11/19/2014 03:31 pm ET Updated Jan 19, 2015

It's Finals: Take Care of Yourself

In my four years at Smith, I have noticed an opposition to self-care out of fear for how identifying the need for help will be perceived. I have heard other students say, and have said myself, that asking for an extension from a professor jeopardizes our credibility and moreover means we have failed. As a result, I put off registering with the Office of Disability Services until this fall. When I finally went to the office, I had to ask the director of ODS to sit with me while I filled out a form, asking for accommodations for more times on assignments, and wrote OCD under the word "Disability" with my hand shaking. I still feel compelled to ask friends when I have the right to ask for help. However, I have also found power in asserting my needs, and taking advantage of financially viable options for treatment.

I thought of it this way: if I talk with my professors at the beginning of the semester about my anxiety disorder, work the maximum amount of work study hours allowed, and continue to say "yes" when approached with opportunities for academic prestige, I can choose the way in which I will be visible after graduation. I can use every semester to figure out how to do what those in a position of authority, who I look up to and I aspire to be like in my own intended profession, ask of me, even with a disability. I can prepare to become a person I am proud of. I don't think of it that way anymore. I am proud of myself now.

There are people in my life who've taught me I can simultaneously say "no" and still succeed. I can be a good student even when I tell a professor that I need more time, so I don't have to deprive myself of sleep and personal care because of an assignment that may take other students just a few hours. I don't go through my mental rolodex of housemates with Adderall prescriptions during periods of high stress anymore. Sometimes, I go for a walk before the third ten-page paper I have to write. I watch TV. I don't think of procrastination as an example of laziness, and my chosen form of it as a reason for why I don't deserve to be at Smith. Slowing down is vital, and students have a right to it.

I have encountered professors who have told me they would deduct points for lateness, even if I specify my reason for why an assignment will be late. I know settling for a lower grade generally isn't preferable, and in some cases, not an option for students. What worked for me is not an approach with universal access, but I do know that investigating the possibility of a disorder, which affects my ability to do work, and asking for help on the grounds of a diagnosis has made my last year easier.

As finals approach, I notice a lot of people I care about struggling. It is not a choice, but it is addressable. Moreover, the attempt to alleviate which at best is discomfort is a display of power. There is no weakness in demanding help.