The Social Implicatons of Leaving School Because of an Illness
Being 16 years old and sick is something that could not be described as anything other than, well, odd. I’ve spent the past year and a half unable to attend school regularly, which obviously put quite a dent in my education, but I was able to work through it thanks to a very cooperative school, some amazing teachers, and many tear-filled nights.
However, something you almost never hear anyone talk about is the social implications of leaving school for such a long period of time. The primary focus is almost always on the educational side of things. It’s never, “No, really, how are you doing? You haven’t seen a human other than your mother in almost three weeks.” Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom, but it can be difficult seeing everyone’s Instagram pictures where they’re out almost every weekend it seems, having the time of their life.
At the time, it led me down a concerning path. I had started to turn from the bright, positive person I had always been into a cynical one who was genuinely angry at the world for taking my mobility away from me. I was in high school. I was not supposed to be limited to one “outing” every other day, on a good week, which most often consisted of running an errand with my mom that didn’t involve me needing to get out of the car.
I had tried on multiple occasions to attend school regularly, but they would almost always end in me fainting, often in public places, about three to five times per week, severe joint pain, costochondritis episodes, ER visits for severely low vitals, etc. You get the gist. I continuously tried to push myself to the point of being “normal,” which would make everything worse. I would make myself walk when I knew I needed to use my wheelchair, simply because I couldn’t stand the thought of people “looking at me” in the hallways, even though I now realize they weren’t judging me at all. I would force myself to go to school and sit through classes on days when I knew I would end up passing out, because I was worried that the teacher or another student would think I was just exaggerating my symptoms by not attending school that day. I now know this was not true at all, and that this was purely anxiety telling me lies.
In addition to all of the anxiety that accompanied being sick, I felt as if I had missed out on literally everything that made being a teenager worth it, which led to a vicious cycle of forcing myself to try to attend social events, then paying for it for days, or even weeks after. Part of me was also terrified that if I did go to those events, people would think I was somehow miraculously better, and become angry when I got sick again and couldn’t do things at school. For example, I tried to go to prom, and ended up fainting on the tile in my bathroom, and got a concussion. I couldn’t go to school for about a week after that. I felt unimaginably guilty.
It felt as if the world was moving on without me, and I couldn’t do anything about it, because I was stuck in my bed the majority of the time.
Thanks to a combination of treatment, various medications, and a certain steroid that I love very dearly, I am now able to go to back to school. I am feeling better than I have years, and my vitals are stable a decent amount of the time. I’m still waiting on certain surgeries, and I’m nowhere near where I need to be, but it’s an amazing feeling to be able to leave my house most days and attend school, and have a few hobbies that I enjoy. I’ve fainted a few times, especially the first week of school when I was still learning my limits with the medications, and developed a nasty bout of heatstroke (thanks, dysautonomia!), and I still feel shaky most days, but I can certainly say it’s lovely to be back in the swing of normalcy.
If I could say one thing to every teenager facing chronic illness, it would have to be that no, you’re never alone. It might feel as if no healthy person understands, and that might be true. The important thing to remember is that the people in your life who are truly worth it will try their hardest to understand and make life easier for you. I promise you, though, no matter what, they are there. Even if they are few and far between, they will genuinely do anything for you. You just have to look for them. This may require you to weed out some toxic people in your life, but remember, this is more than OK. Your true friends will make an effort to see you even if you can no longer make an effort to see them.
When you take time off or ask for accommodations due to your health, it doesn’t mean you’re weak. In fact, it conveys a much more powerful meaning. It means that you are strong enough to work with, as opposed to against, your disease. If this means you can’t do the things you used to do, or that you can’t attend the social events you used to attend, it does not mean that you are not the person you used to be.
You’re still a fighter, and you will always be.