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How to deal with being a student with Fibromyalgia


For years I’ve travelled back and forth from one doctor to another, 7 blood tests, 2 ECG’s and an A&E visit later, I was finally told I have Fibromyalgia. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the condition, it causes pain, fatigue, ‘fibro-fog’, and other random symptoms that can vary with each individual.

Most commonly it is those who are older who develop fibromyalgia, those who don’t need to battle with their body to get through school, part-time work, and exams. But there are a few of us who, unfortunately, do have illnesses like this.

I have not yet found one other person who has fibromyalgia and is the same age as me, and so I never had anyone tell me the struggles I may face. Having finished my A levels and now on a gap year, I have recently discovered how much fibromyalgia does affect me. So I wish to give those of you who are recently diagnosed, or aren’t quite sure what to do, some advice:

Firstly, do not be in denial about your condition; don’t try and convince yourself it’s something else and, similarly, don’t act like it’s not there because it will make it worse. For the past few months I’ve tried to ignore the fact I have something wrong with me; that I’m not going to be able to constantly go out, go clubbing, be able to work 5 days a week and going to the gym straight after. But over the past few weeks, after having to take time off work and not having my A-levels go to plan, I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I’m not completely okay. It’s now time for me to adjust my lifestyle to accommodate my condition.

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The next major piece of advice I can give, especially if you’re a student, is to talk to your exams office, tutors/teachers, school/university, to find out what help they can give you. I missed the deadline to see if I was eligible for extra time, but my sixth form did offer me rest breaks in exams. They also let me sit at the back so I could leave, and offered me a laptop. Even if you don’t use these, it’s good to know that they’re there in case you need them. During a 2.5 hour English exam, I was glad I could get up and have a walk halfway through.

Exercise is also a great way to try and help your body. However, do pace yourself: I went travelling for 10 days in August, and spending 6 hours a day walking around in 30 degree plus heat was not the best thing I could have done, but being stubborn I refused to take a break and sit down for a bit. Having then had 2 days of non-stop migraines, I realised that maybe this wasn’t the best thing I could have done. But, don’t let this stop you from doing things you enjoy. If you do want to go travelling then do, just ensure you have regular breaks and aren’t walking across the whole of Rome in a day seeing 4 different landmarks. The same type of process goes for anything you do; as long as you pace yourself then you should, hopefully, be fine.

The hardest time for me was during year 13. I worked myself too hard; I revised too much and during my final exams I was so exhausted that my arms could barely cope. I had so many moments of ‘fibro-fog’ that I didn’t do as well as I could have if I did pace myself. But what did help me throughout the year, especially with issues of retaining facts, was using the textbook to go over the topics I’ll be covering in future lessons. I managed to get A’s in all but one of my final exams, so don’t assume that just because you have fibromyalgia you can’t do as well, because you can. If lack of sleep is that is adhering your education, it is possible to get tablets from your doctor. I’ve been prescribed a type of anti-depressant in a very low dosage which has improved my symptoms of exhaustion considerably, and so far I haven’t had any negative side effects.

Also, if you’re currently in the process of applying to university through UCAS, under the disability section, fibromyalgia is classed as one of the options. This will help you by allowing universities to know that you will/ did have a disadvantage with your exams which could mean you may not perform to your best abilities.
Lastly, don’t under any circumstance let yourself become demotivated by not being the description of a healthy person. Just because there are days when all you want to do is sleep, or curl up into a ball and watch Netflix, it doesn’t mean you’re not able to live life to the full. If there’s something you want to do, then do it. Don’t let the fear of how your body may react stop you.

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