When I was 11 years old, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Although it was nice to receive an answer as to why my lips were swollen, it had been such a long, confusing journey to get to that point. One year felt like five. Not to mention that was all coupled with the worst year of bullying I had ever received.
I entered middle school with new school supplies and a diagnosis for an illness I would have for the rest of my life. I felt alone and isolated. All pre-teens and teenagers are self-conscious, but it was a whole different level for me. I didn’t understand what Crohn’s was and I was terrified of what people would think of me if they knew I had it.
So, I trucked through middle school holding my Crohn’s as a secret that couldn’t be told, just like Hannah Montana. I went to school during the day and went to the doctor after. I pretended I ate healthy because that was just my normal diet. I developed social anxiety hiding myself from people.
Life didn’t get better in high school. Although my classmates were a lot nicer and generally had a more balanced diet, I couldn’t bring myself to be open about my Crohn’s. I was still deeply ashamed of it. Then came my first big flare and I felt even worse. I was absolutely miserable physically and mentally. It was as if I was losing control of my body. I was scared, and depression took over my mind.
Being a kid these days can be hard. Sure, they don’t have to worry about having a job and paying off student loans, but there is so much pressure to fit a mold that doesn’t actually exist. Social media doesn’t help, either, which more and more kids have with the popularity of smartphones.
School, especially middle school, can be brutal. Kids can be mean if you’re even a tiny bit “different.” Judgment is high, and no one gives you a break. Everyone wants to fit in, which is impossible. What’s “cool” is always changing. It’s very easy to be teased for something that shouldn’t be made fun of in the first place.
That’s what made my first three years of having Crohn’s so difficult. Everyone’s changing mentally and physically. There is so much pressure to “fit in” and everyone responds to that in different ways. Some people are nice, and others are just downright mean. Kids in middle school can also be incredibly judgmental.
I just wanted to be “normal.” To not have to go to a million doctor appointments. To be able to eat cold cut sandwiches and chips. To not be self-conscious about going to the bathroom.
But, I had to add the pressures of having a chronic illness into the mix. Kids already have all that stress — now imagine having to deal with something you don’t completely understand yourself. It shouldn’t happen. No one should bear the weight of chronic illness, especially kids.
But, it happens. Chronic illnesses don’t care about your age. Your body can malfunction at any time. It just happened to me before I reached puberty. I just hope all kids with chronic illnesses know they are warriors and they deserve to live a full, happy life just as much as everyone else.
Originally published at https://themighty.com.