Reframing Hardships: Finding Light in a Loved One’s Illness

December 11, 2023

Shruti Varahala is a current senior in high school and will be going to college in the fall of 2023. After dealing with losing a parent at a young age, Shruti learned the importance of mental health awareness and is working to build a community of people who have the same passion. She is currently the podcast manager/chief operating officer of the Global Mental Health Outreach organization, a nonprofit started by high schoolers from around the world. She hopes to be an advocate for teens whose voices aren’t heard and whose struggles are undermined, by giving them the support they need when facing hardship. She is also an Indian classical singer and is from the East Bay in California.

This story took place in United States

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Growing up, I always felt like I’ve been in quite a unique situation. When I was 4 years old my mother was diagnosed with an extremely advanced form of cancer. What makes growing up for me kind of different is that all the memories of me and my mother have been when she was diagnosed. 

Many people, including students at school and even my relatives, used to pity me. In the beginning, and even when I was younger, of course, I liked all the attention. But as I grew older, it began to get quite annoying. When I was in elementary school, I had no idea what was going on with my life. I was just this confused child who would come to school and go home. I thought that my mom had a temporary sickness, and it would eventually go away. When I moved to San Ramon, California, I began to wrap my head full circle on the situation, and it took a big toll on me. 

Things were not getting better at home and that genuinely irritated me. I don’t think there’s anything comparable to watching someone who is so close to you go through such a hard time and see no improvement. It emotionally hurt me so much I would start to cry at the most random times in school, and not tell anyone why. To be honest, my friends were so overwhelmed, because they didn’t know what to do. And I don’t blame them. Most of them would tell me to focus on the positives. At the time, I didn’t think there were any. Actually, in elementary school, kids were so oblivious to my situation that some of them would say, “Why are you sad? You’re not sick, your mom is!” At times like that, I didn’t know how to respond, because I knew they were right. Physically, nothing was happening to me, but emotionally I was all over the place. 

I began to realize that those were the things that my peers couldn’t see. As a result, I never really liked to share my feelings because it put me in such an awkward place, and I felt extremely uncomfortable. I thought that because nothing was happening to me, no one would understand my feelings. However, I knew that I needed to get all of the negative emotions that were piling up inside of me out one way or another. Of course, most of my teachers began pushing me for counseling, and that is when my mind opened. I don’t think I’ve ever talked as much in my entire lifetime as I did in those sessions. My counselor told me to begin focusing on the little things that I get to do every day that not many kids get to do with their parents. At first, I thought my counselor was being ridiculous. At the time, my life seemed a hundred times worse than what anyone else was going through! But that is where I got it wrong. None of us can ever truly know nor feel what someone else is going through. Never. No matter how much they open up to us or how long we might’ve known them, we can never truly know. 

Every week, I began to not only take the massive burden off my chest that had been building up inside of me, but I also learned. I learned to focus on what makes me happy instead of what makes me sad on a day to day basis. I learned that not everyone’s life is perfect, no matter how hard they try to make it seem that it is. And I also learned to treasure every single moment that I do get to spend with my mom. I’m not saying that I can completely ignore the situation, but if I learn to focus on the things that make me happy and how much time I can get to spend with her, it eventually takes my mind off the negative thoughts that constantly dwell in the back of my head. 

In the beginning, it was extremely hard. But, I slowly began to get better at processing all of the information that most teenagers find difficult to process. No matter, what we’re going through, how much or how little we know about someone, or how much of an impact we make on them, if we gradually begin to look at the bright side of things, even when it seems like there’s none, it will one hundred percent change your life for the better. 

Sometimes, we can’t control what happens to us, or in my case, what happens to the people who are so close to you. But, what I’ve learned is that if you change your approach to the things that have a seemingly negative impact on you, it will help. 

So, today, I still try to do that.  Although I can’t do anything in terms of my mom’s progression towards physically healing, I can control the way both she and I emotionally handle the situation.

And so, I hope all of you begin to put one hundred and fifty percent, even more, of your brainpower on focusing on the benefits of your hardships. And although that sounds quite contradictory saying it out loud, there are ways. Every discussion I’ve had with my family, my counselor has taken me one step closer to completely forgetting the things most people bring up when talking to me, and fixating my mindset on what’s really important. Because so many people in this world have it worse than me and my family, but what we do share are the similar feelings and emotions which connect us and help us focus together on what’s most important. Our happiness.

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