"We get by with a little help from our friends"
Hi there! Thanks for coming to visit. Here's the scoop about "Band-Aides and Blackboards". It's a project that deals with diversity, or difference. Not the sort of diversity that you usually hear about, though, like racial diversity, ethnic diversity, religious diversity, and so forth. Instead, it's about differences involving health and illness, medical conditions and physical differences. It's a diversity that's important to consider, because lots of kids don't know much about it, and their ignorance produces stigma. And stigma is a rotten thing to have to deal with, any way you look at it.
You might know that stigma is a word that means, according to our friend Mr. Webster, a mark of shame or discredit. Pick up the thesaurus and you'll see that it can also mean blemish or disrepute. Think for a minute about the blemishes that we all know about--the pimples that attack at the worst of times. Well, stigma's like that, but it doesn't come and go like your typical pimple. It hangs around for a very long time. Often forever. Just like chronic illness and many other medical problems.
Do you know anybody who's got asthma, or cancer, or cystic fibrosis, or arthritis, or AIDS, or diabetes, or sickle cell disease, or chronic fatigue syndrome, or about a thousand other medical problems that I didn't mention? Lots of teenagers have these diseases, and they have them despite the fact that it is not at all fair for kids to get sick. For that matter, for anyone to get sick. You may not think you know many kids with problems like this, but here's the fact. That one out of every ten children has a medical condition that is serious enough to cause problems every day.
And here's another fact. That lots of kids with these diseases or conditions keep them secret. They DON'T want to feel the stigma attached to not being physically perfect. Easy to understand, isn't it, in an MTV culture that emphasizes beauty and advertises perfection? Most kids do NOT like feeling different--unless they are the ones who decide to be different. They would much rather be treated like one of the gang...because they are, in fact, much more like you than they are different from you.
Here's another piece of info that you might not have considered. Lots of kids with conditions like the ones I've listed are NOT sick. They've got the diseases, for sure, but they're doing what they need to do to stay healthy. That might mean taking medicine, or using inhalers, or getting chemotherapy, or doing treatments, or any one of a number of things that you probably don't have to do to stay healthy. The point is that many of these kids don't see themselves as sick, and they work real hard at staying healthy, despite whatever the problem is that they're stuck with. I've heard it from the kids themselves that what they want is to be treated like they were normal, not weird. And what they need is your understanding, not your pity or your fear.
One of the things about stigma that drives me crazy is that once it's present, it can overpower everything else about a person. It can be all consuming. Say a classmate loses her hair, and kids make fun of her. The stigma that develops as a result of the teasing can be so strong that it blinds people to everything besides the baldness. People can't see, for instance, that this girl might also be funny, or artistic, or sensitive, or a great writer. All they see is the difference. When stigma sticks its ugly head into the picture, everybody suffers.
what these pages are all about. They're an attempt to show you what
like to grow up with medical problems. Most of the information comes
the kids themselves, and I hope that it will give you some serious food
mailbox that doesn't need stamps on the envelopes?
Hard to believe, but that's how it is.
Hope that you'll be in touch!
Fleitas, Ed.D., R. N.
Associate Professor of Nursing, Lehman College, CUNY
Bronx, New York 10468
updated: March 27, 2009