University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Comment: You have got to be strong to be weak

Young people aren’t sick. Only old people are. That is what our government seems to think. But Signe is young, yet she is sick. This is her story

The clock is six in the morning, the alarm tells me that I need to get up and off to class. But I just can’t. Once again I’ve had a bad night and I wake up with back pain, feeling disheartened and tired to the bone. I’m behind in school, about 250 pages, and I haven’t even read the pages for today. At the same time I feel like all the others from my class are best buddies, have it all under control and think that I’m some lazy, unpredictable loner.

This is how an ordinary day sounds like in my life as a student with a sickness. In the past four years I’ve suffered from stress, anxiety and depression, and my life has nearly stalled. I finally feel like it’s about to loosen it’s grip on me, but I still have tough times where nothing makes sense and it’s easier and safest to stay in bed. In these four years I’ve had daily back pain, but the doctors didn’t help me. I fell as a child and hit my tailbone badly, and the pain developed and really took off when I started working after finishing gymnasium (high school).

I’ve moved a lot the past three years and had many different doctors, but they downplayed my problems – maybe because of my young age. In 2011 my doctor and I agreed (I thought) to get me a scan, but nothing happened, and suddenly my depression came which almost paralyzed me.

The girl who is not there

At that time I had been a student of linguistics at Lund University in Sweden for about three months. I lived at my boyfriend’s temporarily, and although I was in good spirits from the start, I had to throw in the towel. I really tried to get out of bed, but no matter what I did, I met some kind of problem. I couldn’t find any flat of my own, no job and I had no income because of some problems at SU – and of course, it was a new country, new language.

Despite this, I managed to read a lot of my homework and one day when we were about to have some group work I wrote a text message to a girl in the class, I had been talking to. I thought it was the most natural thing that we were going to be a group, but she had already found someone else. Right then and there, it was clear to me that I was quite alone and of course she didn’t wait for or wanted to group with someone who’s never there.

I have a hard time concentrating, and I have to read the sentences slowly again and again.

I moved back to Denmark and got a job where they showed understanding for my condition. A half year later, in 2012 I then tried teacher training, but after a half year I also quitted that and got a job.

No more social life

In 2013 I felt ready to try again and became a student of linguistics at the University of Copenhagen, and I’ve been there since. It still felt right after the first half year, and I’m doing really great despite the fact that it’s still very hard for me to get off to school. The 30 pages we’re supposed to read to every class, often seem impossible to me and I feel a clear difference between me and my fellow students at that point. If we are to make a presentation besides the reading, I can’t handle it.

Now I really feel the side effects of a depression, because I have a hard time concentrating, and I have to read the sentences slowly again and again. Moreover I have back problems which make my legs hurt when I’m sitting, and it doesn’t help lying or standing, because I also have problems with knees and feet which I can’t get any help for either. It’s especially tough to sit on hard wooden chairs in class for three or four hours. It’s not possible to change position to lying or standing – at least not without people staring, I guess.

My social life has really suffered from the depression and it’s almost not existing anymore. I don’t have the energy although I would like to hang out, and I think a lot of people don’t understand it. When they have heard a ‘no’ enough times, they just stop asking you and there’s loneliness for you.

You ‘have no disability’

In 2014 I finally got a doctor who sent to me off to scan, and it showed two slipped discs pressing the nerves to my legs. I was relieved that the 15 years of back pain suddenly made sense, but angry about all the doctors who didn’t care about my pain. Now I have an insurance claim and a complaint at something called Patientombuddet, and it’s unbelievably stressful. They keep telling me that my case is too old, and it’s so frustrating when it’s not my fault, but the doctors’ fault.

A friend of mine suggested applying for a disability allowance from SU to help me finance all the treatments and different aids. But that seemed to be more difficult than I thought, because if you work five-six hours a week you are not, as a starting point, allowed to get the financial help. As if it makes you healthy if you’re able to work six hours. I’m lucky I have a part-time job that works perfectly with my study, but it’s really not that much it pays when I’m only able to work about six hours a week. A healthy young student probably works 15 hours a week and full-time in holidays. In holidays I can work maximum 12 hours before I get stress symptoms like dizziness, nausea and shortness of breath.

“When I hear about reforms, any reforms, I’m always scared that it will effect me in a way that prevents me from showing what I’m capable of.”

Despite of this, I got a rejection on my application for disability allowance, and their argument is that I’m able to work the six hours. What puzzles me is that the allowance is over DKK 8,000 every month, and my pay gives me about DKK 1,500 DKK when I’ve paid taxes.

Don’t mention the reforms

Chronic pain makes you both physically and mentally tired, and with an insurance claim too, it makes it so hard to focus on the study. I feel powerless when it’s so difficult and stressful to ask for help and not be sure to get any at all.

Society, and government with its reforms and paragraphs, believes that young people aren’t sick. Only old people are. It’s hard for anyone to get sick. But there’s an extra difficulty for young people, because it is now that we’re supposed to be taking our education as a foundation for future life.

When I hear about reforms, any reforms, I’m always scared that it will effect me in a way that prevents me from showing what I’m capable of and getting my degree.

Just unlucky

I don’t always show up to class, but I’m a good student and this summer I got an ‘A’. That makes me proud. But it’s not fair that I have to struggle so much to get help when I really just want to be focusing on my study like everyone else.

You don’t choose to be sick, you’re just unlucky.

Do you have a good story? We would like to hear from you. In the meantime, like us on Facebook for features, guides and tips on upcoming events and follow us on Twitter for links to other Copenhagen academia news stories.