Getting Through Exams with Chronic Disease and How Putting My Ego to Bed Saved My Marks

This post is written by Mike. You can see more of his work here –

It’s exam season for those in university and it will be exam season for high school relatively soon. This year has flown by and while I’ve made leaps and bounds in the progression of battling against my chronic disease, exams seem to find a way to take all the hard work I’ve done and throw it in a trash bin. When you have Colitis, or any IBD or IBS (probably really any disease to be truthful), high amounts of stress can bring those nasty symptoms back with a vengeance. The problem with all of this? I love the stress and butterflies associated with exams… Call me weird, call me whatever, but it’s true and I really do love the feeling. I think that’s why I enjoyed fighting and why I still enjoy playing sports in the big pressure games (especially as a keeper). I don’t know, I guess for me it just keeps things interesting. But like I said, with all the nerves and butterflies comes those nasty symptoms. For me, they only occur up until I sit down for my test, and once I start, they all go away. Yet, for the day and a half (or whatever until the test) I am a mess, as I assume many students are before exams. And much like I found out when I first started talking about my disease, there were things in place to help me.

Much to my surprise, about a year ago now, I became aware of my school’s accessibility services. I had no idea they existed, and honestly, at first I wanted nothing to do with it. It was a counsellor I was seeing in an attempt to curb the mental side of my disease who initially approached me with the idea. At first I was offended and very resistive to the idea. To me just the sound of it felt wrong. I wasn’t an “accessibility” issue. I don’t have a disability. In my head I was perfectly fine. Of course, I have to use the bathroom more than the average person but nothing was wrong with me and I didn’t need anyone else’s “charity”. Now, I just want to point out the fact that I used quotations for accessibility and charity. I did this because these were the thoughts I had at the time and I can look back in hindsight and admit with 100% certainty that it was my ego talking and not myself. I also realized that I was bringing a negative connotation (idealogy) with the idea of accessibility services. Not only did I think I knew what the Accessibility Services of my school were, I also thought that nothing was wrong with me and I would tough out anything that came my way. I was wrong on not one, but both accounts.

You see, I guess at least with myself, when I view my disease, I never viewed it as debilitating before. I come from a world where if something is wrong, you ignore it, don’t talk about it and just keep pushing through. I had learned over the years of martial arts that if it hurts, it will get better on its own and that I could personally tackle anything with a headstrong attitude. Well I challenge anyone with this mindset to try it with something actually physiologically wrong. Sometimes mental toughness will not carry you through the other side.

I decided to at least let my counsellor and the Accessibility counsellor at least talk to me. It was the very least I could do considering one of them had already helped me once. But even after their presentation (for lack of a better word), I was still concrete in the fact that I didn’t need help and I didn’t have anything wrong with me that I couldn’t handle. I declined their offer but they gave me the forms anyway and told me to think about it. I went home….. and there was no further thought about it. This went on until I told my fiancé and mother about it, who were both at the dinner table that night. It was eventually my fiancé that said to me that it was better to have it in place as a safety net, a just in case plan. I still pressed that I was fine and could handle anything. But here was my turning point, because my fiancé tends to have a knack for being right about these kind of things. Eventually she convinced me to get the forms filled out by my doctor, which I did, and I eventually went through the process to get the services set up.

Like I said, I signed up without thinking I would use the service, but to my surprise, I did. I must admit that when I thought of Accessibility Service, I thought of people who were in wheelchairs or had learning disabilities and I felt like it was offensive to them that I would enroll in such a service being perfectly capable of both walking and learning, etc. I felt like someone abusing the system, and I didn’t like it at all. The first test I wrote in the center felt wrong for the full 2 hours. It really wasn’t until this semester that I realized that it was okay for me to be there. This was when I realized I had attached a stigma to the Accessibility and also realized that I do have something wrong with me and it can be debilitating (to save you another long story, let’s just say I no longer worry about missing my bus before an exam or the amount of bathroom trips I take during the test). It wasn’t until I wrote in the test center that I realized that the Accessibility Services were for all students dealing with any sort of barrier outside of their control, whether that be mental disorders, or pathophysiological. These services take away that one more thing that students challenged with a disorder have to deal with and it allows them to focus strictly on their studies.

So what’s the point of this really long story? Well, there’s three parts to it. The first is simply drawing attention to these services. Like I said, I had no idea these services even existed until I went for counselling for disease-related anxiety. For all I know, there is a student out there that is suffering needlessly with their studies, and I want them to realize that there are things in place to help you. I don’t believe it is specific to my school, so ask your student services or counsellors. The second reason to this whole thing is that I realized I had associated a negative connotation before fully listening to what someone else had to say. We’ve all done this and I’m sure people have done it with me. The amount of times I rush passed someone I know to get to the bathroom, they must think I’m a jerk. I really don’t try to be, I just get tunnel vision. So the message here is that before you judge or assume, listen to the whole story, or better yet ask “What’s up?” and get the knowledge before you decide on a judgement. Last, but not least, this one is the biggy. The third purpose to all this is realizing WHEN to accept help. My ego combined with my judgement almost passed up the opportunity for help which could’ve been disastrous. There is always a time and a place to accept help, and although we don’t always want to admit it, sometimes we need to accept our weaknesses before we can accept the help. I am lucky enough to have seen that I didn’t have to suffer when it came to exams, and I have now come to accept that my disease does have debilitating aspects to it. Will I let those debilitating factors rule my life and decided what I can or cannot do? Definitely not! Now that I have identified my weaknesses I can always find work-arounds for them so I never miss out on an opportunity. My success wasn’t in using my mental toughness to slam through the Colitis wall of restrictions, rather my success was recognizing and out-thinking those problems. Student Accessibility Services was my work-around with my academics. I am not ashamed of being enrolled in them like I foolishly was in the beginning, but rather count them as a blessing.