Nonfiction

Living Well When You’re Unwell

5 March 2019

Welcome to Living Well When You’re Unwell—a column that answers all your questions about navigating uni, life, relationships, and jobs with disability and chronic illness.

Help! I’m a second-year student and I’m really struggling with my classes. I was finally diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome a few months ago after suffering from it for ages and I’m hoping to do a bit better in uni this year since I’m finally getting treatment. The problem is I get flare ups in my condition which are really painful and zap me of my energy. How do I keep from failing assignments if I keep getting ill?

-Scared of Failing

Dear Scared of Failing,

Although it isn’t necessarily a good thing, I wanted to say congratulations on finally getting a diagnosis. Putting a name to an illness that has affected you for a number of years is no small feat. It’s great that you’re finally getting treatment and starting to feel a bit better.

Disability means something different for everyone, but the one thing that holds true across the spectrum is that those with disability are experiencing barriers: to education, to employment, to relationships with friends and family, to romantic relationships, to physical spaces, and so much more.

Navigating uni on top of health issues can feel overwhelming, but there are options that might help. If you’ve never heard of Student Equity and Disability Support, they’re going to be a great resource. They can help you obtain necessary accommodations like alternative exam arrangements, flexibility for attendance, and assignment extensions. Registering for ongoing support might be all you really need to feel comfortable and confident as you start your second year of uni. If you give them a ring, they’ll be able to tell you your options and make sure you receive the support you need to do your best in uni without exacerbating your health conditions. Good luck!

I’m doing well in uni but terrified of the ‘real world’. How can I get and keep a job if I have a disability? Do you have any tips?    

-Not Ready to Graduate

Dear Not Ready to Graduate,

I understand what you mean when you say you’re terrified of the ‘real world’ after graduating uni. I’ve been there before. I am a survivor of meningococcal disease and currently deal with fibromyalgia, chronic migraines, anaphylactic allergies, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and chronic fatigue. My health issues make it difficult to navigate life, uni and work. Personally, I’ve found success working from home.

I took a gap year to work between my bachelor’s and master’s and struggled to get my employer to accommodate my needs in the workplace. Here are some tips I have from real-life experience navigating work as a person with disability:

  1. If you have difficulties with chronic pain, fluctuating energy levels, or other barriers to working in person, try to find a job that you can do remotely. More and more jobs allow employees to work from home, which might be the only modification you need.
  2. Look out for jobs at companies that seem to be understanding of disability. Some job listings will specifically mention this.
  3. Make sure once you’ve landed a job that you let your employer know what kind of accommodations you might need, whether it’s a fragrance-free workplace, a flexible work schedule, an ergonomic chair, special lighting, or something else specific to your needs. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
  4. Don’t give up. Even though it is illegal to discriminate, you may still face employers who hesitate to hire you or give you the accommodations you need. This isn’t a reflection of you, but of them. You deserve the resources you need and should never feel guilty or ashamed of that.

Have a question on the general topic of disability and chronic illness? Send an email to livingwell@farragomagazine.com. You don’t have to be living with a disability to send a question—any questions about disability and health are welcome.


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