Thursday, October 9, 2014

Teenage Life with Neurofibromatosis

Life is hard.  Being a teenager is awkward and filled with hormones and emotions that run wildly rampant...Often sending teens into feeling depressed, angry...even, in some cases suicidal.

When I was 14 years old, I attempted suicide.  I fumbled through my parents bathroom drawers and found a package of Nyquil Liquid Gels.  There were 6 pills left.  I was SURE this would do the job...So I desperately popped the pills out of the foil, into my hands and swallowed them all as I stared at my reflection in the mirror.  I didn't think.  I didn't care.  I was desperate.  And I just wanted my pain to stop!

"No wonder they call me names!"  "I don't blame them for hating me..."  "I hate you Kristi!"

My symptoms of Neurofibromatosis were so mild back then (relatively)....But enough that the other kids KNEW I was different.  I KNEW I was different....But since doctors told me and my parents that I DIDN'T have NF....No one knew WHY I wasn't fitting in...Or why I just couldn't be "normal"!

There were no answers back then as to why I couldn't keep up in school.  Why I wasn't understanding the material being taught....Or why my body, was "freckly" and "dirty looking".

Today...We are raising 6 children.  THREE of whom happen to be FULL-BLOWN teenagers!

Two of those teenagers also have Neurofibromatosis....And life is definitely different for them.

There are no set of rules for ANY teenager, let alone ones who face the challenges that come with having a complicated/progressive disorder like Neurofibromatosis-- But there are things that I have learned along the way, that have helped.

First, and most importantly....Let your teenager in on what is happening!  KNOWING what they have, whether it's Neurofibromatosis, or any number of life-long heath issues is the key in to helping OTHERS understand, and more likely to accept them, which will in turn, help your teen accept themselves.

It wasn't my parents fault that NF wasn't diagnosed earlier (I was 34 years old and pregnant with my 6th child, when I was 'officially' diagnosed)  Nor was it their fault that I was horribly bullied...But they did miss vital clues, that could have saved me from a lot of the physical and emotional pain I was experiencing...

When it comes to my children's health.  ALL OF THEM....Even my 7 year old, who has been diagnosed with VITILIGO -a skin condition in which there is a loss of brown color (pigment) from areas of skin, resulting in irregular white patches that feel like normal skin...KNOWS what is going on with their health.

While my now 18 year old daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor, that required IMMEDIATE surgical action, to put in a port, for chemotherapy...There were no secrets, and no sugar coating things.  SHE KNEW every-single-action, we as parents were taking....and SHE had input, and opportunity to express how she felt about what was happening to her.

If only...I had felt safe enough to TALK to someone, when I was kicked...and spit on....When girls in my gym class poked and made fun of my birth marks, and "bumpy skin"....How different would my teachers have treated me, if they understood that I had a learning disorder...and wasn't just "LAZY and INATTENTIVE"....?

Pay attention to your teenager!  Stay involved with the school and your child's teachers!  ASK THEM QUESTIONS about how they are feeling.....

Growing and changing into young adults is difficult all by itself....But when you add all the things that come with having Neurofibromatosis (tumors, birth marks, freckling, deformities, amputations, learning challenges, emotional issues, social problems....Not to mention - a higher-than-normal amount of doctor visits....)  Things can get a little rough for your teen....And being able to be open and honest with them about what they are feeling is SO IMPORTANT....Remember- that it's not just YOU going through this...It's THEM too!

Let your teen FEEL what they FEEL.  Try not to make them feel like they should just deal with it ...without being able to get emotional.  Allow them get be Angry...Sad...Whatever....And give them ways to cope....I know there have been countless days, where my daughter Bailey has become very upset with having NF.  Life is "UNFAIR"...She HATES what her body is doing....And feels hopeless and confused....

VALIDATE YOUR CHILD!!!!  Let them know you are there for them!!  Those feelings are part of the coping process!

Joining a support group, FOR TEENS going through the same thing HELPS BIG TIME!  At first, my daughter was resistant to the idea of talking to "strangers" about what is happening...But - over time - this has been HUGE in helping her through some pretty tough stuff!

WWW.CTF.ORG has been AMAZING!  Bailey has gone to camp a few years in a row, and connected with kids her own age, that also have NF....Building those relationships has been a very important part in helping her know that she isn't the only one going through this.

Also...As a parent...YOU should have a way to process what is going on as well.  It's tough being a parent, watching your child go through a diagnosis -- It's confusing, heartbreaking and emotionally exhausting!  

(I know I have felt ALL of these feelings)


You, as a parent have a responsibility to guide and lead your child - and help them become the best they can be...But they can't do that, if YOU aren't the best YOU can be.

YOU...have to go through the process of accepting this, just like your child does....So learning ALL you can about whatever the diagnosis extremely important!

While doing this, I know personally, that it can be overwhelming and scary...But - TRY - to keep things in perspective.  Not everything you learn about the diagnosis will necessarily happen to your child....GOOGLE is not the best way to learn...And always shows you the worst-case-scenarios of images and stories...So, getting your information from OTHER parents and families is the best way to learn...Not only ABOUT the condition...but also how to handle what is happening.

***Don't be afraid on 'what ifs'!  Ask questions!....And get involved! -  Find out if there are support groups...Or fundraising organizations for your particular diagnosis....Taking an ACTIVE ROLE will help not only YOU....It will also show your child that THEY TOO can not only accept what is happening....BUT they will also THRIVE!


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