Navigating High School as an 18-year-old with serious Lyme disease symptoms
When you’re in middle school, all you hear is warnings about high school. When you’re in high school, all you hear is warnings about college. From the first day of high school, I was already preparing for college. College acceptance in the United States is not only about a student’s grades but also about clubs, sports, volunteering, and internships. But how could I achieve any of that while struggling with Lyme disease? In eighth grade, I was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease, and my quest for freedom and spontaneity was replaced by restraint and limitation. Classes with friends, school dances, varsity tennis, and college became obstacles along my previously clear future path. Instead of working toward a carefully laid out set of goals, a simple day at school became plagued by week-long fevers, brain fog, and unrelenting headaches. After attempting to balance school with symptoms, doctors’ appointments, and long, draining treatments, I eventually realized homeschooling was more conducive to my healing.
Previously my only preconceptions of homeschooling were stereotypes of antisocial kids being taught by their parents; I had yet to discover the homeschooling world with its advantages and disadvantages. I spent my first two years of homeschooling, barely capable of completing a couple of hours of work a week. At the time, college seemed like a far-off dream, something inconsequential when having enough energy to get through the day was not given. It was during this time that my idea of progress changed. My new reality made me fearful of moving forward without the obvious benchmarks for progression. After countless setbacks along my road to recovery, I soon realized that I needed to redefine my idea of progress in order to truly move forward. Small goals, like a simple walk around my yard or a full day of homeschooling, became my criteria for success. Activities were broken down into bite-sized pieces; five minutes of tennis led to ten, ten minutes led to thirty, and after many months, a full hour.
When I first began homeschooling, I could only handle one course at a time. However, over three years, I became stronger, one class became two, and then two became three. After all, two steps forward and one step back is still progress. Although my changes were small and gradual, treatment after treatment led to improvement, and by the middle of junior year, I finally felt myself grow stronger. On a good day, I could handle an average amount of work, but not every day was a good one. Although I was urged to take an extra year to graduate, I refused to let Lyme hold me back. Thus, I pushed forward, refusing to give up no matter how painful it got. Not wanting to overextend myself too quickly, I focused on taking the process slow and steady.
Fortunately, changes in education during COVID-19 afforded me breathing room as high schools moved online, standardized testing became a question mark, and extracurriculars were thrown to the side. I now found myself back in the college game. So while universities sought solutions, I was figuring out how to become a competitive candidate despite my schooling setbacks. Even though getting sick was not my choice, and putting my life on hold was not my choice, chasing my dreams was my prerogative.
Last summer, the summer before senior year, I finally felt back on track. I could volunteer again, take standardized testing, and start my applications. Unfortunately, I was homeschooling on a strange schedule that had me in school year-round in order to graduate on time. In addition, the lack of access to advanced placement (AP) courses meant my journey to a top university could have been compromised. Regardless, instead of focusing on everything my transcript would be missing, I focused on making sure the parts I did have reflected my desire to move forward in my life. I may not have model UN, debate club, or even a handful of extracurriculars on my transcript, but I was determined to show each university how important my education is to me.
Getting into College
Ultimately, I was accepted into my program of choice at a top-tier university with a second-year transfer option. This option allows me to attend my local state university for one year while I continue my treatments with my current doctors before matriculating to my school of choice sophomore year. Although my life has not been easy by any measure, I am thankful for where it has led me. I have learned never to give up on my goals, even when the path to those goals becomes blurred.
My life with Lyme throughout high school has been a constant struggle, but not an insurmountable one. My advice to others struggling with Lyme disease while trying to balance school or a job is to give yourself a break when you need it and build a support system that understands your struggles and supports your journey. Whether you are in high school, college, working, or just barely surviving, if one of us can do it, all of us can do it.
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The above material is provided for information purposes only. The material (a) is not nor should be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, nor (b) does it necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of Global Lyme Alliance, Inc. or any of its directors, officers, advisors or volunteers. Advice on the testing, treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient’s medical history.
Lucia Zugel is an 18-year-old girl from Holmdel, New Jersey, who has recently graduated from High School. Although she was diagnosed with Lyme and Bartonella when she was 14, she believes she was born with it as her mother has also battled from Lyme for a prolonged period. As a GLA intern, she hopes to spread awareness and hope to all those suffering.