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5 Lessons From Completing High School With a Chronic Illness

The pain became a problem the summer before ninth grade. It was widespread and debilitating. I could barely make it to school until the second semester of 10th grade. I’m not sure that at age 13 I would’ve been able to picture myself graduating high school. Despite all this, I adjusted, and I’m now going into my first year of university. I learned a lot throughout those four years, including these lessons that helped me make it to where I am now:

1. Understand your priorities and use your energy accordingly.

I had to re-evaluate a lot of the things I was putting my energy towards. As I began to adjust to how my life had changed, I stopped investing my energy in the things that were less important to me. One aspect of chronic illness I actually appreciate is how it taught me that worrying about things I can’t control was not worth what I had to put towards it. This has had a significant impact on my emotional well-being.

2. It’s OK to say no.

I’ll admit, this is something I’m still working on. In the same vein as prioritizing your energy, there will be things you can’t or shouldn’t do. There can often be pressure to push yourself as hard as you can, but just because you’re physically able to do something, doesn’t mean you should. If something you’re being asked to do could be mentally or physically harmful, speak up about it.

3. Sometimes you can’t focus on the big picture.

Throughout high school, there is a huge emphasis on what comes next. Whether it’s where you want to go to college or what you want to pursue as a career, it’s always about the future. But when things are bad, it’s not always possible to focus on something that far away. Sometimes the best you can do is focus on making it through the day, or the week, or until your next doctor’s appointment. Regardless of the expectations of those around you, it’s OK if your planning is more short-term.

4. Most teachers want to see you succeed.

There will be unsupportive people, but the majority of teachers I have encountered want to see you succeed. If you communicate and advocate for your needs there will be good people who want to help. This can feel vulnerable and scary, but it can really pay off. I began to do way better in school when I started communicating about my health to my teachers. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, you can communicate certain amounts depending on your comfort level. It could just be when you have an appointment you’re missing class for, or it could be that you’re having a bad pain day. If you have an adult at your school you feel comfortable sharing this stuff with, they will probably want to support you.

5. It’s OK to grieve for what you’ve lost.

Chronic illness of any form is often hard. It’s unpredictable and life-changing and it can take so many things away from you. It’s normal to feel upset by this, and the only way to move past that is to allow yourself to feel those emotions. It’s OK to grieve. Give yourself some time to mourn. Journal about it or vent to someone you trust. It’s important to acknowledge the feelings so you can move past them without letting them control you. Give yourself time, and then pull yourself out. Despite all that has been taken away, there are still wonderful things to come.

Getty image by Nirat.