Studying with spondyloarthritis can prove to be challenging in so many ways, however there are some tricks that can make it a little bit easier. I’ve spent my entire time at Uni balancing a social life, uni work and my arthritis – or maybe “juggling” would be a better term for it.
My Physiotherapy course had a perfect balance between practice and theory. I had a chance to practice various treatments and techniques with my peers, but I also needed to sit down and learn the theory behind these therapies and how to adapt them to individual patients in different settings. Over the three years, the practical aspect of my degree moved more to real life settings and was developed on placements, whereas our lectures, seminars and assignments focused more on the understanding of the application of Physiotherapy and Healthcare.
The most difficult thing for me was finding the best place to study and adapting it to my needs resulting from arthritis. Personally, I could only concentrate in my University’s library, because of that I’ve spent a lot of time doing assignments away from my flat.
Most of us know that sitting down for a long time isn’t brilliant. I found that if I sat for longer than 30-45 minutes my joints would became a lot more of a problem. Because of that, I tried to pace my work, much like I would if I knew I was going to have a really busy day with loads of walking. I would only do 30 minutes of work at a time and then I would get up and walk around for 5-10 minutes. However, I found it difficult to concentrate on assignments when I had to keep getting up for my joints and could easily loose my train of thought.
It took me quite some time to work out how to write assignments in 30 minute bursts but I developed a method which worked well for me. I would start planning assignments long before they were due in. That meant if I had a flare, or was unwell and couldn’t work for a while, I was still ahead of the curve. When I planned assignments, I would first write a detailed checklist of everything that needed to be in it from the information our lecturers had given to us. From that checklist, I would then make an extremely detailed mind map for each section of the essay with references (which I would save onto my computer), and then I would check all the information on the mind map against the mark scheme to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Where possible, I would organise a meeting with my module leader to make sure that I hadn’t missed the point of the assignment before I started the actual essay.
Now all of that takes a fair bit of time but at the end I had a mind map which was essentially my assignment just not written in paragraphs. It also meant that when I did need to take a break for my joints after 30 minutes of sitting, I wasn’t going to loose my train of thought because it was already written down.
I also made sure to keep one of my lecturers up to date with how my arthritis had been. I had numerous flares while at University which weren’t easy to deal with but having someone ‘on the inside’, knowing about my condition and how it was affecting me was really important. I knew about what services were available to me and my University, as most would, had a Student Support and Wellbeing Service where I could seek further advice about getting help with my studies had I needed it.
My Rheumatology team also repeatedly offered to write letters to my University to have extensions on any assignments because of my joints, to provide a stronger case if I wanted, which I think would have been very useful if I had a flare that stopped me from being able to work. However, keeping my Rheumatology team in the loop about how my arthritis impacted my Uni work was very useful and was a discussion we had at most appointments.
I think the most important thing to know about studying with arthritis is finding a way that you can work effectively without overdoing it for your joints, and seeking support wherever you need it. It does take time to learn about how you learn best, but once you know it, take time to work out how to make it work for your joints as well.
Jenni is a 21 years old, fresh out of Uni Physiotherapist, you can follow her story on youngarthur.blogspot.co.uk