3 Ways I Manage My Chronic Illness at Princeton

May 31, 2024
Avery Danae Williams

Unexplained chronic pain turned my life upside down in October 2023. I soon found myself staying overnight at McCosh Health Center, and asking some of my friends to help with basic tasks like doing laundry. 


It wasn't until winter break that I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia: a chronic illness characterized by "widespread pain throughout the body...[chronic] fatigue...and problems concentrating also known as fibro fog" (niams.nih.gov). 


Though I'm always in pain, I'd like to share ways that I've been able to manage it at Princeton. Let's get into it!


1. Requesting accommodations

For students who need academic, housing, dining, or testing accommodations, they must fill out the Office of Disability Services' online form. They also must provide medical documents explaining how their disability impairs their functioning, and how accommodations would improve their functioning. 


I found it vulnerable to disclose my chronic illness to ODS, but I remembered to not hold back in my application. I was as honest as possible, because I know myself better than anybody else.

I know, for instance, that going up and down stairs is difficult for me. So Forbes College was no longer accessible to me, because the Annex does not have elevators. Next year I will be living on the first floor of an upperclassman dorm building that is much closer to my classes. 

2. Communicating with professors. 

ODS requires students to submit Semester Request forms to notify professors about approved accommodations. 


While I'm not required to disclose my chronic illness, I find it helpful to give my professors more context about Fibromyalgia during office hours. This is especially the case considering that I have frequent flare ups. Flare ups occur when chronic illness symptoms worsen for a few days.


Again it takes courage to open up to your professors about chronic illness. It may be easier to hide behind a screen, typing about why you need to miss class or receive an extension on an assignment. However, I have found it very valuable to meet with my professors in person, so everybody is on the same page. 


3. Getting lots of rest

Fibromyalgia comes with chronic fatigue, as I mentioned before. No amount of sleep can remedy that symptom, but the paradox is that if I don't get enough sleep, I'll flare up incessantly. 


When creating my course schedules, I make sure to leave plenty of gaps in between my classes. This way, I can make time to not only complete homework, but also take naps during the day. And since I am an early bird, I make sure to go to bed consistently between 11:00 PM and 2:00 AM. 


On the other hand, rest doesn't always look like sleeping. Some days it looks like drawing and journaling. Other days it looks like doing my readings from bed. I listen to what my body wants to do, and go with the flow. After all, I can't pour from an empty cup.


Collage of nine selfies showing different emotions of chronic illness
The many faces of chronic illness.