I’ve learned to decode my body’s signals and know when enough is enough — and when it isn’t.
I take 800 milligrams (mg) of Inflectra intravenously every 8 weeks to manage my Crohn’s disease. But I also have another medication. It’s fitness.
I’m one of those weirdos who LOVES working out. I know, I know. I used to scoff at people who actually went to the gym. Um, why do that when you can do literally anything else? Then came 2020 — which for me meant the pandemic coupled with a breakup. I was stuck inside, away from my friends, with nothing to do but think. I needed an outlet. As soon as absolutely possible.
While we all sat aimlessly at home, binging shows and baking bread, I randomly downloaded the Nike app. I needed something to do so that I could get out some energy and emotion. I started a 30-minute cardio workout, and it was excruciatingly difficult. I was gasping and guzzling water. I swore at the virtual instructor multiple times. I was pausing the workout every 3 minutes or so for a break.
But it was so much fun.
As a bonus, it quieted my thoughts and muted my worries. It became a sacred time — anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour — of solely focusing on my body and its connection to my brain. I perfected my form, I acknowledged which muscles were working, and I pushed myself to continue. There was no room for any worry about the pandemic, or thinking about my ex.
For those 5 to 60 minutes, the only thought in my head was: keep going. 1 workout a week turned into 3 a week, and now, 3 years later, I’ve graduated to 5 days a week with 2 active recovery days.
Fitness is now my best friend. It’s completely transformed my mental health, and it’s given me routine. It’s taught me not only how to strengthen my muscles, but also my discipline. For me, fitness is way more of a mental thing than it is a physical one. Mind over matter, they always say. Train your mind, and you will train your body.
If only I could train my mind to heal my Crohn’s. Maybe then my body would heal its intestines.
Early on in my Crohn’s diagnosis, my mom called a nurse with concerns about a stomachache I had been having. The nurse immediately asked my mom if I was experiencing a “Crohn’s stomachache” or a “normal stomachache.”
“What’s the difference?” Mom asked.
“She’ll know the difference,” the nurse practically chuckled.
And oh, did I. Nausea was a walk in the park compared with the sharp pains of a Crohn’s flare, which feels as though someone is twisting a knife in your gut. I was young, only 12 at the time, but I remember that conversation between my mom and the nurse so clearly. In hindsight, it was the first moment that someone had, unknowingly, said to me, “Listen to yourself and listen to your body. What is it telling you?”
I’ve grown up with that in mind, constantly checking in with my autoimmune-riddled self. If I’m lightheaded: Did I eat and did I drink enough water? If I’m tired: How much did I sleep? If I have a stomachache: How long ago did I have my infusion? How are my stress levels? How are they affecting my digestion and stomach?
Just this week, as I was writing the first draft of this article, I was having stomachaches — clearly Crohn’s related — and I immediately stopped typing to assess: What did I have for dinner? Hmm, nothing too difficult to digest, OK, good, good … is it stress? Nah, I don’t think so, I haven’t been feeling too overwhelmed recently … OH WAIT, I’m two weeks late for my infusion. OOPS. *Speed dials doctor and books appointment immediately!*
I learned at a young age how to articulate my physical feelings pertaining to IBD. I could discern my nausea, my stomachaches, and their severity. I had a hospital stint when I was 15. The nurse asked me, on a scale of 1–10, how intense my pain was. I barely hesitated before answering “8.” I knew immediately because I listened to my body as it was happening. I didn’t doubt myself, I didn’t second-guess. I listened, and I articulated.
With my newfound love of fitness, that awareness has expanded. I am no longer just monitoring stress levels or my stomach and its pains. I am now monitoring my capability to perform a move, checking in with what my body can handle. Are my muscles too tight? Should I do a yoga class today instead of a HIIT workout? Oof, my legs feel DESTROYED; I’ll just go for a walk.
Last week, I was in a cycling class, when I suddenly became overwhelmed by the workout. My muscles were rebelling, practically screaming at me: “Ummmm, hahaha, NOPE. Not today.” And I didn’t fight myself. I cycled to my own beat, rather than follow along with the instructor’s class. I ranked last on the class’s leaderboard. I didn’t care. I was riding for myself, at my best, meeting my body where it was, rather than pretending it was somewhere it wasn’t.
I once had a fitness instructor who reminded me, while I was in the middle of a cardio class, to look at what my body was doing for me. “It’s good to you, please be good to it,” she said. That has stuck with me. My body is the vessel carrying me through this world. It is capable of pushups and walking and moving me from place to place.
And yeah, my body’s not always good to me. It likes to attack itself. It likes to scar up its own intestines and make itself bleed. It can actually be a bit rude, really, when I think about it.
But my body signals me when something’s not right. When my digestion is off, or a pushup feels ridiculously harder than yesterday. When I’m bloated with inflammation or my muscles are simply just refusing to pedal a bike. It’s my responsibility to read those signs.
Yes, I love fitness. I love working out. But I also love what Crohn’s has taught me. Together, Crohn’s and fitness have given me a deeper understanding of myself and my capabilities. They have forced me to check in with myself, and ask the important questions: Am I really up for something? Am I really feeling well? Am I really prepared? And those questions have forced me to clearly articulate my feelings, whether I’m explaining them to myself, to a doctor, or to a friend.
Inflectra and fitness keep my body going. They’re great medications, and they’re great at keeping me healthy.
And, hey, I’m no doctor, but here’s my prescription for you: Listen to yourself and listen to your body. What is it telling you? Ask daily.
Medically reviewed on February 15, 2023
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