Welcome, thanks for taking the time to read my story. My name is Bethany, and I'm nineteen-years old.
As I look up at the night sky, I always pick out one star that I make mine and that is the star that I wish upon. My wishes are so varied...I wish that I could somehow keep in contact with my friends from high school, I wish that I could remember what it was like to run, I wish that I could do all of the small things that you never appreciate until they are gone, but most of all, I wish that I could make a difference in the world.
Right now I am working on making that last wish come true by studying to be a special education teacher and working with young children with disabilities. The best times I have are those I spend with "my kids," because they accept me just the way that I am. They are wonderful! I believe that there is nothing better in life than to make a child smile.
Medical conditions have pretty much been a part of my life since I was born, so the transition from "healthy" to "sick" was more of a gradual change than a major transition. As an infant, I was what is called a "near-miss" SIDS baby. SIDS stands for "sudden infant death syndrome," and as you can see, I survived (thank God) but not without much emergency resuscitation. I would sometimes stop breathing when I slept, and nobody has ever figured out why. You can imagine how scary this was for my parents. Fortunately, I "grew out" of that medical problem!
What I did not grow out of were the constant difficulties that I had with my bladder. After a zillion tests, I learned that I had something called a neurogenic bladder, which means that it just does not respond the way it's supposed to when full of urine. And get this, at the age of eleven, I was also diagnosed with lupus, a strange condition in which the body attacks itself as if it were a bad germ. My mother has the same problem.
Though I grew up with these challenges, there were not many things I couldn't do. That is, until my senior year of high school, when I developed mononucleosis, and the virus that caused it, Epstein Barr, continued to hang around for a long time. My body just broke down under the weight of it all, and I missed almost three months of school, completely removed from my friends, the activities I loved, and the excitement I should have felt during my last year of high school.
Returning to school after a long time was very difficult because everyone else had all of these special memories of senior year that I didn't have, and sometimes it felt like they had forgotten about me. I was very lucky to have a great group of friends, though. They didn't treat me any differently because I was sick, and they did their best to get me out of the house whenever I felt able.
When you take steroids for a long time, one of the things that happens is that you gain weight. I learned to ignore the stares and comments about my appearance, but they still hurt. I did learn during this time that once people understand why someone is different they often are able to accept those differences better.
During this year of being sick, one of my wishes came true. While my teachers at school questioned whether or not I would be able to graduate, I had been busy making plans for the next year. And guess what? I not only graduated from high school, I graduated fourth in my class and received a full tuition scholarship to Vanderbilt University.
Unfortunately, my medical litany did not end in high school. Right before college, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia (a muscle pain disorder), chronic fatigue, Hashimoto's thyroiditis (an autoimmune disease where my body attacks my thyroid gland), sinus node tachycardia (my heart races without any reason that I can figure out), and neuropathy (a loss of sensation in my hands and feet).
All of these problems have made college life very difficult for me. I struggle to get my class work done, which leaves little time for a social life. I have not yet been on my first date, and sometimes I wonder if anyone will ever want to date someone with so many problems. But then I try to focus on today, right now, and the things I can control. I'm learning to be an advocate for myself and to speak up when I need to . . . not easy when you are painfully shy.
From the sounds of it, my medical problems seem to play a big part in my life, but that is actually far from the truth. They are a part of who I am, but I am so much more than a bunch of diagnoses. I still try to do all of the things that I enjoy, like listening to music, writing, working with children, and collecting frogs (even though I am actually terrified of the real ones).
It is not easy growing up with a chronic illness. But as a result of all my experiences, I have learned who my real friends are. I have become even closer to my mom, my best friend of all. And I have come to the realization that though I wish there were cures for my problems, I know that regardless, I am OK, and that when I wish upon a star, many of my wishes can still come true.
Update: Hooray, just finished my second year at Vanderbilt! On the medical front, my heart condition has officially been diagnosed as POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome) which is related somehow to the Chronic fatigue syndrome. I've also acquired some new diagnoses involving an assortment of knee problems including arthritis and chondromalacia. Unfortunately, these require braces, PT and meds and may require surgery if the less invasive things don't work.
The new labels for my problems donï¿½t really change anything, I am still me no matter what diagnosis they place on it and my life continues on no matter what. It is more a comfort knowing that there is a name/names for what is going on and that someone believes me...there is nothing worse than doctors that refuse to listen or say it's all in my head. As far as I am concerned, the labels are just convenient ways for doctors to share information on medical conditions...I am not a lupus, a fibromyalgia, a POTS, an insulin resistance, an arthritis. I am a person with lupus, a person with fibromyalgia, a person with POTS, etc and they are only a small part of who I am. I wish people could see past their symptoms, the differences, and see all of the similarities between them and me. Perhaps I may never be able to run or jump, to be a perfect size 8, or to fit the image of "normal" but I am myself and right now that seems to me to be a pretty good person to be.