4 Things Being a Chronically Ill Teenager Has Taught Me
Fourteen. When you think back on your teenage years, 14 is supposed to be a time of self-discovery and mostly exciting new things. You probably don’t imagine it’ll be the year your life changes forever.
For me, 14 was when I went from an active, happy, straight-A student to a version of myself I could never recognize. Everything changed almost instantly. I couldn’t focus on my homework. I couldn’t stand being outside in the heat (not good when you live in Florida). I was always in pain. I knew in my gut there was something wrong with me. I had no idea what it would turn into. I told my mom I always felt sick and I needed to go the doctor. Little did I know this would start a four-year process that’s still ongoing. After years of endless doctors’ appointments, painful tests, tears and lots of frustration, I learned I have fibromyalgia/central sensitization syndrome, as well as a form of autonomic dysfunction called postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS).
Fast-forward to sophomore year of high school. I struggled daily to get up and go to school. Some days I’d black out trying to get ready, then go and suffer through the day and even push through three-hour marching band practices because I refused to give up on my music. Then other days, I never even made it out of bed. I spent so much time being angry at the world and disappointed in myself, sometimes questioning if the doctors who dismissed me were right.
It was so hard to be in high school watching everybody around me thrive and enjoy what some say are the best years of your life, while I was spending all of my time in bed or at the doctor. I spent so much time feeling bitter and questioning why it had to happen to me. I was in an emotionally agonizing state, and one day I realized I was only hurting myself more. I’ll be honest, it took four years and a lot of time evaluating myself and my life to come to this point, but here are just a few important things that being a chronically ill teenager taught me.
1. It taught me to be patient: patient with the people in my life supporting me (love you, Mom), patient with the strangers who don’t understand, and more importantly, patient with myself. I spent so much time getting angry and impatient with my body and my limitations, and then I realized I was my own harshest critic. Part of being ill is accepting the reality of the challenges you face and the things you can and can’t do. Say it out loud: “It’s OK to not do everything.”
2. It taught me to be wise beyond my years. While everybody around me was focusing on prom, the “it” couples of our school and the small stuff, I was looking ahead at my future. Having to be more responsible for my body and my health made high school drama completely unimportant. It gave me a perspective that took many years for some other people my age to get.
3. It taught me I was extremely resilient. By definition, resilient means “able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching or being compressed; able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.” This really hits home for me. When you think of yourself as sick, it can be easy to see yourself as weak, when in reality it takes an immense amount of strength to handle the things you face with chronic illnesses. You may never know what your illness is going to throw at you next, but each time you get up and you bounce back.
4. It taught me not to be so hard on myself. It was such a freeing feeling to look back and realize that even though there may be areas where I feel I fall short, I get up every day and I fight my illnesses with everything I have, and that is something to be proud of. You have a choice to make — you can either stop fighting and accept that your life isn’t going to be what you want it to be and fall victim to your disease (I did this for a while at first), or you get up. You push yourself to the boundaries you set for yourself, and you fight every day and make sure to celebrate the victories more than you mourn the losses.
Teenage years are a time of growth, and while I still wish I was healthier, I’m choosing to be thankful because I learned things about myself and grew up to have an outlook and perspective on life I may never have gotten otherwise. Thanks to my illness, I’m compassionate, I’m a fighter and I’m able to appreciate things that may never have mattered much to me 10 years ago.
I believe every situation you face in life can have an upside. You just have to be patient and find it. It’s amazing how much better you’ll feel when you do.
The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
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MORE ABOUT FIBROMYALGIA:
Fibromyalgia, a chronic illness with three main symptoms — widespread pain, chronic fatigue and cognitive trouble. Fibromyalgia is a complicated illness that’s not well understood. In the past, it was mischaracterized as a mental health disorder. Even today, some doctors wave off fibro symptoms as being “all in your head.” This isn’t the case. Read The Mighty’s comprehensive guide to fibromyalgia here. Click here to join our fibro community and connect with people who get it.