Comment & Analysis
Apr 9, 2024

Learning To Accept An Extension Without Guilt

"My mental health disrupting my capacity to engage in my college work is not a reflection on me or my recovery. It is just one of the components of my illness."

AnonymousContributing Writer

Oh, the infamous dissertation. The notorious assignment that attempts to encompass the knowledge gleaned across four years of an undergraduate degree and present it in a 12,000 word PDF. As soon as I knew what a dissertation was, I couldn’t wait until mine was completed. I envisaged that the moment I hit submit would be an occasion of pride and joy. I did not imagine that I would submit it with an extension. This might seem unimportant. And yet, bizarre and misplaced though it might sound, my brain found it harder to process the extension than it did any of the academic material within the dissertation itself.

Up until this point I had only received one extension throughout my degree. Even this was begrudgingly. It was when I had COVID and was unable to stay awake for long enough to type a paragraph, never mind write my entire 2,500 word essay. Whilst my overachieving and perfectionist nature disliked requiring an extension, I could accept it on the grounds of my physical health making it impossible to complete my assignment. However, this time it was my mental health and not my physical health that necessitated the extension. Instead of being grateful for the extra time, I was overwhelmed with guilt.

I didn’t feel like I quite deserved it. After all, I haven’t been locked up in the library 24 hours a day since September – surely if I had prioritised better I would have achieved it? Surely if I had just managed my time better I would have managed without an extension? But it’s not just my time that I have had to manage. It has also been my mind.


Accepting accommodations

Throughout the entire four years of my undergraduate degree, I have had an eating disorder. It has been something that has ebbed and flowed in severity but it has remained as much a part of my college experience as my actual lectures. Despite this, I have been fortunate that until this year, my mental health did not impact upon my ability to meet my deadlines. I have experienced varying levels of difficulty throughout my degree but at no stage have I ever allowed it to spill over into affecting my academic capacity. But that’s the thing. It is not about ‘allowing’ it to spill over. It either does or it doesn’t. I can manage my circumstances to the best of my ability but I cannot control them. And as someone with a restrictive eating disorder, any attempt to control tends to do more harm than good!

My mental health disrupting my capacity to engage in my college work is not a reflection on me or my recovery. It is just one of the components of my illness. The guilt I felt for requesting and being granted an extension was mammoth. I felt like I was being provided an unfair advantage over my peers who were submitting on time. But then again, in no other circumstances would I refer to my eating disorder as an advantage. For some reason, I felt the need to justify the extension.

Justification is not required

My eating disorder is a fundamental part of my life, but it is also a part that I conceal. It is the loudest voice in my head, but the quietest whisper in public. This is deliberate but it has also meant that people outside of my close friends are surprised to hear I have been granted an extension. The automatic question has therefore been “oh really, why?”. I can appreciate the instinctive curiosity but admitting the grounds upon which my extension was granted would necessitate divulging the details of my mental health. As the anonymous byline might suggest, that’s not a prospect that enthuses me. But that reluctance to explain is the key point of this piece. 

This article could have both commenced and concluded within the opening clause “I got an extension” and that would have been sufficient. There is no requirement for a detailed explanation to justify it. Extensions are both required and granted for a myriad of reasons. My extension is neither more nor less valid than anyone else’s. It is simply a fact, I required an extension and I was granted one. I have since submitted my dissertation (hurray!) and moved on.

An extension is not an unfair advantage

Extensions are not there to provide advantages. They exist to prevent disadvantages. Every student has individual factors that affect their ability to engage in college and our experiences outside of our lecture halls are diverse. Whether it be mental or physical health, work or family commitments, or simply any other aspect of life, we all have differing requirements and capacities. It is impossible for the constraints of deadlines or grading systems to take all of these into account, and so extensions are simply one method of attempting to even the playing field. As we head into exam season and final assignments loom closer, perhaps this article can serve as a reminder. Extensions and accommodations are available, and while reaching out for one might be daunting, it might also be the exact support you need.

The actual content contained within my dissertation is not material I am overly proud of. However, I am proud that I submitted it and I am even prouder that I reached out and accepted the extension. 

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