Ever since I first became ill I have frequently been advised by doctors to give up my education, right through from my GCSEs and A-levels up until the end of my degree. I was told that it would only make my health worse, and that I wouldn’t get decent grades or even pass. This advice may seem sensible on the surface and for some people it works even when they don’t have any choice in the matter, but I found this guidance difficult to accept from people already with a high level of education and a nice job to boot. I therefore opted to go against what the doctors said, something I would usually be cautious to do; they’re the experts after all.
First and foremost, my academic performance did not suffer significantly as a result of my illness. I passed my GCSEs and A-levels by giving up less important things like attending after-school clubs or workshops out of term time, and when I started university I moved into catered halls of residence so that I wouldn’t have to cook for myself, saving me energy. I would be lying if I denied the satisfaction I felt by proving the doctors wrong, but in all fairness to my GP, he took it lightly and wished me well.
The doctors were right in that my physical health was worsened by my choices. I had no energy to put into the various therapies that people tried to cure me with, and I had far less rest than the ideal. However, as someone who has always become bored quickly, I found that resting gave me time to brood on my situation and I would very rapidly go from restful to depressed. What my education took from me in terms of physical health I gained as a boost to my mental health, by taking my mind off the situation and giving me a positive to focus on. For me, mental illness has always been harder to cope with than a loss of physical health, as there is so little that can be done to relieve the symptoms once a relapse hits. As a result I threw myself into my work with the force of a hurricane, but burning the candle at both ends drained me of any energy I had so quickly that within days I would be back in bed. It took some time before I perfected the balance between the focus on my education to improve my mental health and the rest I needed to maintain my physical status.
There was also one other minor flaw in the medical advice given to me; employers don’t see M.E as a valid excuse to have a weaker education and less work experience than anybody else. There should be allowances for such cases, but then, who would employ somebody that would need lots of time off work due to illness over someone else with a curriculum vitae as long as their arm? Perhaps people like me actually contribute to this problem by falling in line with employer’s expectations, allowing employers to think that if one of us can do it, all of us can. Whatever the case, I decided that obtaining an education was best for me under my own circumstances, particularly because after a certain age even obtaining GCSEs becomes extremely expensive.
Some people seem to think that I’m some kind of badass straight from a movie for going out and getting an education, but the reality is that I used it as a distraction from said reality. The right person could probably make a good argument saying that this was actually an act of cowardice, and I wouldn’t oppose them. Although I did not make my decision to please those who think I’m lazy, it is true that I haven’t exactly stepped out of line with society’s expectations, and the very definition of a badass is someone who defies expectations. Whatever the case I ask people to respect my decision, as education was simply the right path for me, and the decisions of others should not be based on mine.