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Staying “On Top” During the New School Year

Staying “On Top” During the New School Year

Summer Katz, MA, LMHC, Patient Advocate

It is that time again… yet another new school year, and that means going through the adjustment process again in learning about new classes, teachers/professors and class schedules. While we all certainly go through the tough transition of having fun and getting away during the summertime break or vacation to returning to that obligatory routine of life (school and work), perhaps it would be helpful to consider how our medical regimens weave into the busy fabric of our ever-changing lives.

When we’re young, we have a strong desire for immediate gratification. This perceived need for immediacy can obviously impact how and when we do our medical treatments. I’d like to share one of my own early adolescent recollections; a time when I would certainly pick and choose which of my own treatment interventions were necessary in the moment as opposed to abiding by the directed structure of my cystic fibrosis treatment routine.

I would sometimes putting off breathing treatments to go spend time with friends, and I can certainly remember that I was not thinking about the long-term consequences of my choices to procrastinate, or put things off all together. I can also recall regularly wearing my O2 cannula only at night because I defined it as “not that much of a big deal” and “it was not impeding on any of my other desires while I was sleeping anyway.”

I share these examples to say there is that phase of youth that many experience; one where we think we know it all and in many cases believe that we actually know more than our parents, or even our medical team. So, with that… this perspective is very common and essentially a normal part of development.

The danger is obviously that those of us who experience chronic medical conditions, such as cystic fibrosis or really anything that requires regular medical intervention, are at risk, during those times, for infections or an increase in the severity of our disease. Unfortunately, when this occurs, we have no choice but to attempt to maintain the responsibilities of school while receiving a higher level of medical care – which for those of us who have been there know, can feel completely impossible and frustrating to juggle.

Going back to school can be both an exciting and daunting time to consider, knowing everything that will continuously be on our plates. Again, living life with a chronic medical condition (certainly cystic fibrosis) can already feel like a full-time job. When we add or make edits to our schedule, the transition of doing things one way and then figuring out how to successfully do it all a new way, can be overwhelming.

Take the idea of going away to college, for instance, as one of possibly the biggest transitions that young people experience. They leave home, trusting that their new environment and social adventure is going to be something to gain, as well as result in growth and insight in life, learning and relationships.

Trust is a funny thing… it means that we have to really allow ourselves to become vulnerable to our circumstances (and the people involved in each situation). And, certainly in the case of beginning a new school adventure, we are leaving ourselves wide open to so many things that are completely out of our control. So, how do we ultimately participate in the various roles of school (and college) life while still taking good care of ourselves by maintaining and staying on top of our medical treatment routine?

I believe that this can occur using a basic coping balancing act. In previous blogs, I have spoken about the concepts of permission and credit and really the idea here is no different. What if we are making sure that we give ourselves permission for those moments when we are adjusting in learning; where we are not exactly doing it perfectly? We’re ultimately saying to ourselves, “It’s OK.” On that same note, when we are actually getting into the swing of things of the semester; figuring out how to create the study structure that works for our classes, we can practice giving ourselves credit during those moments where we recognize our valiant efforts and successes; where we say, “Good job” and “Yay me.”

In this balancing act, it’s important to acknowledge that, again, adjustment can be difficult. In this case, the transition from having fun with friends or lounging back with less on your plate to starting another or a new school routine can and will certainly have its complications. The goal ultimately becomes how to create a structure around participating and keeping up in school while maintaining your healthy medical routine.

What are some of your thoughts on this transition phase? How have you handled adjustment in previous school years or semester changes? What are some healthy coping tools that you have used over the years to help stay on top of your routine, as related both to your medical routine as well as your school schedule?

Here are a few links to a number of helpful articles on Healthy Tips for Going Back to School:
https://www.cff.org/Living-with-CF/CF-and-School/
http://kidshealth.org/en/kids/back-to-school.html
https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/chronic-illness-coping-at-school
http://www.webmd.com/balance/managing-chronic-disease-at-college
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/teen-angst/201308/five-back-school-tips-teens

Wishing you and your family a Happy, Healthy and Successful school year!

Summer Katz, M.A., NCC, LMHC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor

*Disclaimer: This blog is provided for informational purposes only (including brief topic exploration or reflection) and should not be used as a substitute for professional mental health or medical treatment. In addition, the above links are shared merely for informational purposes and imply no intended endorsement, nor affiliation with Cystic Fibrosis and Freedom Pharmacies in Orlando, FL.

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