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Ah, young adulthood. The time in a person’s life when they’re just getting out of their teenage years and slowly transitioning to adulthood. Having just graduated from high school, some young adults will go to college, enter the workforce, enroll in a trade school, enter a branch of the military, or select another option. Young adulthood can be categorized as ages 18 – 25. It is a time of self-discovery. It’s a time to make mistakes, learn from them and grow. It’s a time to figure out who you are and what you love doing in life. This period in our lives is hard, but it’s even harder when living with a chronic illness. There are more challenges that chronically ill people experience as they make this transition.

Dating

When I was 21 years old, I decided to try online dating. The pandemic had just started, and I thought one way to cure the boredom of being home 24/7 would be to try dating apps. I wasn’t sure when to tell the guys I was getting to know about my chronic illness. Should I tell them right away? Should I tell them on the first date? Should I wait a few weeks? I was always afraid that my chronic illness would deter men from m

e, as I know it’s a lot to process. With each guy I got to know, I just decided to tell them when I felt the moment was “right.” All of them took it well, surprisingly. When I met my current partner and told him, he took it extremely well. We decided to go out on a date (he’s the only man I met in person from the dating apps) and I was nervous as to how it would go. What if my symptoms started acting up on the date? How would he react to this? He has always been very kind about my symptoms when I’m sick, and if I’m having a bad day, he helps me out a lot. The date went well, and here I am almost four years later still in a committed relationship.

Dating is already hard and nerve-wracking, but adding a chronic illness on top of that makes it harder. There is added anxiety because you don’t know how people will react when you tell them. You don’t know how dates will go. Also, you don’t know how the long-term dating will go. Will my partner get sick of my chronic illness at some point during the relationship and just break things off? Dating can cause a lot of overthinking, but once you find the right person who will help you through your illness, then everything is okay. If you want to start dating but are nervous about it, my advice would be to just be yourself. Talk about your chronic illness whenever you are ready, and the right person will accept you for all that you are.

Friendships

I’ve noticed that since being diagnosed with a chronic illness, rather than having a lot of friends, I like to keep my friend circle smaller. Like dating, you don’t know how people will react to you having a chronic illness. When I was first diagnosed, one of my (ex) best friends told me she wished she had the “old” Emily back. She meant the Emily that wasn’t sick all of the time. It can be hard being the sick friend. It’s harder to make plans when you’re sick. Your schedule is tighter because of the various appointments you have to attend.

Similar to dating apps, I tried Bumble BFF this past year to make new friends. The concept is the same as dating apps, only this app is to make new friends. The same questions came up when I was talking to potential new friends. When should I tell them about my chronic illness? How will they react? It all went well, and I made a couple of new friends who are understanding about my illness. However, I’ve observed that I don’t feel that comfortable talking about my symptoms with friends. If I’m out with my mom doing something fun and start to feel unwell, then I just tell her and we go home or rest. I feel a lot less comfortable doing this with my friends. This makes things challenging for me and I know I should just learn to advocate for myself better, even if it feels uncomfortable for me to do so. It’s just hard because I don’t want to be the “kill joy.”

For example, my friend Jordyn and I recently went to Atlanta for the weekend. At one point during the day on Saturday, I felt like I wanted to go back to the hotel and rest because I was not feeling well. Instead, I didn’t say anything, and we were out all day doing different activities. Of course, I ended up feeling very poorly the next day because of the lack of rest the day before. I realize that this was my fault because I didn’t speak up, but it’s challenging with friends because you don’t want to disappoint anyone or interfere with their plans. Obviously, going out and exploring the city is more fun than resting in a hotel room… for a healthy person. For me, it was still fun, but I had added stress that day because I kept thinking about wanting to rest, if I should just talk to Jordyn about it, what the next day would look like, and so on.

Friendships can be challenging but add some good old overthinking about your chronic illness to that factor and that makes it a lot more difficult.

Educational and Career Choices

The amount of people I’ve had question my career choice is shameful. I’ve chosen to become a teacher. I have had so many people ask, “how can you become a teacher with your chronic illness?” How dare they question my ability based on the little knowledge they know about my chronic illness! Sure, I realize that some days as a teacher will be hard on me when I’m sick. I want to teach elementary school, so taking care of twenty students on my sicker days will be hard. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not capable of doing it. With having a chronic illness, though, some careers can be ruled out for me personally. Luckily, they are careers I wouldn’t want (like working in a prison because my doctor told me I can’t do that). Having a chronic illness makes picking a career more challenging. You want to pick something you love while also being realistic. I don’t mean to imply that people with chronic illnesses can’t do anything they set their minds to, but (for example), do you really think the Air Force or Military would want me? I’m sick 24/7, am out of shape since I lie down so much, take a million pills, have low energy, etc… so, probably not.

