Teachers, Students and Chronic Illness prt 1

Since so many people with Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis are diagnosed at a young age, school usually becomes impacted one way or another. With severe Inflammatory Bowel Disease  (IBD) causing frequent hospitalizations and/or the need to be home, it can put a strain on a person’s social life. It is hard to maintain close relationships when you are so “in and out” of life. Add to that, if you are not comfortable sharing the details of your disease and/or your friends or romantic interests don’t understand, it can cause problems. Obviously, with frequent absences plus needing your mind to focus on health, it is not uncommon for a person’s grades to suffer. These things can cause a negative association with school, or cause someone to become so understandably frustrated they give up. And if you are young and cannot make it in school, don’t have many (or any) real friends, and feel the need to hide who you really are, chances are your confidence is not going to be soaring.

All of these things obviously impacts your relationship with your family as well. No one wants to disappoint the people they love or feel like a burden on them. But unfortunately, that kind of comes with the territory for a lot of people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease or any other chronic illness.

I just finished reading Sara Ringer of Inflamed and Untamed post about how it is not uncommon for someone with IBD to feel directionless. I have felt that way for a very, very long time. It has made me think about all that I have learned; specifically over the past four years or so. I never in a million years would have thought I would be at this point when I was younger and had dreams and goals I hoped to achieve. And even a few years ago, I never imagined I would be the way I am today. A lot of it is absolutely amazing actually, but then there are parts that I know would be drastically different had ulcerative colitis never come into my life.

I wanted to talk about what it was like for me in high school and college (real, honest feelings) but I also wanted to touch on some other topics in that genre. Such as: teacher/student relationships, both in high school and college. Even though I have been lucky to have many teachers who were kind and understood my situation as best they could, there are two teachers that really made a huge impact on me.

One was from high school, the other was from college. Only one thing really sticks out about my high school teacher in relationship to this topic, but there was a lot more to it with my professor. The fact that I was older helped foster better dialogue and communication.

Anyway, I vividly remember my high school teacher telling me at the beginning of an 80 minute period, that he needed to speak with me privately after class. To say I was nervous throughout the entire class was an understatement. I had no idea what he needed to speak with me about and being someone who is admittedly a “goody goody,” the thought of getting in trouble (thus disappointing my parents) was never something I wanted to deal with. I always wanted to make my mom and dad proud; not because they had ridiculous standards for me and I needed to live up to them. But rather, I felt/feel so indebted to them for all of their support that the thought of adding even more stress or negativity to their life was too much for me to mentally handle. The guilt was already so plentiful that I couldn’t layer on self imposed issues.

After class, I found out what my teacher needed to speak with me about. He wanted to let me know that the school had enforced a strict policy on the amount of absences allowed per semester and that I had gone over by a lot. He then said he was obligated to report me to the principal and quite often, if it happened the second semester, the student would automatically fail the class.

As I was listening to him, part of me was okay with what he was saying because I knew he was just doing his job and obviously my parents were well aware of the reason for my absences. But it was a pride thing. I not only loved going to his class but I did well too. And a F on my report card would severely lower my GPA. I already had to take regents (NY state exams) in the hospital which as you can imagine, greatly hindered my grade. I was already not doing nearly as well as I know I would have had I not been dealing with so much. But I just kept listening because I wanted the conversation to be over.

He ended it by telling me that he was not going to report me because his girlfriend suffered from ulcerative colitis so he understood that I was dealing with serious issues and not just bailing on his class. He also wanted me to know that if other teachers are reporting it then it won’t look good for him (special treatment leads to questions) so I should take whatever measures I could to make sure my other teachers were well aware of what I was dealing with. I even said to him that it was hard for me to talk about at which he immediately interjected and explained that he sincerely understood.

That was my last class of the day and I felt so relieved for a lot of reasons following that conversation. I felt like maybe, just maybe, there were other people in the world who had the capacity of understanding all of the physical and emotional pain I was dealing with. Also, that they were willing to make things easier for me by cutting me some slack because they knew I was a good kid who tried as hard as possible despite terrible circumstances. It made me think that there was a possibility that I would have a different perspective on things as I got older and the way I was feeling now towards my disease was just because I was a teenager.

It also made me feel happy that he told me someone he was dating (then I learned went on to marry and have a family with) had ulcerative colitis because he was a good person, good looking (it has been almost ten years since he was my teacher so I could say it. Man I am old!), and had a great personality yet was with someone who had the same disease I did… and all that came along with it. It wasn’t like he needed to settle in anyway… he was just someone who fell in love with a woman who happened to have a chronic illness. And by marrying her, I venture to guess he vowed to love her in sickness and in health, be there for her and support her in anyway he could.

That conversation was something I am 99% positive this teacher forgot about but it was one that had a lot of meaning to me on many different levels.

I don’t want this post to drag on but I do have a lot more to say about this topic, including something my college professor wrote to show a teacher’s perspective.

There is also an overarching theme I want to hone in on but that will be for my next post. This was just a good beginning to a topic that impacts so many of us, yet has so many layers to it.

Stay tuned for part 2 and part 3 which will be coming very soon.

Next part of this post will go into more detail about my life in college and part 3 will be how it all ties together.


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  • sue

    Thank you for your post Marisa. I’m sorry you’ve had to go through so much at such a young age. My son was diagnosed with UC at age 15; he’s now 23 and in law school. I look forward to your next posts. Boys aren’t so great at sharing these things, so I’m sure they will help me understand more of what it’s like to deal with a chronic disease when such problems are typically the farthest thing from the minds of your peers. I hope you are doing well now and in the future.