A seat in the classroom

The stars have aligned in such a way that it makes sense for me to go back to grad school to earn a second master’s degree, this time in library science.

I will be working full-time while I take classes part-time. I had trouble getting through grad school round one working part-time and taking classes part-time, so I’m a bit anxious about how this experiment will turn out. It’s true that during grad school round one my migraines were not controlled as (relatively) well as they are now. But still.

Photo by Justine Warrington. Used under a CC license. Click through for source.

Photo by Justine Warrington. Used under a CC license. Click through for source.

Will I be able to balance all my responsibilities? Will the stress of school send me straight back to migraine hell? Will I have enough money to finish the program? Will I earn terrible grades? Will I have to pull all-nighters to avoid terrible grades? Will I still have time to write and submit as much as I want (no, I won’t, because I already don’t have as much time as I’d like for these things). I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

Perhaps my anxiety is manifesting, but classes haven’t even started yet, and already I’ve hit snags. This is to be expected, but the biggest one was rather heart-stopping.

I got an email from my professor (I’m only taking one class) with the schedule for the first week of class, including lectures and presentations Monday through Friday, from morning until afternoon. I immediately sent a note requesting clarification. It was the first I’d heard of a first-week immersive experience, and I’d attended information sessions and corresponded with my advisor and other program administrators in an attempt to prepare for the program.

Yes, I heard back, it was required, and if I couldn’t participate I could always take the online version instead.

One teeny tiny problem with that, though: migraines and screens don’t mix well, for a number of reasons. One, even on the highest/fastest refresh rate, screens can exacerbate a migraine I already have. Staring at them for long periods can also trigger a migraine (I take very frequent screen breaks at work to mostly avoid this). And I don’t absorb or retain information as well when I read it on a screen, especially if I have a migraine (pretty much every day, even if it’s not severe).

So I made a fuss. It came out that there had been a miscommunication within the program. I didn’t think it was fair to force me into an online class that would make my life more difficult because an integral part of the program had not been communicated to me. I asked for a compromise.

Thankfully, my professor graciously agreed. We still have to work out the exact details, but it’s something I can live with, even though doing the coursework from that first week while also working eight hours a day means I am going to have negative amounts of free time.

Although I simply asked for accommodation to meet the needs of my chronic illness in the face of a failure on the school’s part, I now worry that I’ll be seen as fussy or as thinking I deserve special treatment.

This is not simple anxiety. It’s a learned response to the way teachers and supervisors have reacted in the past to my requests for accommodations. I have been called a liar. I have been told that maybe I shouldn’t be doing a job because I had to take so many sick days (even when I was within my company’s policy rules). I have been told—never outright, of course—that maybe if I’m not well enough to do things the same way everyone else does them, I shouldn’t be doing them at all.

That is ableism in fine form, and it’s one of the reasons I feel this blog is still important. Equality does not mean we all get exactly the same things. It means we all get what we need. I, as a person with chronic migraine, sometimes need more time. Sometimes I need things to be on paper instead of digital. Someone with bipolar is going to have a different set of needs. A deaf person will have still a different set.

That is okay, despite what others might think. Life is not one size fits all. It’s one size fits one.

We all have a right to the table (or in the classroom), even if some of us need our chairs to be set at different heights.

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