Why being diagnosed with a chronic condition can make you a better person.
I'm writing not just for people suffering, but for the people who know me, don't know much about an Inflammatory Bowel Disease, have clicked through Facebook, anyone really; because this affects so many more people than you would imagine but they're just too embarrassed or ashamed to open up. Fuck it.
As you can imagine, I have had a lot of to and frow-ing in my mind about being diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, (a chronic disease affecting the colon). On a bad day, it can reduce me to tears, but on a good day, push me to be outspoken, be undefeated and inspire me to help others. Luckily at the moment the good days are outweighing the bad. I’m smart (and well read) enough to know that this disease can change dramatically in a matter of days so 'grab life by the balls' really couldn't apply more! You really do need to make the most of the good days because if you don't, the bad ones can make you feel damn right shitty, and feeling that you haven't made the most of the good ones will make you feel shittier. I’m currently teetering on the edge of a flare, and anaemia, so as I write, Steve is making some kale soup, I however am nibbling on the cucumber at the bottom of my empty gin glass. Its all about balance I think.
You really get to know your body REALLY well.
- You know when to stop. Pre UC, I could be described at burning the candle at both ends, and I loved it. I was a self confessed workaholic and didn’t care who knew it; I wore it like a badge of honour. Now however, I've since realised you really do have to listen to your body. For 2 years I knew something wasn’t quite right but sat on it and did the classic ‘soldier on’. I’m lucky enough that my body has been allowing me to get back in the gym daily before work, but the niggles & pains have been creeping in over the past 10 days. So finishing work on time, cooling off on the gym sessions and making time for me is back on the cards.
- You know when something's wrong. Every niggle becomes so overemphasised. You know if that sharp pain is trapped wind, your digestion, or an ulcer forming.
- I have read an insurmountable number of diet & recipe books since being diagnosed. I’ve gone just about everything (gluten, dairy, sugar) ‘free’ but *touch wood* haven’t found a major aggressor on re-introduction. So far, I think the best thing to do is eat well and listen to your body. You’ll know pretty quickly if something works or not.
- It enables you to become the healthiest version of yourself. Now granted this is relative, I am drugged up to my eyes to keep my colon on the good side of UC, but I am probably eating the best I ever have. I enjoy putting healthy, nutrient-dense food into my system. Its become a bit of a competition.. with myself!
Your empathy for others expands.
- It shocks me almost every time I tell someone about my diagnosis, just how many looks of pity & apology I receive and how many times I’m told how terrible it must be. "you must think, why me, all the time". The truth is, no, not really, why not me! I’m no more special than the person beside me. It’s important to remember that.
- Everyone has their own battles. The things that are hidden from clear view are often peoples biggest struggles. Suffering from a hidden illness, I think this is something I am particularly aware of, but I think it's hugely important to remember this in your day to day. That person that is unpleasant on the morning commute might be dealing with something you can’t even begin to imagine, so show them a little kindness and just let it go.
You become quite the independence woman.
- No one can tell you how you're feeling, how to behave, whether or not to up your medication or if it's the right time to call it a day and head back to the doctors. You are solely responsible for this condition, its stability and how it affects you. Yes, eating might be a pain, you might have to miss work occasionally, play it safe at social situations but these are all decisions that you and you alone must make, in the knowledge that you are doing the best thing for your health. It's easy to become reliant on others when you become sick, and its been a challenge (and still is) to not immediately turn to another person for your sole comfort of confidence (saying that, I won't complain about occasionally coming home to my mum/ dad/ partner for some TLC). You are, and will be strong enough to make it through this on your own, whether that means all week, or just for the afternoon till your partner gets home.
You learn just how strong you really are.
- Having a chronic and as yet incurable illness can be really testing. As someone pretty proactive, the biggest struggle for me is the knowing that there is nothing I can do to get rid of it. Trying to compute that this is part of my day to day life, particularly when I’m low, can be exhausting but you learn how to pull through and tell yourself tomorrow will be better. Usually, it is! I think being outspoken about it helps you to accept it as normal and not shy away. Ultimately no one really cares, and if they make you feel that bad about it, they're not worth having in your life. I really do believe everything happens for a reason, and I hope I can use this to help other people. When I was sitting in hospital, one of my best friends said to me “your biggest challenge will become your biggest achievement”, and I intend to make my UC diagnosis just that!