When a sick day is more than an excuse

Many people say that their high school years were the best of their lives; that they were filled with the making of lifelong friends, lifelong learning and unforgettable memories. I’m not quite sure what high school these people went to, because I am unashamed to admit that my high school years were the hardest of my (albeit short) life.

Rather than looking forward to seeing my friends every day, I woke up with a ball of elastic in stomach at the thought of who I would partner with in class, or if a group of girls would allow me to sit with them during lunch. A day before a class I particularly disliked I would come down physically ill and start to tear up. As I progressed, anxiety about subjects I was particularly bad at evaporated and morphed into constant stress regarding whether I was good enough to get a high score in the subjects I had always excelled at. High school was brutal, and I needed all the support I could get.

The importance of parental influence in attending school and their role in my thriving in its harsh environment became apparent to me when I was just 13 years old. I woke up one morning and walked around school in a zombie like state. On the second day this occurred I switched off completely and all I could do was grunt. The following morning my mother woke me up and told me three very important things:

1. I had depression

2. My parents were going to get me help

3. I did not have to go to school that day

Oddly enough, the fact that I did not have to attend school that day has stayed with me as a defining memory in the last decade. It showed me that my mother accepted that what I was experiencing was valid; that she believed I could no longer fight such a battle alone; and that my health was of far greater value than any expectation placed on me by the community.

I learnt very quickly that my parents influence and the actions of my teachers and mentors had a significant impact on my recovery.  When I was encouraged, supported and given leeway in my studies to focus on my health, I thrived and was able to resume going to school and completing tasks I had once felt nauseous about.

Due to the support I received from my family and school staff, I eventually started going to school full time in my final year. This means that it took me five years to become what I viewed as ‘normal’. Each year in between involved me battling to get to school, and frequently visiting the school office to ask my father to pick me up early. In retrospect, I am able to see what was helpful in this period and what wasn’t.

So for every parent, grandparent or guardian who has a Gen Y causing chaos in your home every school day as you nearly force them to get to school, here are some simple rules that will hopefully help you and your Gen Y as you approach the next six or so years of education.

1. Let your Gen Y know that their experience is valid and that you realise this is not an excuse to miss school.

If your Gen Y is struggling to get to school frequently there is a good indication that something is wrong in their life.

2. Don’t force them to get to school.

This is not to diminish the importance of an education or the fact that your child needs to resume a somewhat ‘normal’ life. Rather, it can enable your child to work through their anxieties, fears or other issues in a safe environment before they feel somewhat ready to return to school.

3. Reinforce the importance of school as a healthy aspect of your Gen Y’s life.

If your child is not working towards going back to school first on occasion, then progressively to the capacity their health will allow, they will lack motivation and the skills needed upon their graduation.

4. Approach your child’s school and make them aware of the situation.

There is any amount of strategies and ways staff can support you so your child doesn’t fall further behind or experience a harsh transition back to school.

5. Seek outside help.

While the support of my family and school were fundamental in my recovery, having a counsellor who could listen, support and challenge me, enabled me to want to return to school. As a parent or guardian, you do not have to face this battle alone. Seek the help of a professional not just for your child’s health, but for your own.