At a glance it would seem so unfortunate that a teenager would be dealt the hand of Lyme disease on top of dealing with the social challenges of being a teen. How unfair, that at a time when going out with friends, experimenting with life and social ‘rules’ would be the norm, a young person would now have to feel confined to dealing with illness while their peers are out living it up.
Life is not fair, it’s just life. We live with expectations of ‘normal’ and then are disappointed when we are reminded, sometimes painfully, that expectations set us up for many disappointments. It’s a good time for all of us to remember that expectations aren’t wrong, but our attachment to expectations often become our downfall. It is also worth remembering that the lessons learned in social interactions are nothing more than self-awareness, facilitated by the interactions. We can use any circumstance to enhance our self-awareness, it does not have to look the way we think it should.
I have not raised a teen with a chronic illness. I had two healthy teenage daughters who lived through ‘normal’ teen years with other chronic teen stuff, but there were some things I learned from them through the process. It became one of my favorite periods of motherhood, but first I had to let go of believing that I knew how to raise a teen, because truly, I didn’t. We lived and learned together.
Young people have fresh minds, they have extraordinary courage to experiment and break rules, they often ruthlessly and in the face of fear are willing to be true to themselves and their inquisitiveness, they are smart and intuitive, they have great resilience, and they are capable of deep understanding and heartfelt growth and self-awareness. And just like all human beings, they want to be heard and acknowledged for who they are, just as they are.
As a parent we can set the tone for the journey. Our experience of life is created with the power of the mind. We have the choice to frame our challenges with self-empowerment or as victimhood. There are many other choices too, none are wrong and none are right. If you are looking to support your young person into empowerment, then look first at your own view on the situation.
The opportunity to learn from Lyme is as great for the parent as for the teen. If you are willing to take away your views and opinions of how things should be, you create a space for them to do the same. Talk to your child and ask questions. Really listen to their thoughts on how they are experiencing the challenge of illness, and don’t try to change their minds. Acknowledge them right where they are. Notice for yourself if you are also having similar thoughts. For instance, do you both think it is unfair? Explore it a little: Is it more unfair to be young and ill or older and ill? Truly, there is never a convenient or good time to be chronically ill. Being ill at any stage of life brings it’s unique set of challenges, otherwise known as opportunities.
I would encourage you to receive them as whole and complete, just as they are. Let go of thinking that they are too young or too immature to have the ability to begin being self-empowered in the face of their circumstances. Journey along side them into self-awareness. Notice your thoughts about their circumstances, and encourage them to notice their own thoughts as well. Realize that thoughts about the circumstances are just thoughts and not the truth. This is not to say that the thoughts are invalid, but thoughts are just made up in our minds. If, for instance, you keep thinking the thought that the illness is unfair, then you and your child will experience life through this dis-empowering context, and your energy will be drained into resisting the unfairness of life. Rather than focusing on the unfairness, allow yourselves to experience what is underneath the thoughts of unfairness. Perhaps it is sadness or loneliness or despair or exhaustion. In allowing yourselves to be with the actual feeling, without adding the narrative of your thoughts (story), the experience moves through you and you are left free and clear in the present. It’s like having a good cry over something and feeling relieved afterwards.
As a parent you have the opportunity to discover so much from your thoughts about the circumstances and to liberate yourself from the judgments or opinions you have about your child’s situation. When you share your growth with your child and your view of them as extraordinary and strong, it will provide an opportunity and a clearing for them to liberate themselves too. We lead best by example. It is not possible to make anyone else become self-aware, but in our moments of full self-awareness, we can bring that energy to others and inspire them.
Like it or not, the greater the challenge being faced, the greater the opportunity for growth. To realize the gifts of the challenge does not mean you and your child have to go through this experience being inauthentically positive. It is a roller coaster ride. There are good days and there are tough days. Allowing yourselves to go through the experiences authentically, while being responsible for noticing your thoughts and narrative about the experiences, becomes an enlightening process. Holding yourselves responsible for noticing your thoughts is the first step. It becomes easier over time to allow the full human experience. It is not meant to be any particular way, it is simply the way it is.
One last thing I would encourage you to look at is the view you each have about your child. No human being is a single story. In other words, the illness is one of uncountable facets of who they are. While it is necessary to put attention on dealing with supporting their body in a healing process, it is also necessary to nourish the whole person, taking time to focus on the many other aspects of who they are. This will help rebalance the focus and provide some much needed relief from the topic of sickness.
Fasten your seat belts, throw your arms in the air, and embrace the roller coaster ride. It’s perfectly fine to scream on the downs and laugh on the ups… and allow for the bonding, no matter how difficult it may seem.