To the Lady at the School Front Desk Who 'Saw' My Chronic Illness


To the lady at the front desk,

In general, walking can be a struggle for someone with a chronic illness like postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). Walking into the airport to get on a plane to get to a hospital hundreds of miles away for a doctor’s appointment I had been waiting months for was exhausting. Walking into that appointment to find out I had POTS, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and fibromyalgia was heartbreaking. Walking to my bed and staying there for days became my “normal,” and every aspect of the life I knew before my diagnosis seemed to change drastically.

Something so simple as putting one foot in front of the other seemed like climbing a mountain. This was my freshman year of high school, and being able to attend a full day’s work load did not seem like an option. I refused to be homebound, because as hard as walking was, I wanted to walk across the stage at graduation with my class, so I decided to take on the challenge of being a full-time student with a 504 plan (a disability plan for students to have accommodations at school). My principals, teachers and other administrators had to be present at the 504 meeting with my mom to discuss all the accommodations and the severity of my condition. At the time, I was very insecure about sharing that I was chronically ill, and will be for the rest of my life, so having every teacher and administrator know was embarrassing.

It seemed to be hard for people to look at a tall, blue-eyed, healthy-looking teenager and believe that it took me two hours just to make it from my bed to the bathroom that morning. I was a frustrating case for some teachers because my symptoms can oftentimes come off as laziness. But there was one person who understood, and that was the lady working the front desk at the school, Mrs. Hennesy.

Walking into the school, three hours late, Mrs. Hennesy made the walk easier. I was not dreading the walk into the office to explain my tardiness, she could see how I felt by looking in my eyes. I was not having to constantly defend how awful I felt that day just so they could put down an excused absence with an unconvinced look on their faces. Instead, she noticed the particularly hard days and applauded me for even making it to a class, or she noticed the better days, like when I put on a real outfit or did my makeup and was just as excited as I was that I felt like a “normal” kid.

She stood up for me when people questioned if my disease was even real. She made me feel like I could actually be an honor student, an athlete and remain a full-time student for the next four years. For the first time, Mrs. Hennesy made me feel like I was a regular kid and not a disease. That normalcy that Mrs. Hennesy gave me has followed me all the way to where I am today: a senior, with a chronic illness, who is going to walk across that stage in 21 days to receive my diploma along with the rest of my class. Thank you, Mrs. Hennesy.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share with us an unexpected moment with an educator, parent or student during your (or your loved one’s) school year. 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.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Related to Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome

When I Feel Like I Don't 'Do Enough' as a University Student With Chronic Illness

I am sitting in a meeting for a club at my university — a new club that I have just decided to try. I do what every university student does and buy into the line that teachers always tell you: “It will look good on your resume.” Does it look good on the resume? Who [...]

What I Didn't Know About Invisible Illness Until My Daughter Became Ill

I didn’t know what invisible illness was: a condition that consumed our lives and shaped our path that no one else could see.  I didn’t truly know what an invisible illness was until my daughter Molly couldn’t stand, couldn’t go to school and was suffering silently, alone, invisibly. When she musters the strength — knowing [...]

To the Girl at College Who Loudly Asked 'Why Are You On a Scooter?'

Dear Girl, First, I would like to apologize for being unable to address you by name. See, I don’t actually know your name. I feel a little better about this, because I assume you don’t know mine, either. We met only once during freshman orientation and have never had a real conversation. This practically non-existent [...]

When People Don't Believe an Illness They Can't See

I am 38 years old. I have been lower functioning or unwell since I was an infant. A week and a half ago I got my first formal, unequivocal diagnosis of a condition that makes a lot of sense to my symptoms and lower functioning — postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, and I may soon be [...]