No matter what, everyone's teenage years are some of the hardest points in their lives. It's the delightful time of discovering who you are on top of the ever-present hormones that seemingly flow through your body like a tidal pool. And, with the constant presence of social media and the unspoken pressure to live the best life to ultimately post about on your Instagram, there's no doubt that being a teenager in this day and age can be quite overwhelming -- especially when you try adding a chronic illness, such as cystic fibrosis, on top of it.
I was only halfway through my freshman year of high school when I became a hospital/homebound student and had to switch to a full-time, online school. Having attended regular school all my life, it was a difficult adjustment, and letting go -- and essentially mourning the “normal” high school experience my parents and I had always hoped I would have -- was hard.
The most difficult part, however, was maintaining friendships. Many of the friends I had made that first half of my freshman year seemed to have an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” mentality; once I left school, I stopped being included in things or invited to hang out with them.
Fortunately, I've been lucky to have a group of tight-knit friends who I have had since childhood and who understand me. They have remained my friends through essentially everything I have had to deal with since my diagnosis, which helped me feel significantly less isolated during this difficult time.
Still, it was hard when I would be sitting at home or in a hospital room and see all the social media posts of my friends living fun, normal lives.
On the bright side, however, leaving school meant that I was finally able to make my health my top priority, and I started to become a lot healthier. I was more rested, had the time to do breathing treatments multiple times a day, and wasn't exposed to nearly as many germs.
The most important thing, though, was that I could focus on eating more calories more times in a day and was finally able to gain weight. I went from being relatively underweight to finally having a normal body mass index
(BMI), which is something I never had in all of my years of fighting CF. I was no longer getting sick as often, had more energy, and even saw my lung function go up by 10 percent.
Despite these positive changes, however, my weight gain came with an additional, negative consequence I had not been anticipating.
At the age of 14, I went from being small and skinny to actually carrying weight. Although I am by no means “overweight,” it's a weird feeling to look in the mirror and see something significantly different than you have in the past, and my self-confidence dipped a lot.
After sacrificing a “normal” teenage experience to focus on my health, I never knew that the thing I had been working toward for literally all my life would make me self-conscious and cause anxiety. The sad thing was my doctors looked at me so proud and happy, yet I looked at myself with disappointment. I was blinded by the constant presence of models posting bikini pictures on Instagram, the expectations of “body goals,” and thinking that being skinny and fit was the only way to be happy.
I had never had to deal with body image issues before, so it was a hard thing for me to migrate to in my later teen years. I wrote about it, I talked to friends about it, and I talked to other people who have fluctuating weight issues. But, with time and gradual acceptance, I realized two simple yet important things:
- I look healthy and I feel healthy.
- I look healthy, I feel healthy, and I honestly couldn't be happier for myself.
My body isn't perfect or skinny, and I do still look in the mirror sometimes and struggle with what I see. But, the bottom line is that I'm not in a hospital bed with a feeding tube in my stomach connected to a pole anymore, and I'm not that girl who goes into the hospital and immediately needs 5 liters of oxygen. I'm able to do normal things because of the extra energy that my body is able to produce, and all of this is accredited to my healthy weight gain.
It also helps to remember that the right friends are out there, and whether you find these people at the age of 3 or 30, the bond of actual understanding and empathy is one that can rarely be broken.
Dealing with normal teenage things is hard enough and cystic fibrosis can definitely add to the burden. The thing is, though, I'm happy I grew up as a teenager with CF. It has taught me so much about life, acceptance, gratitude, and bliss. And now, as I near my last year as I teenager, I can't help but feel pretty proud of myself and the person I've grown to be.