This is a post I wrote for Truth About Youth Scotland’s Blog The Patter. It was also published in one of their Sunday Mail supplements. To Read more posts by Young Scots wanting to change the negative perceptions of youth check out www.thepatter.org
Most people, if not all, have a perfect age. A year of their life that they have already lived through but it enjoyed it so much that if they had the option they would revert back to this point in time and never get older from then on. My perfect age would be 17. As this is when I went to University, discovered partying, had the world at my feet, let go of all my teenage insecurities and embraced life and all it had to offer with both hands, feet, ears, eyes, arms, legs and anything else of which I have two of. Some people, who in my opinion must have several screws loose, choose an age in their thirties. The excuse given for this is usually, “this is when I became wise and comfortable with myself”. What they usually fail to mention however is that with this comes cynicism, disillusionment, regret and the need to always say “the youth of today…” followed by some uppity, untrue comment about how unruly “kids” of today are, when they know perfectly well that apart from the fashion, hairstyles and the iPhone nothing about the youth culture of today is so extreme as to warrant that comment.
For some reason most people pick the age of 21. Why? Well that is a question I have no answer for as firstly, 21 is the age where hangovers become a reality. Before the age of 21 I could drink all night and all I would have to do is spew up my guts and I’d be ready to start the day and the partying cycle yet again – not that I recommend this of course. After I reached this milestone, hangovers lasted days instead of minutes. 21 is also the age in which you have to become, or at least pretend to become, a “proper adult”. A new term that has been coined by psychologists who tend to have too much time on their hands is “Quarter Life Crisis”. This tends to happen in the early twenties when one leaves University, goes out into the real world and then realises that throughout all those years in the education system, adults did nothing but lie to them about how by going to University you are guaranteed a job. This causes some young adults to become so disappointed that they have a nervous breakdown, yet another reason as to why 21 is the proverbial equivalent of a swift kick in the…somewhere that hurts. But for me the age of 21 sucked for yet another reason. As 5 months before my 21st Birthday, for which I dressed up as an 80’s punk by fashioning a dress out of a black bin bag, I caught a virus. And from the ages of 21 to 24, which I am now at, my health went down hill, through the earths crust, mantle, outer core and core until it reached the gates of hell where it paused for a moment before continuing on its journey to the deepest darkest depths of Satan’s hometown, all because that one virus left behind a little known condition by the name of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E) also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
For those of you who know nothing about this condition let me give you a brief overview. M.E is classified by The World Health Organisation (WHO) as a disease of the nervous system – I put this sentence in as during the 1980’s M.E received bad press which included that it was a made up disease for lazy people despite evidence to the contrary. Why? Most probably because a hell of a lot of papers back then were run by Rupert Murdoch and if we have learned anything in the past few months it’s that Murdoch is not the nicest or most moral man on the plant. Unfortunately this stigma – much like the stigma that all young people are disconnected yobs who organise riots on Facebook – is not only extremely inaccurate but also hard to kill. M.E’s main symptoms tend to be extreme fatigue, a general feeling of malaise, muscle aches and weakness along with cognitive dysfunction. This is how the medical profession describe it, I tend to prefer my own description; imagine the worst case of Flu you have ever had, you lay in your bed too ill to move, too weak to even lift your head from the pillow to eat and your body aching so badly that you never thought you would feel well again. Now multiply this by 100 and your half way to feeling how an M.E sufferer feels on a regular basis. Some people get over this chronic illness in a couple of years, other it takes longer and some never recover. It also affects people regardless of age, sex, race or social status. In conclusion it’s like the Katie Price of diseases, everyone hates it but for some reason it just won’t go away.
Lazy, crazy and a hypochondriac are just three inappropriate and false words that were used to describe me before I was finally diagnosed with this illness at the age of 22 (coincidently these are also words that are used on a regular basis to describe peoples perceptions of the young people today). So, what happens when not only do you face prejudice on a daily basis for being young but also because you have a chronic health condition? After all M.E is a disease that is affecting more and more young people across the UK. We are regularly told by books, films and TV that these are meant to be the best years of our lives yet many are trapped by their own bodies too sick to do anything and without any help from the authorities that are set up to help and protect them. This can lead to anger, sadness and the feeling of wanting to give up on everything. When I feel like this I go back to my perfect age. Not the drinking, partying and the need to go out and spend my entire student loan on DVD’s and CD’s, but to the positive feeling I had about everything and how I embraced life, when I looked at the world like nothing could stop me and barriers were looked up on as challenges to make the journey more fun and so we would have more appreciation for the final destination. Many teenagers who have M.E are unable to do this as this illness has stolen what could have potentially been their perfect age. But what we all have to remember is that as teenagers and young adults we have something that is lost by every extra candle added to our cake. Our hopes and dreams about the future. It just so happens that my future, just like many who suffer from M.E, is a bit further away than normal. We just have to hold onto the ideologies of youth to pull us through until our M.E free future becomes a reality.
To read more about my life with M.E check out my honest and light hearted Blog at www.samandme.org