Going to college was more challenging for me as well with a chronic illness. My friends managed schoolwork and jobs simultaneously. But I had to manage schoolwork and my chronic illness at the same time. This was hard. It was challenging when I needed to miss a class due to a medical treatment, appointments, or just miss because I was too sick that day to go into school. Missing class was stressful. I worked with my instructors to stay caught-up with the class, but it was still challenging at times.

If you are starting college (or already in college), please know that you are not alone. There are other college students dealing with chronic illness. There are probably a few at your campus. Be sure to work closely with your professors to stay caught up in class. If you are attending college in the United States, your college will have an office dedicated to creating accommodations for students with disabilities. Connect with this office early to learn about academic and residential accommodations to help you gain access to all your school has to offer (Click here for some information about applying for accommodations in college).

Transition to Young Adulthood

There are a lot of things that go into transitioning from teenage years to young adulthood. You’ve just graduated high school and now you’re going off to college or entering the workforce. This is a lot to process. If you go away for college, you’re suddenly living away from home for the first time. You’re learning how to be independent, make new friends, and fend for yourself. If you live at home during college, you’re still learning how to manage extra coursework and new responsibilities. If you’re entering the workforce, you’re trying to manage the new work/life balance. You might be paying bills for the first time and having those added expenses that come with adulthood. Adding a chronic illness in the mix makes all this harder. It makes it more challenging to manage everything. Managing a chronic illness is a job itself. Transitioning out of the life you knew from high school into your new young adulthood life is hard.

Additionally, you have to transition from pediatric care to adult care. This is stressful, or at least it was for me. You’ve been used to the same doctor since you were young (if you’ve had your chronic illness since you were young) and now you must get a new doctor. You have to learn all about this new doctor, and they have to learn all about you. For me, I had to pick a new doctor from a list and get medical testing done to be able to transition. I had to research the doctors to be able to pick a new one. This was challenging for me because I didn’t want to pick the wrong doctor.

For teenagers transitioning to young adulthood, my advice would be to get a great support system in place. Go to therapy, use stress management techniques, and don’t settle for a new doctor until you love them.

Social Media

Decorative. Emily with a friend.We all love and hate social media. It can be fun at times (like watching Instagram Reels) or it can be depressing (like the sharing of news). What’s challenging for me, though, as someone with a chronic illness is not wanting to look fake on social media. Everyone posts the “best” version of themselves on social media. They post when they go to a concert, have a weekend trip somewhere, post pictures with their friends, significant others, and more. I post all of this too, but sometimes it feels fake to me. For example, back in October, I went to a Renaissance Faire. I did not have a good time. I was very symptomatic that day. But what did I do? I posted the cute pictures I took with my friend on social media that day. So, to anyone who I’m friends with on social media, they saw a picture of two girls having a blast at the Ren Faire. In reality, I was extremely sick that day and did not have fun. I’ve since taken that post down on my social media. More recently I’ve tried posting things about my chronic illness on my social media to make it feel more real.

Another challenge with social media is seeing everyone having fun when you’re home sick. Sometimes, I do admit, I get jealous seeing posts of people traveling or doing fun things when I’m stuck at home with symptoms. This is another challenge with social media because you want to get out and do things like everyone else, but sometimes you just can’t. I know it isn’t good to be jealous, and trust me it doesn’t feel good either, but I know that other people with chronic illnesses must feel the same as me.

In the end….

  • When it comes to dating and making friends, be open and honest with people. Talk about your chronic illness when you’re ready.
  • Don’t let others’ opinions about your career choices dissuade you from picking the career you want.
  • Work with your instructors to stay caught-up in college classes while managing your illness. If you are attending school in the United States, connect with your school’s disability services or accommodations office (every school is required to have an office that handles accommodations for students with disabilities. The name of the office may vary. Check with your school).
  • Establish a support team of family and friends to help you with this transition.
  • Ask questions when transitioning out of pediatric care so that you feel more comfortable and prepared for your new doctor.
  • Don’t let others’ appearances on social media make you feel like you aren’t doing enough with your life because you’re sick. They might be going through something too!

If you are currently transitioning into adulthood, just remember that you are not alone! There are people in your life to help support you and it will be okay. If you’re feeling alone with this transition, one great place to seek support is the Girls With Guts Facebook Forum or Instagram page. Additionally, on the Girls With Guts website you can find the Love Your Guts mail resource and sign up to receive encouragement from your GWG sisters.

Just remember, you are not alone!

Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Emily was diagnosed with severe Crohn’s Disease in 2016. Emily suffers from other chronic illnesses such as IBS, PCOS, chronic migraines, sinus issues, and interstitial cystitis. Being almost 25 now, Emily is going to pursue her master’s degree in education starting this summer. She currently works as a substitute teacher. Outside of working, she enjoys traveling, spending time with loved ones, and reading.
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