It’s a tricky balance: You know that you need to focus on your health, but what about school? If you put schoolwork on the back burner every time you feel sick or low-energy, pretty soon it can seem like you’ll never be able to catch up. In addition to feeling behind, some teachers are understanding but others are not – what a bummer to have a “D” on your report card just because you couldn’t physically be in class! If you’re a teenager who struggles with health issues, here are 5 things you can do to help you keep up when you’re feeling down:

  1. Get It In Writing

If your illness or condition lets you plan ahead, or you look into your crystal ball and can see that you’re going to be stretched thin, get a plan that makes it okay for you to miss class, take more time on assignments, and work independently. Whatever it is that you think you will need, have it written in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 Plan. That way even the strictest teacher has to cut you some slack.

  1. Check Out Hospital School Options

Rather than struggling to get back to school from the hospital, look into the options for bringing school to you. Some hospitals have school programs – you may be able to use them to support the classes you’re already taking, or you may want to check out transferring to the hospital school for a chunk of time.

  1. Explore Online Classes

If going to school isn’t realistic right now but homeschooling seems a little too unstructured, check out online classes. A quick search for “online high school” or “online middle school” turns up many options for courses or even full programs of study that you can do from any computer.

  1. Use Your Friends

If you’re sick, chances are your friends want to help. One way they can is by bringing you assignments and studying together while you’re away. Just knowing that the “real” world still exists can help you stay connected to your life outside illness.

  1. Do “Normal” Things

So you can’t join the swim team. Maybe you can work for the yearbook instead? And even if you’re tired, it’s worth forcing yourself to go to events like soccer games and school plays. School isn’t just about work. It’s also about being with people. If you have a serious condition, you may not be able to help missing out on some stuff, but when you can, try to force yourself to be normal… whatever that means for you.

Sheri Sobrato
Sheri is a 30-year brain cancer survivor and founder of the nonprofit Digging Deep.