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5 Lessons to Remember as a Chronically Ill Teenager

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A couple of months ago, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease. It has impacted my life both physically and socially. No teenager should have to go through this, but unfortunately these things happen. For me, it’s about learning to accept your illness and rocking it. These are some things I’ve learned in a short amount of time. They are already starting to shape the new version of me as I continue to grow.

1. Yes, you’re young, but your health does not define your future. Your future can already be uncertain, especially when high school is coming towards an end. Health needs to come first, but it’s not in charge of what you do for the rest of your life. I’m extremely fortunate that I’m still able to go to school and function enough to survive day to day activities. My future is still an exciting prospect with exciting opportunities, regardless of my health.

2. The people who are the most supportive might surprise you. Some of my friends who I thought would be completely understanding, were unfortunately not. I had some friends who I thought wouldn’t ever care about my illness, but they have been the some of the most supportive people through this process of being diagnosed and learning to live with an illness. The people that build you up and support you are worth sticking by. Keeping people around who believe in you is so important.

3. Some teachers will not understand, but others will be more than understanding. School can already be stressful, and when teachers don’t fully recognize your illness, it can make school more difficult. I’ve been lucky to have some teachers who have taken my illness into account, and have been very respectful when discussing homework capabilities and reasons for why I haven’t been attending school. Communication with teachers and staff is so important, as it can help you when it comes to managing school.

4. You’ll have to give away some hobbies, but you’ll find new ones. Just before I was diagnosed, I had taken up a new dance class. Now I’m unable to attend, or go back to playing my favourite sport, field hockey, as my health won’t allow it. It’s horrible knowing I don’t have the energy to do some of the things I love. However, it’s opened up doors to new and old hobbies I have neglected, like playing the guitar and ukulele which I love both dearly.

5. Your symptoms aren’t you being “dramatic” or “lazy” compared to other teenagers. My illness results in me being extremely fatigued and bloated, and I often avoid leaving my house if I don’t have to, so I’m not using up my energy. Unfortunately, people can sometimes think I’m being dramatic if I say I can’t leave my bed that morning, or that I need a nap during my first class for the day. Your illness is valid, and your symptoms are valid. Don’t let others say otherwise, as you are the only one experiencing them.

Being a teenager is already difficult and tiring, and having a chronic illness can make it harder. But I promise you, it does not define you as a person, and it does not limit you as much as you may think.

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Originally published: October 20, 2016
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