Today, I’m thrilled to have a guest blogger, Olivia Cyr. She is seventeen and lives with a few chronic conditions including dysautonomia, OCD, and anxiety. Olivia has been featured on The Mighty, and her perspective as a teenager dealing with these issues is important.
Being a teenager is hard. I don’t think that many would dispute that fact. Between boy/girl drama, friendship struggles, school, teachers, homework, a job for some, and more, teens often don’t get the credit they deserve for juggling all they have.
I wish that I got to juggle the ordinary struggles of teenage life. It would be a dream come true to have drama with friends instead of bickering with doctors and insurance companies. The job of being a bagger at Walmart instead of a professional patient sounds like my dream career compared to the one I currently have.
I often get told, “Oh, you’re too young to have [insert any of my medical conditions here].” As if I was asked for ID before disability was allowed to take over my body.
Doctors, and people in general, often don’t understand the devastating effects disability can have when developed in adolescence. There is no book on how to cope when your body begins to fail, and, instead of learning how to drive, you are left memorizing the long list of doctors you see, drugs you take, and which of your veins are ideal for IVs.
There is so much grief that is missed by adults looking at teens with chronic illness. I didn’t get to dance at my first school dance. Forget dance, I wasn’t even able to walk without a walker. I can’t be in many clubs because I am out for two weeks out of every month, getting IVIG pumped into my veins to try to stop my body from killing all of my nerves. The absences make it impossible for me to take the higher level classes in school that I am capable of and long to take.
As I go throughout high school, it seems the list of things I miss out on continues to grow at a heart-wrenchingly fast rate.
I have more doctors than I do friends, and more appointments than I have times that I see those I enjoy spending it with. My teachers become my companions in school because it is so obvious that I am unlike my classmates, and very few want to be friends with “the sick girl.”
The question of what we want to do with our lives is torturous for many teenagers who are chronically ill, especially those who have progressive conditions. I, for one, don’t know how to respond to that question when everything about my health in my future is so uncertain. I have no idea of what my body will be able to do tomorrow, let alone in two to three years. It is physically painful to look around at my classmates who are able to work, go to class, and engage in extra-curricular activities while I sit in my house tethered to an IV pole.
Those with chronic illnesses often learn hard lessons well before our time. We learn of the greed and corruption of the medical world and how untrustworthy some doctors can be. We develop medical trauma from complications and mistakes the ignorance of doctors makes us suffer.
I might not know how to find the length of a radius in a circle, but I can flush a PICC line, take out my own catheter, take out my own IV, and give myself an epi-pen. Who won the Battle of Bunker Hill may not be able to be recalled in my mind, but I know my complete medical history, drugs I have tried, am allergic to, am currently trialing, and all of their dosages. While not knowing the answer for a question on a test can cause me to fail, not knowing the above information in a medical emergency can have much more serious consequences.
I’ve had people ask me before if I would change the life I have in order to be an ordinary teenager. This is one other question I don’t know how to answer. I am proud of the strong person my illnesses have forced me to become, and I don’t know who I would be without them.
Because of them, I have learned empathy, compassion, patience, and how to advocate for myself and for others. While uncomfortable sometimes, I don’t regret the harsh lessons my health conditions have forced me to learn. I believe I am a more resilient person because of them and while I still grieve for what I have lost and may never have, I believe I would grieve more if I never discovered who I truly am and the strength I possess.
I have learned that there is beauty in brokenness, and how to accept help from others. I don’t think I would have risen into the woman I am today if I had not first fallen and cracked.
Chronic illness is hard and has stolen so much from me and other teenagers. I would not wish it on my worst enemy. However, through it, I have discovered who I truly am, and strength that I never would have imagined I possessed, something I believe everyone should discover.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons