Fitting in with Your Peers When You Have Congenital Heart Disease

Going back to school is about more than liking our classes or keeping up academically.  It’s about more than our safety in the classroom. We want to make friends. We want to be liked. We want to fit in. In this week’s blog, Peyton, a high school junior, talks about finding your people when you’re a teen with CHD.

Being a teenager is hard enough these days, but imagine trying to be a teenager with a heart defect. One

of the difficult parts of this is that CHD is an invisible disease. People judge you more for what they can’t see. Another difficult part is the world sees this as a disease only for older people. They don’t realize everyday kids are born with heart problems or acquire heart issues.

Going back to school each year means a change from the year before. New classes, new teachers, and a new mix of kids in each classroom. This can be overwhelming, stressful, and exhausting. It’s like starting from the beginning every year and trying to fit in all over again.

Fitting in when having CHD is very difficult, not everyone understands the limits that each person has. When going back to school, I have to get my body ready, not only mentally but also physically. Unlike most kids in high school, people with CHD get tired easier. They also have to take more breaks than most kids. When going out with friends, the ones without CHD want to be out in the warm weather half of the day. Since I have CHD, I have to be very careful about being out in the sun, as I overheat and become tired quickly. Kids want to go to amusement parks or the beach, and the last person they want to invite is the kid that is going to tire out quickly. They don’t want to have to leave their activities early. 

My classmates see that I have a note to get out of class early to make it to my next class, or I have elevator pass, bathroom pass, water pass, and snack pass. They instantly look at me like I’m getting special treatment. What they don’t realize is that each one of those things are things I need. At times, these things make it hard because they make me stick out, and sometimes people actually choose to use this as a reason to not be my friend.  

Society in general seems to assume a lot of things:

Sometimes people think I can’t do certain things, without even giving me a chance.  Yes, it might take me longer to do something, but it doesn’t mean I can’t do it.  

People assume that because I’ve had surgery my heart is fixed, but my CHD is life long and will never go away.  

Often, people see my scar and instead of asking what happened they get scared or they are intimidated. Then they think they can’t talk to me about it, and don’t even give me a chance to be their friend. 

These assumptions create a huge barrier to fitting in. I just wish people understood that I’m not too different from them. I wish people could keep an open mind and remember that no two of us are exactly the same.

My advice to you, what I try to remind myself, is just be you! Spend your time with those who value you for who you are, whether you are happy or scared. Spend time with people who laugh at your jokes. Spend time with people who value your opinion. Spend time with those who will take your call no matter what time of day and just listen to your fears, good news, or dumb stories. The people who understand that you will have good and bad days with your health conditions- those are the keepers. No need to follow all the latest trends, these will change by next month. Be you, find the people you click with and who make you feel good about yourself. That is the key to happiness. And when all is said and done, that is what is most important.  

Peyton is a 16 year old from Illinois, born with SubAortic Stenosis, PDA valve that didn’t close, and an Atrial Septal Defect. She was also diagnosed with complete heart block, mitral valve prolapse, and other nonheart-related issues. Peyton is a junior in high school and is thriving academically. She enjoys time around family, animals, and friends. Peyton always tries her best to advocate for young adults and children with CHD.

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