Sunday, 30 April 2017

What Educational Establishments need to learn about Chronic Illness

Disclaimer: What is in this article has been researched, I have not just included my own opinion but asked on various social media platforms for input.




Primary school and High school were never really an issue for me. 

Well, apart from the odd infection or needle outside of the classroom but, I never felt as though they were putting a restraint on my well being. I enjoyed it back then, Primary school was all about enjoying the work, and when I got Swine Flu in 2009, what mattered was getting myself back to 100% health. And in High School when I got sick before my GCSEs, I was sent work and told not to worry which really helped. Now, I'm not saying that's the same for everyone. Someone in high school may be going through what I've been through with college. 

College is never easy for anyone! The massive shift from GCSE to College would scare anyone who sees it, the difference is uncanny. But, what I've experienced, and I'm sure some of you out there would of gone through the same, I personally don't believe is right. We're brought up to know education is important; don't get me wrong it is, but some educational establishments seem to believe it's even more important than health, or everything in your life all together. And here's what I believe they need to learn about chronic illness and education.




Attendance
Someone having bad attendance, overall in life isn't good. But when I think of bad attendance, I think of someone who rather skip education, laziness, lack of ability to care and no motivation. Would you class these as signs of poor health? Maybe, but it seems teachers put the all of that plus chronic illness together, which is so wrong. As I stated earlier, back in 2009 when I got Swine Flu, it was after my SATs and I wasn't that stressed about missing the last 2 weeks of primary school but that's because I wasn't expected to be stressed. But for some, teachers would of made that the most anxious part of a person's life, whether that be in year 6, year 9 or year 12. If I miss one day in college, because I have a severe migraine, I'm personally made to feel I'm lazy, or not trying, when personally I actually rather be in college than at home crying my eyes out over a migraine. But when I'm explaining the reason why I'm off (which I dont believe is right either) I'm made to believe my health isn't a priority, but attendance is. Surely not... right? I've even been told after an asthma attack, by a teacher I truly trusted that my attendance was more important. Yes, me not being able to breathe is not a priority. What I'm trying to say is, would you rather a child come into the establishment, completly unmotivated, distracted and unable to participate when they should be in a safe stress-free environment of their own due to a migraine, vomiting and/or their depression is at their worst and feeling like their own health is not of importance or getting themselves back together to achieve what goals they wish they could? Just a thought.

"Sometimes it didn't seem like I was trying but they couldn't see me punching myself under the desk to stay awake." - Hailey Renee; Life Rejuvenated.

I know my body
As an advocate, I know what it's like to want to help someone. You don't want them to feel sick, alone or you just want them to know you understand. But the feeling or frustration a person with chronic illness receives when someone who (for a fact of course, because you should always ensure that while frustrated, you also know their own health background) doesn't know what it's like to suffer with your condition/illness, takes their own interpretation of it and tells you how you're feeling at that very moment. Take a person with depression for example. Being told it's just a phase or that if you think happy thoughts it'll go away. Depression doesn't work like that! It's the same for most illnesses. Of course, thinking happy thoughts whether that be thinking of a puppy or a memory that makes you smile, can help but it's only a short term "phase" (ironic?) and then it's back to whatever depression the person may have, because it's an illness. It's a part of you, and people can go into a position of not letting their illness such as depression take over, and that's great but it's not something that a person can just get over that easily or use wonderful advice such as "it's only a phase" as a form of feeling better. It's like being "normal ill" which is what us chronic illness people call it, such as a cold, or tonsilitis. When you have a cold, it does feel like the end of the world. Ever been told to get over it? Or "it's just a cold?". It doesn't really make you feel better, and it doesnt help get rid of the cold. That's what it's like being told how you're meant to feel with a chronic illness. And all though my rambling can be applied to any person that doesn't understand what it's like, teachers take it one step further, and seem to think, worrying you about your education takes your illnesses away.

It's a known fact if you have an organ infection, you will end up in hospital, whether that be for 24 hours or 2 weeks. But many establishments, can't seem to understand that, and maybe that's because some teachers have never gone through it, it's invisible and/or there's not a lot of education about weak immune systems and invisible illnesses. A person knows their body better than anyone, even doctors because only you can feel that pain. And for a teacher to say "Well I'm sure you can handle a little bit of pain while doing this essay" or "Are you sure it's ____? Because it sounds like a cold to me" does not help anything atall. If a child you teach is sick, take them for that word that they are sick. It's so easy to pretend to be sick but if it's on that child record that they suffer from an immunodeficiency or constant illnesses, take their word. Please.

