In many ways, I had an amazing childhood. I was outgoing and friendly; I made friends everywhere I went. I had a good home life and parents who wanted to be involved and active in my interests and activities. I was good at sports and I was a top honors student of my graduating class. My passion and dedication to music, led me down a path where I was able to be a major part of our schools music program. It also led me to the opportunity of being a part of a performance troupe, singing at big events like a Philadelphia Eagles football game. I was also well liked by my peers and teachers at school. By sixteen, I had a group of a dozen school friends, that I felt were going to be my friends for life. I was sure that we would be like the friends on the t.v. show “Friends”. But, that didn’t happen. Instead, those treasured friends turned into hateful bullies.
For me, it was like I woke up one day and everything that I was before I went to sleep, I was no more. I went from being popular with too many friends to count, to having no friends at all….From having teachers that thought I was not only intelligent, but thoughtful and kind-hearted, to teachers who thought I was a liar and a cheat. My entire world flipped upside down.
I was sixteen when I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, Osteoarthritis, Degenerative Disc Disease, and PCOS (I also have Crohn’s Disease, which was diagnosed when I was in college). I started to miss a lot of school from being sick. I also missed a lot of school for treatment. Immediately, the school thought that I was not really sick and disregarded the notes from my doctors and the recommendations from the school’s own psychologist. The principal and the guidance counselor made it clear that the school would not provide me with a tutor, and that I would have to figure out the work on my own if I intended on passing the eleventh grade. But even with my parents finding a tutor for me, the teachers tried to sabotage my efforts by sending blurry photo copies of my work to the tutor and by not responding to questions presented by my tutor in response to the work they provided. So, I scraped by that year and was ultimately kicked out of the honor society. I also had solos taken away from me in show choir. I felt like I was being punished for being sick. How was that my fault? I was now an outcast at school. I had no friends, and the teachers took every opportunity possible to humiliate me in class, in front of my peers; teaching my peers that they too were allowed to tear me down; that bullying was an acceptable form of treatment, at least in my case.
I grew scarred of going to school. What would the day bring? Would I be pushed into lockers? Would I be publicly shamed or ridiculed? One of the worst experiences was when the senior edition of the news paper came out at the end of the year. The senior edition of the news paper was a tradition at our school. People could leave living wills to other classmates and then at the end of the paper they did a crystal ball column, where they predicted all the seniors’ future. Instead of this being a fun tradition, my bullies took it as an opportunity to tear me down a few more notches; mocking my so-called “illnesses.” I remember the crystal ball foretelling my future as follows: Lauren will be fired from her job, after using all of her allotted sick days for the year, in her first week of employment. (My biggest fear is that I will become what they predicted.)
After what I endured the last year and a half of high school, I was very excited about graduation and about having the chance to start over, however; after high school, I continued to struggle with professors at college questioning my level of sickness and then after college, I had the same problem with employers. With every passing year, I got sicker and sicker, and with every new diagnosis, I gained more and more anxiety that the past was just going to continue to repeat itself. Sixteen years later, I can still sit and cry about the whole thing. The loss I felt during that time and still feel now, is overwhelming. It became the first of many things that I would eventually lose, due to my health.
It is hard being sick, and is actually pretty traumatic in itself. Combine that with what I experienced my last two years of high school, and you can understand why this particular wound is so painful. That experience and the experiences that followed, slowly chipped away at my identity, leaving me, in some way, completely different from who I was before this happened. You expect friends to be there to pick you up when you get knocked down, not to start kicking you while you’re down.
I am currently on disability. I resigned from my job at the end of 2010, thinking that if I just gave myself 6 months to focus on getting my health on track, that I would be able to rejoin the world better for it. Well, that didn’t happen. Instead, my health has continued to steadily decline. As those around me get married and have babies, I continue to live a life of loneliness, regret, frustration, and most of all, pain. My biggest adventures are only in my dreams; that is, when I can actually get some sleep.