in my neck, shoulders, back and arms, and even sometimes my hands and fingers. Sitting and typing on my laptop aggravates my spasms or flares. Sometimes my spasms get so intense that I need to take 5mg of diazepam to relieve and relax the muscle. A side effect of diazepam is drowsiness, and being honest when I take it, I feel completely ‘out of it.’ It's difficult to write an assignment when you're practically falling asleep and not able to think properly.

Often, I need to make the decision to either not take diazepam and suffer with my intense spasm with the hope that it will go away and I'll be able to continue to write, usually the pain will force me to stop writing anyways. Or I take the tablet and know that I will not be able to write this assignment. Either option causes me stress, and we all know, stress causes more pain. It’s a vicious cycle.

This predicament often results in the same answer. I must hand my assignment up late, or rush through it to make sure it is handed up on time.

Ironically, Zoom school kept me in school

Luckily, this year college is online. If we were attending college this year, I don’t think I would be able to due to fatigue. It's a little ironic; covid is the only thing keeping me in college. If we weren't in lockdown I would have to drive 30 minutes to college and spend roughly 9 hours attending lectures for 4 days of the week. I cannot drive at the moment. When I drive, the pain in my neck, shoulders and back are intensified. I am much stiffer after driving, with more intense and frequent spasms. So, for now, while I wait for the pain to reduce in my neck and shoulders, I have decided to stop driving. This will not always be the case.

However, college moving to online teaching also has problems of its own. As I mentioned above, sitting at my desk on my laptop causes me more pain. This means attending online lectures and taking notes is difficult for me.

Thankfully, this is my final year. I do not know yet what the future holds regarding a career. But this year I will have my degree and that’s good enough for now. Having ankylosing spondylitis (AS) has changed my goals and perspectives. I don’t know what the future will bring and I certainly don’t know how to approach the idea of a career right now. So I've decided to go easy on myself, decided that this isn't something that I'm going to let stress me, not right now.

If you're a student with severe AS symptoms it is not easy. I can completely empathize with your pain. But remember: there will be plenty of time for study once you have got your AS under control. Classes can be repeated and tests re-taken. Your health and mental wellbeing must come first. Don’t be hard on yourself. This is a time for self care.

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