I am so depressed over the outcome of my country’s (United States) election (not to the point where I need to start calling a suicide hotline.) I am having serious thoughts about how this is going to affect my future.
Taking a Semester off
Sometimes the unexpected happens and things go from bad to worse. If you have a chronic illness, maybe your health has taken a turn for the worse. Maybe it is something else such as a death of a family member that you were really close to. Sometimes your best option is to take a semester off to take care of these problems.
This post is meant for people with chronic illnesses, so when I talk about health problems, I mean that they are much worse than usual. I assume the procedure for taking a semester off is different depending on the college that you attend. You will need to do some investigating to find out if there will be any difficulties with financial aide or scholarships.
Why would I want to do this?
I can think of many good reasons why you would want to do this, but here are two:
- You want your transcripts to be as awesome as possible to give yourself a potential boost in the job market. This is especially true for people with little experience. High grades can compensate for little experience. You want to prevent having many low grades on your transcripts if you can help it. You may be able to do this by taking a semester off if your health is taking a serious downturn.
- You can’t do your best academic work if you are constantly focused on a serious personal problems or significant health problems.
Have you taken a semester off from your college or university? If so, please share your experience.
Don’t Lose Sight of your Dream!
I guess I am a bit of a hopeless romantic when it comes to this subject. I believe that if you are studying something that you love, then you will not see it as boring or dull. The passion that you show when you talk about this subject will become infectious.
Don’t lose sight of the goal or dream that brought you to that particular college or university to begin with. Too many times I have heard students say, ” I wanted to become ____, but couldn’t handle all the math courses.” I do not like hearing my students give up before they have even really tried.
What can I do to prevent this from happening?
- Any decent college or university will have resources like free or low-cost tutoring for their students. They want their students to succeed because it makes them look good. Stay positive, don’t give up, and use all the resources available to you!
- This is a good example of when a good support network can be most helpful. When you feel like giving up on your dream, they can help keep you focused.
- A good college education takes time. While it may seem that some people are getting their diploma faster than you, stay focused on your path and don’t give up. A good, quality education is most important here not speed.
Feel free to leave any other suggestions in the comment section below.
Find a Support Network
Why is this important? Even if you do not have a chronic illness, attending a new college or university is a big deal. There are lots of new things going on in your life, which is exciting. However, there are many new stressors in your life that you may not have had to deal with before. You will need someone to talk to when things get particularly difficult. (Not listed in any particular order)
- Medical Support – Keep in touch with your care team to make sure your health is in good condition during this stressful time. If you keep them well-informed, they can also give objective advice on whether you are pushing yourself too hard.
- Support Groups – Some universities have support groups to help students cope with a range of issues. If your university of choice has these, you should take advantage of them. There may also be support groups locally run by nonprofits such as the Epilepsy Foundation. This is a great way to talk about your problems with people who have similar issues.
- Friends – Whether you met them online or in person, a good friend will know what to say when you are having a bad day.
- Family – Some people like to talk things through with family members when a particularly difficult issue comes up.
This is not meant to be a complete list. If I missed any, please comment and let me know.
According to the Mayo Clinic:
Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the ever-increasing demands of life. Surveys show that many Americans experience challenges with stress at some point during the year.
In looking at the causes of stress, remember that your brain comes hard-wired with an alarm system for your protection. When your brain perceives a threat, it signals your body to release a burst of hormones to fuel your capacity for a response. This has been labeled the “fight-or-flight” response.
Once the threat is gone, your body is meant to return to a normal relaxed state. Unfortunately, the nonstop stress of modern life means that your alarm system rarely shuts off.
That’s why stress management is so important. Stress management gives you a range of tools to reset your alarm system.
Higher Education is infamous for high levels of stress. You need to have a stress management plan. This is especially important if you have a chronic illness. There are many things you can do relieve stress such as: exercise, meditation, hiking, etc. I believe it is important to pick something that you like doing.
From my perspective, my absence seizures always got worse at the end of the semester when I had the most stress. When I went back to school, I was teaching math courses while taking graduate level courses at the same time. At the end of the semester, my stress levels were especially bad. I needed to reserve time out of my schedule to relax and unwind. Fortunately, I was able to prevent my tonic-clonic and myoclonic seizures from occurring through regularly taking medicine and meditation.
If you have a chronic illness and there is a very real possibility that something may happen in the middle of the classroom, you may want to have a private conversation with your professors.
Why would you want to do this? You want the professor to have a plan just in case something happens. You can tell him or her of what needs to be done should the unexpected happen in the classroom. You can also potentially avoid an unnecessary trip to the Emergency Room. It may also give the professor a little more sense of control if they have a plan ready beforehand.
This is up to you and how comfortable you feel with your health condition. If your health condition is very stable, then you may not feel that this is necessary.
The Disability Office
Why do this? Won’t you be labeled as disabled? Not necessarily. If you go to them for help, it may just mean that you have a condition of some sort that requires measures such as: specialized tutors, extended testing time in a quiet environment, or perhaps even a note taker. From the experience that I have had, these offices are dedicated to making sure the students they work with get a quality education.
You may think that you don’t need any of those things. You may be right, but, in college, stress can get overwhelming. For many people with epilepsy, stress is a major trigger for seizures. I imagine that it is not good for many other chronic illnesses either. Sometimes having someone on your side like the disability office can help alleviate some of that stress.
Typically, they will want some form of proof that you require their services. You may want to contact the office first to find out if a letter from your specialist (for example: your neurologist or epileptologist) is good enough or if they have other paperwork that they want you to fill out.