Today’s post is dedicated to Sam who left this comment on one of my previous posts:
What would your advice be to someone my age (15),16 in February doing their last year of school with GCSE exams coming up? I’ve suffered with M.E/CFS for almost 7 years and this year has been my best. Although I am now starting to feel worse as the weather and season changes.
Thank you very much for commenting and asking this question. First of all I’m sorry to hear you are starting to feel worse as the weather and season changes, but this seems to be quite normal with this illness. I see this illness as having knocked all our biological systems out of balance, and big changes can make us even more unsteady. However by taking it easy and resting even more than usual for a while, we can give our body the chance to do its best to find balance again. A bit like a tightrope walker who will pause for a little while after a wobble, before taking the next step. Not only are you adjusting to the change in weather but also to a change in routine going back to school after the holidays. I’m sure that if you can take it easy and make sure you get a bit more rest than usual you will soon be back on the road to progress (my last post talks about season change in more detail).
GCSE year is a difficult time for all young people, but you have the added challenge of dealing with a difficult illness. You will probably have to approach it a little differently from some of your friends, which is bound to be annoying and frustrating at times. Not only do you have to think about your education and your social life but you also have to take great care over your health! Try to remember that learning to deal with this illness will teach you some very important skills that people without such challenges won’t get to learn.
The importance of exam year can put a lot of pressure on young people and pressure is very dangerous for making this illness worse. My first bit of advice is to avoid letting people put pressure on you and to avoid putting pressure on yourself. Do your best but without pushing yourself and don’t take things too seriously. At this stage, improving health will bring you a brighter future than if your health deteriorates because your push yourself too hard to get good exam results. Accept that your best might not be as good as you want it to be because of your illness. However, if we are patient we can get a long way by taking things a bit at a time. If the worse comes to the worst, you can always take another year to do more exams if you can’t get the results you want this year. For example, it would be better to just do 4 GCSE’s this year and 4 next year and do them all well than struggle to do 8 this year, do them all badly and make yourself more poorly . We are taught in school that we should try hard all the time, but with this illness we really have to be careful about how much effort we put into things. Trying too hard will make us feel worse. We can still achieve a lot by doing things in a relaxed way, bit by bit, with lots of breaks.
I don’t know how much your school understands about your illness, but it’s really important that they don’t put pressure on you either. If you think that they are, ask your parents or your doctor to try and explain how important it is that you don’t overexert yourself. Generally young people have the best chance of completely recovering from this illness. However the people who tend to get worse and worse are those that are pushed to do more than they are able to.
Some kind of daily relaxation could also really help you not get too stressed about things. Whether it’s a relaxation tape, some breathing exercises, meditation, t’ai chior gentle yoga, think about trying to make some sort of relaxation a daily habit.
My last piece of advice is about balance. If you want to get better you really need to put your health first. This year your education will demand a lot from you as well. But make sure you find a bit of time for fun and a social life too. Finding this balance is challenging so make sure you realise what an achievement it is just to feel OK!
If you have any more specific concerns Sam, please let me know and I’ll do my best to help.
For advice about returning to school after an absence and coping with the school day see this post.