A Chronic Mirage

Sarah Schmidt

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Gwen Johnson smiles down at a project she works on in Mrs. Judy Russell’s classroom.

Backpacks and heads of hair move through a hallway; all skin tones, body types and identities are represented. What you don’t see is what’s hiding beneath some of them. An insulin pump, weekly shots, chronic pain, and fatigue are just some secrets these bodies hide, invisible to the naked eye. While some are more well-known than others, a multitude of disabilities affect students at FHC on a daily basis. 

 For sophomore Newt Spafford, Type 1 diabetes is something that has affected their education experiences. While diabetes is nothing new to teens, the comments people make surrounding the beeping from monitors can affect diabetics daily. Jokes about students having bombs or using their phone when their monitor goes off is not an uncommon thing to hear when the device beeps. 

“I have to tell people to stop because it’s not something you joke about,” Spafford said. 

While diabetes can be managed, diabetics can still miss out on moments people take for granted like 10 minutes of a conversation, or an in-class activity. Spafford was unable to participate in many things as a kid due to instances of unmanageable sugar levels. No one looking on from the outside would know this though, the disability only shows itself internally. 

Senior Matt Tierney is another example of an invisible disease as he was diagnosed with Crohn’s. This hereditary condition cannot be seen externally, and treatment cannot be heard like a blood sugar monitor. Weekly shots hidden behind clothes and dietary changes occur silently as he lives his new normal. 

Unlike Spafford and Tierney, junior Gwen Johnson doesn’t have a label for what she has. After rounds of testing and imaging, doctors have yet to give her a diagnosis. Some of her symptoms include fatigue, pain, hallucinations, high fevers, and brain fog. All of these can hit randomly without warning, causing her to be bedridden for an unknown length of time. Currently, she has accommodations for when these instances occur, but some people still remain skeptical of if she truly is affected by this.

“I’ve had quite a few teachers that have not been the most understanding,” Johnson said.

Even some of her peers have made comments about her absences, spreading rumors of her having cancer or entirely forgetting she went to school with them at all.

“Many people forgot they went to school with me because I would miss so much,” Johnson said

Each of these students’ experiences are a great reminder that you don’t always know what’s going on internally or externally. People won’t always broadcast their struggles and even serious conditions can be hidden by a smile and baggy clothes.

“My whole thing is just to be nice to everyone. You don’t know what people are going through,” Tierney said.