When my second daughter was just a few months old, I began to experience unfamiliar symptoms, mostly gastrointestinal-related, but also terrible joint pain, bumps on the back of my tongue, and extreme fatigue that felt beyond the “normal” exhaustion of having a newborn. The GI symptoms alone scared me enough to visit a doctor who told me I needed to have a colonoscopy.
I knew it was necessary, but man, that prep is no joke. I did it though, in between nursing my newborn and getting my kindergartner off to school. After the procedure, still groggy from the medicine, I was so relieved when the doctor didn’t tell me that I had the C-word, that my actual diagnosis, ulcerative colitis, felt like a bit of a relief, even though I had no idea what it actually was.
Of course, as soon as I got home, I immediately googled it, which we all know is never a good idea. I soon learned that not only was my colon inflamed, but that the ulcerative part meant that it was considered an autoimmune irritable bowel disease. Meaning, it could affect not just my GI tract, but many other parts of my body. Meaning, when you have one autoimmune disease, you are more likely to develop others. Meaning, my immune system would forever be compromised.
Meaning, this is something I would have forever.
Even writing those words, and that diagnosis being nearly five years ago, makes my heart jump a bit. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness is by no means a death sentence, and I knew that it could be a lot worse. But it was still very, very difficult to process and think about moving forward in my life.
I write this not to tell you about my up and down journey with this illness, the many doctors I’ve encountered, or all the things I’ve learned thus far (though if you’re someone who is also struggling with diagnosis and would like to talk, please reach out!) I am not writing this as a reminder that everyone is going through something, whether it’s mental, emotional, or physical, and that that’s not always visible to others, though, it’s not a bad reminder to have.
I am writing this to tell you that, in many ways, I am grateful for my diagnosis.
I mean, I hate it, and I curse it often, and it takes me on a constant rollercoaster of emotions.
But it has also taught me so, so much.
I am so much more aware of the many things, both internal and external, that can affect my health. I know how connected my emotional health is to my physical health, and the impact living a high-stress, worry-filled life can have on my body. I know that listening to my body and advocating for myself is an absolute. I understand that every food I put in my mouth is either feeding disease or fighting it (but that perfection doesn’t exist and that striving for it will only leave me feeling defeated). I know that while the doctors and healthcare professionals may be experts in what they do, they are not the experts on ME.
Listen to your gut has a whole new meaning for me now. I know that it’s much more than just listening to my physical body, but also my intuition. When I’m told that diet, stress, and our environment have no effects on disease, I know enough to move on. And I have a whole new appreciation for the healthcare providers I have met on this journey that take the time to really listen. One day I hope this is the rule, rather than the exception.
I am s-l-o-w-l-y developing a whole new relationship with food and its purpose, and if I’m being honest, with myself too. I know that medicine is sometimes necessary, but that true healing takes place on so many levels.
I still have moments of panic, indecision, feeling sorry for myself, and mostly, worrying about my kids developing it. I still eat things that I know aren’t good for me. I still worry. I am human, after all.
But I know, with every fiber of my being, that mindset is everything, especially when you’re encountering times of difficulty.
I understand that healing isn’t linear. Even amidst my current IBD flare-up, I know that if I hadn’t been working on managing my stress and mindset, then I’d be in a rabbit hole of dismal, dark stories that only caused me more stress. I’ve stopped working (and worrying) myself into the ground. I don’t wear busy as a badge of honor anymore. I am learning that there’s no shame in resting when I need to and prioritizing myself. Protecting my energy is not a want, it’s a need.
April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) month. There are millions of people suffering from IBS as well as Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD). It can be an invisible illness that only leaves those suffering feeling more isolated. It’s embarrassing to talk about. But, like so many other things we, especially women, are silent about, it’s a reality for many and something we need to remove the taboo from. If you are struggling, with anything, please know that you’re not alone. And also know that you, YOU, are capable and enough, just as you are.