ME/CFS and GCSE Year

Today’s post is dedicated to Sam who left this comment on one of my previous posts:

What would your advice be to someone my age (15),16 in February doing their last year of school with GCSE exams coming up? I’ve suffered with M.E/CFS for almost 7 years and this year has been my best. Although I am now starting to feel worse as the weather and season changes.
Dear Sam,
Thank you very much for commenting and asking this question. First of all I’m sorry to hear you are starting to feel worse as the weather and season changes, but this seems to be quite normal with this illness. I see this illness as having knocked all our biological systems out of balance, and big changes can make us even more unsteady. However by taking it easy and resting even more than usual for a while, we can give our body the chance to do its best to find balance again. A bit like a tightrope walker who will pause for a little while after a wobble, before taking the next step. Not only are you adjusting to the change in weather but also to a change in routine going back to school after the holidays. I’m sure that if you can take it easy and make sure you get a bit more rest than usual you will soon be back on the road to progress (my last post talks about season change in more detail).
GCSE year is a difficult time for all young people, but you have the added challenge of dealing with a difficult illness. You will probably have to approach it a little differently from some of your friends, which is bound to be annoying and frustrating at times. Not only do you have to think about your education and your social life but you also have to take great care over your health! Try to remember that learning to deal with this illness will teach you some very important skills that people without such challenges won’t get to learn. 
The importance of exam year can put a lot of pressure on young people and pressure is very dangerous for making this illness worse. My first bit of advice is to avoid letting people put pressure on you and to avoid putting pressure on yourself. Do your best but without pushing yourself and don’t take things too seriously. At this stage, improving health will bring you a brighter future than if your health deteriorates because your push yourself too hard to get good exam results.  Accept that your best might not be as good as you want it to be because of your illness. However, if we are patient we can get a long way by taking things a bit at a time. If the worse comes to the worst, you can always take another year to do more exams if you can’t get the results you want this year. For example, it would be better to just do 4 GCSE’s this year and 4 next year and do them all well than struggle to do 8 this year, do them all badly and make yourself more poorly . We are taught in school that we should try hard all the time, but with this illness we really have to be careful about how much effort we put into things. Trying too hard will make us feel worse. We can still achieve a lot by doing things in a relaxed way, bit by bit, with lots of breaks.
I don’t know how much your school understands about your illness, but it’s really important that they don’t put pressure on you either. If you think that they are, ask your parents or your doctor to try and explain how important it is that you don’t overexert yourself. Generally young people have the best chance of completely recovering from this illness. However the people who tend to get worse and worse are those that are pushed to do more than they are able to.
Some kind of daily relaxation could also really help you not get too stressed about things. Whether it’s a relaxation tape, some breathing exercises, meditation, t’ai chior gentle yoga, think about trying to make some sort of relaxation a daily habit.
My last piece of advice is about balance. If you want to get better you really need to put your health first. This year your education will demand a lot from you as well. But make sure you find a bit of time for fun and a social life too. Finding this balance is challenging so make sure you realise what an achievement it is just to feel OK!
If you have any more specific concerns Sam, please let me know and I’ll do my best to help.
For advice about returning to school after an absence and coping with the school day see this post.

2 thoughts on “ME/CFS and GCSE Year”

  1. Hi ****,

    It so understandable that you are scared about doing well in your exams after all you have been through, however it’s really important that you recognise the damage that fear and worry would do to your health. Although it’s horrible that you are in the position that you are in right now, please ask yourself ‘would you rather improve your chances of a complete and full recovery and of the possibility of reaching your dreams, even if it takes you a year longer to do so? or would you rather try and keep up at the risk of holding back your recovery?’

    I can’t stress enough how important it is to take things at a relaxed effortless pace without putting pressure on yourself. Pressure and worry use up so much energy wastefully and can often lead to a deterioration in this illness. If you can tell yourself it’s OK if you don’t do as well as you’d like to and take it easy, you’re much more likely to have more energy to study with!

    I would prioritise your favourite subjects, the ones that you enjoy most and are good at, focus your attention on those first, in as relaxed as manner as possible. Let go of worrying about the other ones. If you find that by being relaxed you have enough energy to focus on all of them all the better, but prioritise being relaxed!

    Also you can get a long way by pacing yourself well. Make sure you set a timer every time you sit down to study and take a break after a maximum of 40 minutes. Find some calming way of distracting your mind for at least 10 to 20 minutes before even considering getting back to studying!

    Remember worrying is your enemy. Do whatever you have to do to take the pressure off!

    Wishing you the best of luck,


    ****(This comment has been edited at the request of the person it was directed to, for anonymity, whose comment has also been deleted. However I felt it might be helpful for anybody for in a similar situation.)


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