When Your High School Senior is Too Sick for College

I assumed my daughter would go to college.

She got the highest SAT scores of anyone she knew.  She had a 4.0 average.  She was smart and fun and kind and pretty.  We even saved up enough money to pay for four years of college.

We looked at universities that offer a creative writing major and are near the ocean.

We found one.

Of course we thought she was going to college.

One Mom's story about her daughter who has POTS

My daughter was diagnosed with POTS

But she had become increasingly tired.  When I trace it back, her decrease in energy started as a freshman in high school.  I spent years searching for an answer to her fatigue.  We went to nine different doctors and spent hundreds of hours scouring the Internet for answers.

I felt like a tiger-mom.  I was the MacGyver of moms.  But there still were no answers.

Weeks before her senior year in high school we finally got the diagnosis:

POTS – Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome caused by Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

The key symptom is a deep, debilitating fatigue.

While she finished high school with herculean effort, college seemed like a mountain.  We couldn’t even see the summit let alone reach it.

My heart ached for her.  All her friends were going to college. She may never be able to go to college.  What sort of life will she have?

She has no energy.  She doesn’t have the capability to stand for more than a few minutes at a time or show up for a job on time or even be out of bed on a given day.

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But that’s my journey.

My daughter’s journey has been different.  She has handled this beautifully.

She actually believed my husband and me when we told her that tests aren’t the measure of someone’s intelligence.  Grades aren’t tied to someone’s worth.  A college degree is just one of many tools.  What matters is what you bring to the table.  Giving something your all is where you grow and find true value.

We meant it when we said it.  100%.

But the truth is, she believed it.

I didn’t.

It was my heart aching that she wouldn’t start college in the fall with her friends, not hers. My thoughts were relentless: There is no way she can graduate from college with her friends. She would have no way to survive when I am gone.

It was my gut in a knot over the thought that she would have no way to support herself as an adult.

As a life coach you would think I would have seen this coming.

But even as a life coach, I have a bunch of hidden beliefs that bite me in the butt when big bad things happen in life.

The reason I was so upset about her not going to college was because it was my dream that she would go. I didn’t even realize it was a dream.  I thought it was a given.

I thought that was just what you do next.

I had to give up that dream.

It was time to unpack my painful baggage.

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I wrote down all the beliefs that were causing me pain.

“Her friends will leave her behind.”

“She can’t support herself well without a college degree.”

“She will have no way to survive when I’m gone.”

“She won’t be able to make money.”

“She will become depressed.”

“Her illness is a terrible thing.”

On closer inspection, I can’t prove that any of these are true.

So, I am choosing to poke a stick in these painful thoughts.  I am testing them for their value and setting down the ones that don’t serve me.

I live in a world where I have a smart, kind, fun, beautiful daughter who laughs at my jokes.  It’s valuable to me to have someone delighted by my quirky little dances and singing as I amuse myself each day.

I would love to give you a fairy tale happy ending to my story.

I would love to tell you that we have been managing her POTS symptoms and she will be taking some classes at a local community college as she gets ready to start her bachelor’s degree next year.

But that’s not our reality.

Our reality is that she is about the same.  Maybe a little worse on some days when she can’t even get out of bed.

But that’s ok.

Her life is beautiful.

She has had a year to play with her artwork and develop her writing.  I have had a year to share deep conversations with her.  We spend our mornings doing the puzzles in the newspaper together and making a double batch of protein smoothies to kick-start our day.

She has been my office-mate so I am not such a hermit.  She has my back when I think I’ve made a colossal mistake.

She’s my coach.

She’s my teacher.

This has been a year of love because she makes it so easy.

Sometimes I cry when one of those painful thoughts pops up in my mind. But most of the time I’m happy because I have chosen to love what is instead of lamenting over things that were just my thoughts.

My old dreams do not match my reality.

It’s time to make some new wonderful dreams.


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About Ellen Yale

Ellen Yale is a master certified life coach and founder of The Nest, a program to prepare teens emotionally for college. Ellen lives in Charlotte, NC with husband Whitney and their two interesting teenagers. You can find her at on Facebook

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