At the age of thirty-nine I decided to go back to college and finish my degree that I had started over 20 years prior. If I thought college was hard at eighteen, I had no idea what was in store for me. At this time, I was married with three kids and a full-time job. I wondered how I was going to fulfill all my responsibilities. I didn’t know at first what my end goal was going to be other than just getting my AA. It wasn’t until a couple years in that I finally decided on Psychology.
About a year into taking 2 classes per semester and working full-time I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I always ran myself ragged as an adult, so I was used to feeling tired all the time. This time though the tired came with pain, a lot of pain. My first reaction was that I wasn’t going to let anything stop me, not even fibromyalgia. I pretty much didn’t until 2018. This was the year that fibromyalgia stopped my whole life. I had to take time off from work and school for a few months. Even when I went back to both I still wasn’t at full capacity.
I seemed to have developed a tenacity in my old age though and I still wasn’t going to quit. I kept on taking 2 classes per semester and working full-time. Let’s not forget still raising a family at the same time. This has not been easy, but nothing worth doing is.
I often hear, “I don’t know how you do it” from people. I always tell people my two secrets are that (1) I have a planner that I use for everything and (2) my house is a mess (don’t judge). When you are working towards a goal sometimes sacrifices have to be made. Sadly, what I sacrificed a lot of was taking better care of myself (see above flare). The other part that has been hard is the fact that I am a Virgo and I LOVE organization. But loving being organized and having the energy to clean and organize your house are separate. I can’t do it all, so I have to choose.
This is exactly how I organize my college career down to the semester level. I do not claim that what has worked for me will work for you. The key is you have to take your own life circumstances into account and do what is best for you.
It helps if you define your goal completely. This means knowing what you are working towards and how to get there. If you were like me and couldn’t see that far ahead then I broke down my goals.
- Finish my AA
- Use your college advisor to help determine what classes you need.
- Find my passion and/or interests while working on my AA
- Take classes that sound interesting, not just requirements. If it meets both even better!
- Decided major is psychology
- Map out the reality of what it will take to choose that major and what jobs are available with each progressive degree.
- Transferred to University to complete my BA
- Make sure the university you choose has proper accreditation (regional, etc)
- Choose what to do with BA
- PhD or Masters?
- Decided on Masters….choose graduate school/program
I’m still working on this, but this is my basic guide on decisions I need to make and breaking the big goal down into smaller ones.
The first step I take at the beginning of each semester is to map out my semester. I am addicted to Erin Condren planners, but you can use any that you want. I write out each week’s readings and assignments, making special notes of bigger projects or exams. This really helps me plan out my energy to make sure I complete everything when I have the most energy. I recommend planners and even wall calendars so you can easily visualize what is to come. You can even use technology and utilize apps on your phone for assignment reminders.
Speaking of technology if you are using Word or Google Drive make sure to break down courses into corresponding folders to keep all your documents organized and easy to find.
Each week I look at what is expected of me in my classes and then I fill in other responsibilities outside of school. Each Sunday, I review the week ahead and see where I can fit each item in the best. I have learned to give myself plenty of leeway for those days I don’t feel well. This has served me well over the last seven years. Granted there have been times I had to really struggle and push through pain and exhaustion, but that is also just part of living with fibromyalgia.
- When I was working on my AA, I had to take classes at the college physically. This was a challenge since I worked all day. My secret to getting through these days was to not just pack lunch for work, but dinner as well. I went straight to school after work and sat in my car. This was my free time and I could either eat my dinner and do some homework or take a nap (which I often did). I recommend only a 20-minute nap at the most, otherwise you will feel too tired to go on with your night.
- Since enrolling in Penn State World Campus all my classes have been online. Still I feel drained after work and so I often lay down for a quick nap before starting any homework. Sometimes this ends up that I cannot function the rest of the night. This is where the planning and allowing leeway from above comes in. This is why I plan for earlier deadlines to give myself more time if I need it.
- Join clubs! You are not too old, and this is a great way to establish social support. In addition, if you do want to go to graduate school having some extra-curricular activities is good for your application.
- Wellness is so important to maintain while completing college. This is the one area I struggle with the most and need this reminder myself.
- Find nutritious snacks to keep at your desk while you study.
- Read while on the treadmill or bike.
- Get enough sleep.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Use meditation to clear your mind.
- Sometimes you have to just put it all down and go for a walk outside!
These are just some of the ways I have gotten through college as an adult student with fibromyalgia. I think being a college student with fibromyalgia is possible and I hope these tips help you! Feel free to reach out if you are in the same situation. I would love to hear any tips and tricks you may have as well.
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