When most people think of the future, it causes a small knot in your throat and a feeling of uncertainty and dread to bubble within, mixed with excitement and anticipation.
At age 17/18/19, in the UK, you are expected to make very important decisions that will set you up for the future and get you started on your journey to adulthood. This is an extremely big responsibility to take on at such a tender age and is daunting for anybody. However, throw into the mix an unpredictable, debilitating chronic illness and a whole host of other complications crop up that make this experience an anxiety-ridden one, to say the least.
Since the age of 9, my one dream and goal has been to go to the University of Cambridge. I spent much of my teenage life working towards this goal to make it possible, but things became difficult when I became sick in the year before I was due to sit my GCSEs. It affected my grades, but I still did well achieving 6A*s and 4As, surpassing even my own, low expectations given the situation I was faced with. Despite this, I was disappointed.
I got into an amazing grammar school, one of the top state schools in the UK, and was overjoyed. Unfortunately, within 3 months I had been diagnosed with my second chronic illness: CVID, and my health hit a downward spiral. My attendance was so bad due to ill health that I was forced to leave and retake year 12 elsewhere. I was extremely disappointed.
Year 12 at my new school went okay-ish, and compared to my previous school year, I was flourishing. I took up Geography, having not taken it at GCSE and was even managing to outperform some of my peers! I seemed to be regaining my academic spark that I had once been so proud of. In the lead-up to AS’s, in which I was being examined in Maths, Further Maths and Geography, I was starting to notice that I wasn’t managing to keep up. I tried really really hard and studied as much as I could physically manage (which admittedly is not all that much), and felt very prepared for almost all of my 7 exams. Come results day, guess what? I was disappointed.
Where are you going with this?
Of course, everybody faces disappointment – it’s a harsh reality of life in this dog-eat-dog world.
Sooooo.. your point?
My point is that when there are factors beyond your control that prevent you from being able to reach your full potential, you can be left feeling very disappointed with your performance a lot of the time, especially when it determines your future. Often, people with chronic illnesses put a lot of pressure on themselves to live up to their ‘old self’ or fulfil social expectations they think they ought to meet. This can be hugely detrimental to one’s self-esteem. Additionally, the uncertainty of what hurdle is around the corner makes gaining any advantage now (especially academically) imperative.
I’m currently in the first term of year 13 and university applications are looming over me. I’m extremely unwell. Consequently, my dream of going to Cambridge has crumbled, despite having the required predicted grades. The unpredictability of my conditions, combined with this recent flare-up, means that the timing of entrance exams, interviews, personal statement deadlines etc just don’t work for me. To say I’m disappointed is an understatement.
Looking at universities has had a huge impact on my mental wellbeing recently, as I am forced to think about what I’ll be doing in the next 3-5 years. As anybody who knows me personally would be able to tell you, I’m somebody who relishes being in control. I like to plan things meticulously and know what I’m doing and when, what I’ll be wearing etc. I love to be organised. I fall asleep to an endless record of thoughts planning out anything important in my calendar over the next few weeks in the hope I will be able to see my commitments through (and to help me remember them).
Okay, so I’ve successfully made myself sound like a lunatic (it’s subjective, but I like to think I’m not). However, the reality of the matter is, planning no longer gives me comfort, but instead, great anxiety.
For me, moving to university is so much more than what the local clubs are like and whether the accommodation is super grotty or almost bearable. I have to consider moving hospitals so I don’t have to come back to London every four weeks for my infusion, I have to consider what the uni’s policy on disability is and how they accommodate missing coursework deadlines or potentially exams! I have to factor in that I may need to come home urgently and how I’ll do that and the cost involved etc. These are just a few of the extra stresses somebody with a chronic illness has to consider.
Naturally, when there are more factors to take into account, your options are more severely limited. Chronically ill people strive to be looked upon as somebody who is more than just their illness, but in situations like this, it can be really hard to even feel like you are more than just your illness when it seems to be making every decision on your behalf. The future is terrifying and about as impossible to predict as next week’s lottery result! Nobody is there to hold your hand or tell you everything will be okay, because, in all honesty, it may not be. It is comparable to staring into a pitch black hole and picturing yourself with an amazing job, great health etc, when in reality you’re more likely to be worrying something might jump out of it and give you an awful fright.
The most important thing to do is to get as much information about what you are planning to embark on as you can to try and put your mind at ease. Furthermore, do your best, even if you don’t feel like it is good enough. Things may not work out as you once envisaged, as I am learning the hard way, but you will find a path if you continue to trek through the boggy marshland, and we can only hope it leads someplace flat and dry.
Thank you for reading (unless you time travelled here without reading..in which case, congratulations and welcome to the future, pal).