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To the Chronically Ill Teenager Seeking 'Normalcy'

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The cold sensation of porcelain greets my lingering nausea. My Saturday mornings are quite similar to many teens and young, college-aged 20-somethings, minus the fond memories of the raging party from the night before. It is during these mornings that I occasionally wish my maladies were caused by an alcohol-induced stupor. These constant, lingering symptoms are not normal for people our age.

If you are like me, you have always been sick. From day one, your DNA held the predisposition to the testament that would be your life as soon as the faulty genes were set into motion. Things were bad when you initially became ill – or at least when symptoms first interfered with day-to-day living.

The beginning symptoms probably came on gradually, yet also so suddenly that you did not realize what was occurring until you were left mouth gaping, staring in utter disbelief at your own body’s betrayal.

Medical portions of your life quickly obscured the non-medical, but you found solace in work, school and active hobbies. You repressed your emotions, not allowing yourself the luxury of feeling scared. You knew you could not possibly remain ill forever. It would go away.

There was never time to think. The appointments were many, the testing intense. Syndrome-this. Disorder-that. The medical jargon compiled in your file started making sense. The doctor prescribed another medication, the next chance for a cure.

It was on another trip to the pharmacy between outings and errands when you reflected on why your old coworker blatantly ignored you after witnessing that bad flare. Symptoms were growing increasingly difficult to hide. You wondered if you were well enough to attend class that day or if school would end up like the job you had to quit. You were angry that your best friends stopped calling to hang out. They could not accept your illness interfering, like all of the other plans.

Later, you unexpectedly faced a decline in your condition. It was a deterioration so severe that your previous health problems seemed minuscule in comparison. The doctor added the last diagnosis to the list while you yearned for the state of health you had prior to your illness progressing. You regret the experiences postponed for “when I get better.” You would happily settle for your old, somewhat functional sick again.

Now, you let yourself go there. You are struggling to adjust to the dizzying world of pain when you only want an average life filled with the usual teenage clichés. You also know that as you approach mid-adulthood, you will want the normal life then too – a completed college degree, stable career, family and maybe children.

That intense need for that normalcy does not dissipate. Eventually though, you become skilled in navigating life with a chronic illness. You forgive past friends for their abandonment and appreciate those who stayed by your side. You find coping methods and a medication or two that make symptoms tolerable. You cherish fun opportunities whenever you can.

teenage girl lying in the grass and laughing

You are doubtlessly scared. And rightfully so. I was as well, and honestly, I still am. Life definitely loses the typical definition of normalcy once chronic illness moseys its way in. However, your feelings are totally normal. The normal in chronic illness is that there is hope in creating and accepting a new “normal” with even more purpose and potential than before.

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Originally published: April 20, 2017
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