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The Student Accessibility Center
mikew Friday, August 31, 2018
Before my illness, I was a bad student. I did just enough in school to get by, and from the time I was 12 to the time I was 21, my parents were always telling me I was wasting all my potential. They were right. I did a minimal amount of school work because I was lazy. Doing the bare minimum made my individual days easier, but I'd always pay for it down the road--I'd be really stressed at the end of all my semesters. At the end of those semesters, I'd realize that the stress made my life harder more than doing the bare minimum made my life easier. I'd make vows to change the next semester, but that never ended up happening.

When my illness kicked in, I had to take a semester off, but when I went back to school, I had a new approach and something to lessen the stress school would put on me. Stress and mental illness don't go well together--even if you've been stable for a long time. Those of us with mental illness know that stress can trigger a reaction from our illnesses and send our lives into a tailspin. What made school so much less stressful was something my mom found out about. When I went crazy, I was going to USC. I never went back, and ended up staying in Wisconsin and going to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. My mom did some browsing on the UWM website and discovered this department called the Student Accessibility Center.

The SAC can be huge for someone with a mental illness. Basically, you get your doctor or doctors to show the SAC that you have a mental illness and they give you these things called Student Visas. Student Visas allow you to get some accommodations such as flexible attendance and flexible assignment due dates. All you need to do is give the Student Visas to each teacher and that's that. They may or may not ask you for more details about why you have the Visa in the first place. You do not have to tell them why you have the Student Visa, that's up to you. Personally, I recommend telling the teachers what it's for. There are a couple reasons for that. First, the more the teacher knows, the more they can understand what's going on with you if your behavior becomes a little erratic. Second, it's kind of a way to bond with your teacher. One of my teachers actually asked if I was Ok with taking a seat in her office and talking with her about my illness. We talked for like forty five minutes and she asked me all sorts of questions. In fact, that teacher was the one who first told me I should write a book about my story. I don't think I would have written it without her suggestion and encouragement. If I got the thought to write it on my own, I'd probably have told myself that nobody cares about the bad year of total insanity I had. But that teacher cared, and having a good relationship with your teacher can never hurt.

The one thing you don't want to do is to hold off on giving the teacher the Visa until later in the semester. You might be afraid to give the Visa because you might be uncomfortable talking about why you have the Visa. First, remember that you do not need to tell your teachers why you have a Student Visa. Second, you do not want to catch your teacher off guard at the end of the semester by giving it to the teacher and say "Oh, by the way, this is why I missed those classes and handed in those assignments too late.' Your teacher won't react very well to that. You'd come off like you're desperate to get better grades and are just using the Student Visa as an excuse. You want to make sure you're on the same page with your teacher right from the start.

The SAC and the Student Visas I was given played a huge role in my success in school. It also played a huge role in my mental stability because all that stress I would have had could have triggered my illness. There were days I simply could not function in a classroom or write a coherent essay. Without my Visa, I would have dug myself into a hole that I probably wouldn't have been able to climb out of. But since I had the Visa, I didn't feel like I'd have to face harsh consequences for missing a class here and there or not having some assignments ready when they were due.

Before my illness, I didn't go to classes because I was just too lazy and got through my days with substance abuse. After my illness, I didn't go to classes at times because I just couldn't handle it. Like, I had a thirty to forty minute commute to school. There were days where the medication I needed in order to sleep made me so tired in the mornings that I had to turn my car around and drive home because I didn't feel it was safe to drive, given how tired the medication had made me that morning. If I didn't have my Visa, I would have spent that whole day smoking pot and trying to repress the fact that I'd be facing the consequences for missing classes at the end of the semester. That would have led to stress, either right then or at the end of the semester.

Simply attempting to go back to school is a huge accomplishment. Never let school overwhelm you. Visit your teacher's office hours very early in the semester and either give them the VISA or give them the VISA and sit down and talk about what it's for--to make sure you're both on the same page. Always remember that teachers are people too--they will help you out in rough spots if they know what's going on with you and what you have to live with.



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