Isolation
Of course, it's not nice seeing someone sitting alone. No one should ever feel lonely. But sometimes it's genuinely nice to be alone, peace and quiet at last! When you're ill, it's really hard to keep friends, and it's really sad, trust me I know, but in school it's likely we want to be alone. I'm not speaking on behalf of all people with chronic illness. Being with friends is great, it can really help boost someone's mood, but when it comes to work,working in groups, a sense of anxiety hovers over majority of us. Telling us we need to try harder to make friends, take part in group activities doesn't always help children learn. Everyone has a different style of learning and while it may be on the curriculum, does it really help a child who has general anxiety? As a teacher, you should be able to know a child's learning style. Yes it is hard to manage so many children, and teachers should be awarded for the work they do, as it is a hard job. But telling Billy, he has to move tables to work with others, when he's probably told you in private that his CFS is high and may not be able to concentrate, or you notice something different about him today, is all well and truly nice but sometimes may not be the best idea. I believe children should always be asked where they feel comfortable, and there should be a way to leave the comfort zone, risks are what people live on, but when it comes to learning, maybe just ask? It'd be nice to be treated as an equal, than in a hierarchy.



Privacy
A bad student, reflects badly on you. If a child receives a bad grade, it's always pushed onto the teacher's teaching ability. Which in all fairness, can be wrong. A child doesn't always want to learn or revise. Attendance to your lessons is bad too of course. But one thing, which I feel really strongly about, as I've gone through this myself is privacy. I've been there when a teacher has told a whole class why one person has been off for a week. Seriously? How is that anyone's business? This created some anxiety in me, because I've been off for months before, and the fact that a teacher could openly tell people, that I may not know why I was off, which could be humiliating for me or something I just rather keep private terrifies me. It takes away all trust, and creates a sense of paranoia when unable to come into school. One of my own teachers, even did that. A friend of mine told me that a teacher I chose to be with, as my mentor, said infront of the whole class "Oh Amy off again. Typical". Now that's not really sharing any information, but it did make me feel humiliated. Why say that out loud? Did you know why I was off? Maybe, it was probably on the screen you were reading the register out on. But no sympathy was given and frustration was shown. Fair enough, but is that really fair?

My first year of college I never told any teachers, any of my illnesses or what sort of things I'd need in place to help me feel comfortable. Because I didn't feel comfortable. I never wanted anyone to know what was going on in my life. And it didn't help. Privacy did not help in that instance. My second year I decided to be more open, and get help. Which didn't help either. Lose lose I suppose. But that was the establishment. I was openly asked infront of my friends, who barely knew anything because I didn't believe it was anyone's business, "Hi Amy, how was the hospital the other day?". In the open and proud. I never agreed on this sort of interaction. I was always enforcing, to leave me to get on with it. Which I believe should be enforced in every educational environment. If a student's file has all their information, why let it out? Leave it alone.



It is not just mental health.

Mental Health needs A LOT more awareness. The amount of ignorance around us is amazingly stupid. So stupid. But the thing is, it's got more awareness than most things. And while it's a tiny percentage, what about other invisible or chronic illnesses. I've seen a teacher parden CFS as depression, and while low moods are a factor of course, CFS is not just depression. Every week or every few weeks I've seen in my college, bulletins (our school email service) feature something on mental health. Perfect! Like they are actually doing something right. But what about featuring something about May Awareness Month? Or understanding the student with chronic migraines can't be around when you shout? Do not just pawn someone off with a mental health issue when they may need physical things put in place aswell.

Chronic Illness can develop at any time.
When you think of chronic illness, surprisingly (not) people think of illnesses from birth. And while many are, that's not the case for a few people. I myself, "developed" my first illness at 3, and although many of my illnesses could be linked to my genetics, suggesting from birth, the realisation is much later. In High School, I was the perfect student. Stress was a big factor, and yes I still had my off days, but my attendance was so far so great, my grades were high and I was a promising student. Then in college, more diagnosis' came about, surgery, meds, more doctors. This affected me a lot. For some, they'll have teachers from the age of 11 till 18. And it can seem kind of random how one day a student can be perfectly fine; and then they're coming to you, to tell you they got a diagnosis of Joint Hypermobility Syndrome. How can this be? Are they a hypochondriac? They were perfectly fine last week! Don't ever let yourself think that way. As I'm sure many teachers know. this can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy (self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true). If you as a teacher, choose not to believe this person has this illness due to timing, and start to believe they want an excuse, that can really affect the student, making them believe in themselves less and or become more self conscious. Please realise that there is no "time stamp" such as birth, that mean you cant be chronically ill.




I am not lazy.
Me not being able to stay awake, finish that homework or listen in the lessons although I may say sometimes lessons are boring, is not the consequence of laziness. Majority of your students wish they could listen to you straight or understand what you're saying. This paragraph is going to be quite quick, as I think it may be easy to understand this. People with chronic illnesses are not lazy. Being sick, does not mean laziness. The child with her head on the table, staring out the window, it is a possibility that they are not interested, and are too "lazy" to learn. But why jump to the conclusion? Did you know people with chronic migraines suffer with lack of concentration? Even without a migraine? And that student may really want to learn. So before judging, maybe we should sit back and think about it.


"I wish that school understood that falling asleep in lessons wasn't me being rude or inconsiderate, it was me being ill" - Amy Saunders; Living with ME"
In conclusion, I'm not saying all schools/colleges/establishments are like this. There are good ones who may have things in place for those with chronic illnesses. But these are what I believe (with the help from some lovely other bloggers) some places need to work on or understand. So if you believe I've missed anything out, leave it below in the comments! Or send in your thoughts!