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Surviving the Semester when Everything goes Wrong

Stacked books

My semester started with all the usual good intentions. I was feeling super positive about my final year and determined to ace the six units I had left. But soon I was wondering whether I would even get to exams.

A week and a half into semester disaster struck and I found myself lying on the floor of my office and staring at the ceiling, having just put my back out. It turned out to be a bulging disc in my lower back and I was told that I needed to rest and let it heal. At this stage I figured rest meant a few days on the couch and I was glad to be able to relax like I was on summer holidays again (ignoring the excruciating back pain and being confined to my bed).

But days then turned into weeks, and no one could tell me when it would heal. Soon the work from the classes I'd missed was piling up. I was starting to panic, I kept hoping that the next day I'd wake up and be fine. It hasn’t happened.

I contemplated taking a break from university but chose to drop an elective, pick up a summer unit and soldier on with my core units. If I dropped out of the semester I would need to re-do a whole year of procedure, not just six months. With the prize of graduation looming so close I just couldn't bring myself to quit now. Looking back, had I known how bad my injury was and how hard the semester would be, I don't think I would have made the same choice.

My back slowly, too slowly started to improve with physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, medication and rest. I could get out of bed and leave the house for short periods. I began to do some study at home to try and keep up but it was obvious that I needed help. The university support services were invaluable in helping me get back into study. They organised class recordings and extensions for my assessments so I could have time to heal. I avoided physically attending classes, wore a back brace when I had to and carried a pillow to the classes I couldn't avoid.

But most importantly, I changed my objectives. This semester wasn't about HDs and extra-curricular activities; it was about somehow getting to the end in one piece. Trying to manage my expectations has definitely been the hardest part.

It hasn't been a perfect semester, but it's been a successful one. I've gone through things I never thought I would have to, and I've learnt both how strong I am, and how understanding and helpful other people can be. Seriously, fellow law students who are willing to wait at the bottom of stairs holding the door while I struggled down gripping the rail, you are the very best people and I am so very grateful. Maybe one day I can return the favour.

Hopefully you’ll never have a semester like this, but what should you do if you are struck by disaster?

1. Look after yourself first. You might be stressing about assignments or an extra-curricular activity, but your priority should be looking after your health.

2. Be willing to ask for help! It felt strange initially but everyone was so accommodating and I don't know what I would've done without it.

3. Don't be too hard on yourself. Things happen, often at the very worst moment, and you just have to do the best you can to get through it.

4. Finally, know when enough is enough. That sometimes means deferring exams, seeking extensions, dropping units or even deferring the semester. You can always go back to it when things are better.

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