I Was Sent To The School NUN Because I Had Chronic Illness

Jun 09, 2024

When I started high school, I went to a Catholic all-girls school. The school was dutifully briefed on my medical history, including the fact that I’d already had three open-heart surgeries and lived with congenital heart disease. They knew I was, in some ways, fragile and needed extra support. With this information in hand, the school devised what they believed was the perfect plan to help me manage my chronic illness.

In the school's infinite wisdom, they decided that the best way to support me was to send me to the school nun. Yes, you heard that right—a nun. Not a trained therapist or counsellor, but a nun. So, as a 12 or 13-year-old, I found myself spending an hour each week sitting with Sister Barbara. This was meant to be a form of counselling, though to this day, I’m not entirely sure why I was there or what we were supposed to talk about.

Sister Barbara was a sweet, elderly nun who probably hadn't dealt with many students like me before. Our sessions were supposed to be a time for me to discuss my feelings and challenges, but I often found myself at a loss for words. The whole situation felt awkward and a bit surreal. I would sit there, prattling on about whatever came to mind, while Sister Barbara nodded kindly and listened.

Then came the day that still makes me chuckle whenever I think about it. I was in the middle of one of our sessions, talking about something mundane because I honestly didn't know what else to say. As I was speaking, I noticed Sister Barbara’s eyes starting to droop. Within moments, she was fast asleep. Right in front of me.

I just sat there, quietly, not knowing what to do. I looked around the room, hoping for some divine intervention or maybe just a manual on 'What to Do When Your Nun Falls Asleep During Your Session.' After about five minutes, which felt like an eternity, she woke up with a start. She was very apologetic and as lovely as ever, but I couldn’t help but find the situation both hilarious and bewildering.

Looking back, it's absolutely laughable to think that the school's grand solution for supporting a young person with a chronic illness was to have me sit with Sister Barbara. While her intentions were undoubtedly good, it was clear that this was not the kind of mental health support I needed.

This story, though funny in hindsight, underscores a serious point: finding the right type of mental health support when living with a chronic illness is crucial. The well-meaning but misguided attempt to help me with my chronic illness by sending me to a nun highlights the importance of appropriate and effective mental health care. Nowadays, we have a much better understanding of how to support people with chronic illnesses, and therapy is always at the top of the list.

Here are five easy ways to a bonified mental health professional to help you with your chronic illness:

  1. Emergency Support

In times of crisis or overwhelming emotions, it's crucial to know where to turn. Several organisations provide free, 24-hour support for those in need. Here are some numbers you can call:

  • LifeLine: 13 11 14
  • Sane: 1800 18 7263
  • Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
  • MensLine: 1300 789 978
  • Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
  1. Mental Health Care Plan

If your General Practitioner (GP) or specialist diagnoses you with a mental health condition, they can create a special Mental Health Care Treatment Plan with you for treatment options and support services. This plan includes a set number of sessions with a Mental Health Professional.

The plan is not a blank cheque to see any mental health professional. Each professional sets their own fees, so Medicare may only cover some of the cost. Ask how much you'll pay and what you'll get back from Medicare when you make your appointment.

  1. Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

I love EAP! It’s free access to a mental health professional through your workplace. Each workplace arranges EAP their own way. The suite of services by any EAP will include free mental health sessions for you and your family (separately or together). Some EAPs also offer career coaching, support for managers, financial counselling, and more.

To find out if you have access check your work’s intranet, call Human Resources, or ask around. It’s free and confidential. Whatever you say to them, they won’t pass it on to your employer, it’s just between you and them.

  1. Charities

Charities play a crucial role in supporting individuals with chronic illnesses, including mental health care. Many have dedicated mental health professionals to help you cope with the unique challenges of chronic illness. These services are often offered at little to no cost, providing accessible support during times of stress. If they don't have a dedicated service, many can direct you to the right support for your condition. To learn more about mental health support through Charities, simply search online or contact established organisations in the chronic illness and mental health space.

  1. Finding Your Own Mind Bender

If you prefer to find a mental health professional on your own, you can use the national database of counsellors available at Australian Health Services. While this approach may require some research and consideration, don't let it deter you. Many have found life-changing support by seeking out counsellors through word-of-mouth recommendations.

Wrapping Up

While my experience with Sister Barbara at my Catholic school was well-intentioned but ultimately comical, it highlights an essential truth: finding the right mental health support is crucial for managing chronic illness effectively. Times have changed, and we now have so many resources at our disposal. The path to finding the right mental health support might involve some trial and error, but the benefits are invaluable. Remember, it's not just about finding any help—it's about finding the right help for you. So, take advantage of these resources and prioritise your mental health, because when you manage your mind well, you’re better equipped to handle everything else.


Adulting Well was started to give people, just like you, more knowledge so you could make the best choices possible – even with chronic illness.

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