Managing My Mental Health as a Teen With CF

Spending so much of my childhood in and out of the hospital and doing CF treatments was already enough to deal with, so it felt easier to keep my mental health challenges hidden. However, speaking up about my feelings helped me learn that caring for my mental health is as important as taking care of my physical health. 

| 4 min read
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Nabilah Hassan
A scenic photo of the sun shining through the woods

I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis a few hours after I was born. The earliest memory I have is being on a hospital bed with a PICC line in my arm as a kid. I spent my whole childhood in and out of hospitals, to the point where I began calling it my second home. I missed a lot of school and had to take extra online and in-person classes just to keep up. However, at the time, I didn’t think much of it. It was “just the norm” after all. But as time passed, I couldn’t keep a genuine smile on my face anymore. Seeing doctor after doctor, taking meds after meds — I was sick of it.

I started to skip my treatments because I didn’t see the point of doing them anymore. My doctors made me start doing my treatments at school to make sure I’d actually do them. I used to go to the hospital so much I even got a meta port on the right side of my chest, which needed to be flushed every month — sometimes during school as well. I always acted positive and joyful, especially to the nurses I had to see constantly. My friends would always say I always had a smile on my face. But under all that, I was hiding something much deeper.

At doctors’ appointments, they always had me fill out a mental health screening test and I always selected the answers that indicated nothing was wrong. I already have cystic fibrosis and asthma, I can’t have anything else on my plate — that was what I told myself anyways.

Years went by as I kept those sad feelings buried deep inside myself until finally I had enough. I finally filled out the survey the way I should’ve from the beginning. My social worker (part of my CF team) asked me how I was feeling, but I didn’t have an answer. How was I feeling? Such a simple question, but nothing came to mind, not even the default, “I’m good, how are you?” But she didn’t judge me or anything. She had the most caring expression, one I will never forget.

My social worker recommended a 10-week CF program for adolescents that teaches coping skills, and I would even be paid for participating. So, I tried it out — why not? I thought it would be a boring experience, but I actually really enjoyed it! I still use the “tools in my toolbox” I learned from that program. My social worker took time out of her day just to talk to me, and it really felt nice to be heard. 

When the 10 weeks came to an end, she recommended I get a therapist, and that was scary to think about. I never thought I would need a therapist, ever. But I gave it a shot, and I’m glad I did.

I got diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Although it was sad to hear, I was also relieved to know I’m not the only person to feel this way. My therapist was — and continues to be — so supportive of everything I go through. My therapist and my social worker both helped me out a lot while I was in a rough place.

I’ve learned a lot throughout my journey as a person with cystic fibrosis. However, there’s one thing that really has stuck with me. Sure, having CF is a battle to stay physically healthy, but mental health is definitely a part of it, too. Pushing the mental aspects away can only lead to more issues. Taking time out of your day — whether you have CF or not — to just ask yourself how you’re doing is often more than enough. 

Interested in sharing your story? The CF Community Blog wants to hear from you.

This site contains general information about cystic fibrosis, as well as personal insight from the CF community. Opinions and experiences shared by members of our community, including but not limited to people with CF and their families, belong solely to the blog post author and do not represent those of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, unless explicitly stated. In addition, the site is not intended as a substitute for treatment advice from a medical professional. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your treatment.

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Nabilah Hassan was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis shortly after she was born. She is a high school student and takes part in activities, such as Sources of Strength and UNICEF, to help people not only in school, but around the world. Nabilah was born in Indiana and currently lives in Buffalo, N.Y. with her lovable cat, Mimi. Have a chat with her on Instagram.

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