Reasonable Adjustments

Author’s note: this piece is not a factual account, but was inspired by the realities of my body’s limitations to express my frustration at repeatedly having to prove my condition.

Are you sick enough to warrant that extra time? What is wrong with you exactly?

You can’t outright say this, of course, that would be invasive and unprofessional, but I know it’s what you’re thinking. It’s there, unspoken, in your kindly worded probes for information.

“Hi Holly,

This request seems a little excessive. May I ask how your condition has affected you in terms of keeping up with the course more generally?

Perhaps you could come in for a discussion in person? I am always happy to chat.”

I read the latest reply in the email thread with my lecturer, close my eyes, and feel my heart sink and chest tighten as I prepare for the all too familiar battle ahead. My faith in the system has been jaded by years of veiled requests to prove the legitimacy and severity of my illness over and over again. EAP be damned.

Perhaps the time has come for a demonstration. Illness as performance. Pride and privacy banished to the same forgotten place as my EAP.

I arrive at the office and knock. I am welcomed in with a smile.

“So how can I help you Holly?”

I explain, again, that I need an extension because of my health condition.

She nods and replies: “Ah yes, and how does that affect your study again?”

Why don’t I just show you? It won’t take long; I’ve already walked from the car to your office, worrying I won’t get my adjustments approved, so my nervous system is already running near its maximum.

So I say: “Shall we go for a short stroll?”

At first, I walk and talk as ‘normal’, but within a short minute, the ever-present static pressure in my head grows until I’m struggling to think. My body is still moving, but my brain runs through mud. Then my face starts to slacken; perhaps you notice all expression is gone from it.

I’ve stopped talking. But on we walk.

It has been a few minutes now. There are only subtle signs so far. The colour in my cheeks drains and my posture falls, shoulders rolling in. We are still walking.

Now my feet start to drag and my head starts to droop. You begin to worry.

Perhaps you think it’s the topic of conversation making me quiet. “It’s okay,” you say, “I get it.”

But you don’t. I smile weakly and wave you away.

By this point I’ve lost fine motor control; my movements are clumsy. We are walking, very slowly now. My breathing is shallow and laboured and my face has begun to twitch. I can’t focus my eyes.

I finally give it up and let my body go.

I am on the ground, retching, and then I begin to shiver as my poor, stupid body tries to recalibrate after the marathon I just put it through.

This is the point when people try and call an ambulance. I would tell you not to bother, but I won’t be able to form sentences for at least another five minutes.

The demonstration is over. We are 150m away from your office.

You are shocked and shaken. You want to help the poor, sick girl on the ground in front of you.

You ask what you can do to help. Some water? A chair?

But all I need — all I asked for — is the extension. Although now, of course, I’ll need longer. It will take me a week at minimum to recover from this walk.

I cannot help but wish this visual demonstration was enough. I wish this was the last time I had to prove my condition beyond doubt. But while I’m at the mercy of a new set of ‘well-meaning’ but sceptical lecturers every semester, I’ve got everything to prove.

For them, it is a brief and uncomfortable event to witness. For me, it is my life.