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This blog post has been one that I’ve been struggling with posting. I’ve been very real and open in my blog posts and I hope that that comes across. My goal is to really fully communicate every part of my experience, and to show every pretty and every ugly part of dealing with chronic illnesses. This post is just a little more personal. I’ve talked about how I got diagnosed, how people around me dealt with it, and vaguely alluded to me having a hard time dealing with it, and now I’m going to dig into that a little further.
I believe that mental health and chronic illnesses are two of the most underrated things; both falling under the “invisible illness” category, people tend to stay away from them or not talk about them as much. These two things practically rule my world, they’ve both limited me in different ways, and I’m working to improve both. I think it’s only fair since I’ve talked about all of my physical limitations to talk about how my mental health has impacted me.
I’ve always been a very driven and very motivated person. I put lots of pressure on myself and had high expectations for myself, and mostly, I met them. I expected perfection in every area; academically, as a friend, as a daughter, in extra curriculars, in the way I dressed and presented myself, you name it, I was trying very hard to be perfect at it. A lot of students grow up with pressure from their parents, but this has not been the case in my family. I have loving, supportive parents who haven’t ever cared about my grades as long as I was putting everything I could into everything I did. All the pressure was from within myself. It’s what kept me going in school, what kept me trying to improve and what kept me competitive.
This pressure, without being limited, started to cause problems when I got to high school, when I go to much harder and much more intimidating classes. I wasn’t getting the 100s I was used to with ease anymore. I was constantly stressed out in my tougher classes, but still forcing myself to take them because I thought that people around me would be disappointed or change how they viewed me. I didn’t want to be a quitter, I didn’t want people to think I couldn’t handle the challenge, so I just pushed through. For a long time it kept me from diving into the subjects that I love: theatre, photography and sign language. I felt so passionate for those things but felt an immense pressure to keep my class levels high. I started feeling overwhelmed. I didn’t know how to change my habits, and so I did nothing. I was constantly talking down to myself about my grades. I started believing that I wasn’t good enough to get 100s anymore, that I wasn’t smart enough to balance everything I had going on. I was stuck in a battle against myself.
I really believe that I would be in even worse shape if I had not started showing all of the physical symptoms that I did. I have definitely gone through a lot of mental health problems BECAUSE of my physical illnesses, but I think that it has opened more doors for me than closed. It got to the point where I was being physically stopped from keeping up with my classes. Hard to do Algebra when you’re shaking in pain, hard to go to school when your body keeps you up all night, hard to pay attention when you feel like you’re going to pass out. My body was screaming at me to take a break. I thought I had compromised enough going into my junior year that it would allow me to have the challenge without causing too much damage. I signed up for two AP classes, English and Physics. This was tough for me, I had friends that were in four, five, even six AP classes for junior year. I beat myself up about my course load, I was continuing to put the same amount of pressure to be academically perfect as I did before I was diagnosed. I was just as smart as them, why couldn’t I handle those classes? Why couldn’t I balance everything just right to keep up with all of my passions as well as the difficult classes, family, friends, health, and things around the house? The answer was one that I really didn’t like: because I’m not Superwoman.
After being forced to stay in bed and deal with my feelings, I was able to slowly come to terms with my new reality. Social media became a great place for me to find other people like me, other people with the same frustrated feelings, other people with the same physical pain. With every update I saw how other Spoonies had to quit school because of their illnesses, how they had to adjust their school or work schedule, how they felt stuck because of their illnesses. I related to every one of these feelings, even if I wasn’t going through the exact same thing. I learned from them that I had to do what I needed to do to take care of myself before I wound up in the hospital just because I’m stubborn. I learned that everyone can handle different things, because everyone is going through something different. The comparison between my classmates and myself just wasn’t fair. I’m grateful for the people I’ve connected with on social media, I’m grateful for people who showed me that I need to put my health first, and that I needed to forgive myself for not being able to do everything I used to.
In February this year, I worked with my counselor and Assistant Principal and dropped my AP Physics class, as well as pulled out of the UIL play (competition play) the theatre department was putting on. I used this time to rest and take care of myself. And the world didn’t end. I felt stronger at school, more confident in my grades, and overall physically and mentally better. I start my senior year next Monday, the 28th, and I’m signed up for just one AP class. I’m signed up for classes that I will enjoy, that will help me learn about the subjects I’m passionate about, and classes that will allow me time to take care of myself. I still very much struggle with having unreasonable expectations that I can’t hit, but it something I’m working on. I’ve learned to put things in perspective and learned how to take care of myself.
Mental health (or lack thereof) has had a huge impact on my life, as well as so many other kids, teenagers, and adults. I encourage you to be a friend. To make it known that you are there for others; having someone to talk to could be more important than you know. I also hope to encourage you to talk about mental health, to treat it as just as important as physical health. It can be just as limiting, and just as harmful.
Thanks for reading!!
Staying strong, Spoonie Cutie