Pursuing Graduate Work While Chronically Ill

Since the onset of the COVID pandemic, over 350 million people have been infected [1]. Early on, it was recognized that COVID symptoms, outside the most extreme of cases, typically lasted two weeks. However, some who suffered a non-hospitalization-worthy or “mild” case of COVID found themselves plagued with symptoms spanning beyond that period. Neurological symptoms such as memory loss and brain fog alongside classic COVID symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pain and fatigue have emerged in individuals who initially had asymptomatic and mild COVID cases [2]. With the onset and newfound prevalence of the omicron variant, more and more individuals have reported continued afflictions related to their viral infection, which has thus been dubbed “long COVID” [3].

Perhaps you’re one of them, an individual who found a new reality where recovery never truly arrived, but you still have papers to write, experiments to conduct and presentations to give. Living with a chronic condition is not easy, but it does not mean academia is no longer a space for you. Here are ways to navigate the world as you are now.

Know Your Limits

What activities can you do with little effort, and what leaves you drained at the end of the day? Is this consistent from day to day? Are there things that make work better or worse? Make a list of what you know does or doesn’t work for you, and keep it in sight. In the Zoom era of online seminars and consortiums, it’s tempting to try and do everything. But, knowing where and when you can spend your energy will be most conducive to your mental and physical health in the long run.

Be Flexible

Chronic illness brings an extra bit of flavor to the mundanity of daily life. Flare-ups and mishaps can throw a wrench in the most meticulously planned schedule, making backup plans a high priority. Be clear with others if you can’t meet a previously discussed deadline. Reach out to people ahead of time for class materials such as readings or lecture notes.

Communicate Your Needs

Disclosing a chronic illness is a deeply personal decision, but sharing limitations can help ensure you get the support you need. Not sharing your needs can cause issues in the long run as it may seem you’re shirking responsibilities when, in reality, you’re resting.

Other resources:

Twitter collectives provide ample opportunities to interact with and hear from individuals who share the same plight. The Disabled Academic Collective (@DisabledAcadem) is a group of scholars spanning undergrad to faculty who discuss, share and provide support regarding challenges faced within academia.

Information for this sample story was derived from:

[1] https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/23/health/long-covid-symptoms.html

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/19/health/omicron-long-covid-symptoms.html

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