As in anyone’s life, the hardest thing to achieve in life is a balance. Whether it’s work, school, home, or play, it’s just plain tough. For those of us with challenges such as cerebral palsy, it brings a new set of challenges. Here’s why.
Task execution takes longer. Where it might take my sister thirty minutes to get herself ready and out the door in the mornings, it will take me an hour. The time isn’t what I’m worried about here. It’s the balance. Half an hour in the life of a busy college student, future doctor (!), future music therapist, and future psychologist is precious. Half an hour may mean the ability to get a homework assignment completed. Due to this fact, spacing out your time, along with figuring out your “prime time” of the day is crucial. Often, your prime time is known as those hours of the day in which you are the most alert and physically confident, but always keep in mind that it will take you (or someone you know with CP) longer to do a simple task.
Attention span requires mental and physical energy. To focus in to read an entire chapter of a biology textbook (mine were usually 35 – 40 pages) requires a mental concentration that requires a student to block everything else out of your mind, but that’s hard. Why is it particularly hard with CP? It’s hard due to the fact that when your body is trying to focus in to do one thing, such as hold a textbook in your lap, it’s really focused on doing a list of things, which includes sitting on the couch, balancing the book on your lap, comprehending what you read, and quite possibly taking notes while you read. Due to the fact that these issues may be posed, it is wise to say that you will need to allow extra time to study and to get assignments completed. It’s all about balance, both in the sense of time and physical exertion. My formula usually is pretty simple:
number of minutes available for the activity/(number of pages or problems x 2)
If you’re in the negatives here, you will want to put the activity off until you have ample time to complete it.
Balance isn’t all about work. The trick to having a truly balanced life is to having a social life in addition to your academic and/or professional life. Find one night a week to go out with friends, meet a professor for coffee, or do something that you enjoy. Often, I invite a friend over to my dorm room to order Chinese and chat so that I’m not getting away from the dorm to further distract me from the things that need to be done. The time to get completely away from work is on the weekends. Pick one day, whether it is Friday after work or school, Saturday after you wake up, or Sunday before starting to prepare for your coming week, that time is crucial to your balance. Get completely away from work for one to two hours at a time.
Tell other people about your goals to remain balanced. If you let people know that you’re hoping to achieve balance, you may find that other people want the same things and need similar guidance for different, various reasons. Other students (with or without disabilities) often have valuable insights into the ways that balance can be achieved during college life and beyond. If your professors notice that you’re a “different” student in some way, they will be more willing to advocate for you and your needs as well as to be receptive to your self-advocacy efforts. Once your balance is achieved, you will notice a difference, but the biggest difference will be apparent in the things that you hear from those around you.
Erin Breedlove is a college student with cerebral palsy who blogs at Healthy, Unwealthy, and Becoming Wise.
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