March 30, 2023
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Having Crohn’s is no walk in the park. But it’s made me more empathetic, honest, and grateful and opened the door to amazing relationships.
I’ve had Crohn’s disease — one form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) — for more than half my life. I’m relieved to now be in remission. I know many people out there are not as fortunate. But even so, having a chronic illness — or maintaining remission — is no walk in the park. We are constantly battling something that others cannot see. Those with chronic illnesses understand the world a bit differently than those without.
So, let’s take a second and imagine a life without IBD. What would that look like? Not needing to worry about the availability of a bathroom wherever you are? Being able to eat whatever you like? Never having to deal with hospitals or surgeries or ostomy bags or healthcare or insurance claims or inconvenient and ridiculously priced medications?
It would be the DREAM, right?
But I propose that having Crohn’s has actually brought some really positive things in my life.
If you’re resisting that idea, I get it. I’ve always been an annoyingly bubbly human. Optimism seemingly runs in my veins. Since I was diagnosed with Crohn’s at the young age of 12, I grew up viewing my Crohn’s as something unique and special rather than something burdensome.
Don’t get me wrong — there are days that I absolutely HATE having this disease. I hate dealing with insurance companies. I hate planning my life around my intravenous Inflectra appointments. I hate debilitating stomachaches. But some wonderful things in my life arose from having Crohn’s, and I’m really thankful for them. Here are five of them:
Listen, after 16 years of having Crohn’s disease — diarrhea, stomachaches, gas — I’ve become rather comfortable talking about poop. We ALL do it! We ALL have been embarrassed about our bodily functions! It’s fine! I once farted on a crowded subway train and had to watch three (THREE!!!!) people literally plug their noses. I have clogged a cafe toilet. I have, indeed, pooped my pants.
I’ve learned to laugh about it. We can’t help what our bodies sometimes do. So, why shame ourselves?!
And while laughing about it is often the best response, it also helps to be able to talk about digestive issues honestly. As I’ve become more open about these things, I’ve encouraged my friends to do the same.
I once farted on a crowded subway train and had to watch three (THREE!!!!) people
Just last week, my best friend had a date with her girlfriend and wasn’t feeling well. Instead of lying to her girlfriend, my friend was open about her gas and how uncomfortable she was, and the two were able to laugh about it. My best friend later told me that it was my honesty that had helped her feel more comfortable in addressing the situation. She’s learning to openly acknowledge something totally normal (and necessary for human function!) that society has conditioned us to be embarrassed about.
So, go ahead. Talk about your poop. Be honest about your gas. It may be embarrassing for a moment, but it’ll alleviate so much anxiety in the long run.
“How are you feeling?” is a question that I am asked approximately a million times a week — by my friends, my therapist, and my doctors. Thanks to a lifetime of living with Crohn’s, I’ve become skilled at answering it.
Because I grew up with Crohn’s, I learned from a young age to check in with myself about how I’m feeling. I now have daily check-ins to assess my fatigue, my stress levels, my digestive tendencies, and my sleep schedule.
In better understanding my physical body, I have developed a deeper understanding of how to communicate my body’s problems and needs — often invisible — as accurately and clearly as possible to doctors, teachers, bosses, etc.
And learning how to articulate my physical feelings has aided me in better articulating my emotional feelings — a skill that is handy with friends, family, and romantic partners. Not many people are well versed in how to clearly communicate how they feel — physically or emotionally. I am thankful that I can flex that muscle daily.
Nurses have changed my life. Sure, I’m thankful for my magnificent doctors and all the other healthcare professionals with whom I interact. But having Crohn’s has helped me develop unique bonds with very, very special nurses. This is in part because I receive my medication intravenously. I go into a hospital every 8 weeks, where I sit for about 2 hours as I receive my intestine’s feel-good juice.
Since I was 12, I have been sitting in hospital rooms, getting to know the marvelous people who are helping me stay healthy. I have learned about their partners and their kids. I have shared movie recommendations with them. We’ve discussed pop culture and fashion trends. I have been able to celebrate my favorite nurse while she started a family (she now has TWO kids!). I’ve celebrated another’s engagement. I even had one try to fix me up with her nephew.
I feel so cared for by my health professionals, and I have a deep, deep love and admiration for the nurses who have been there, sitting beside me and helping me feel normal, safe, and healthy for the past 16 years.
My toxic optimism has forced me to check myself. Yes, I have Crohn’s. But … it could be worse. This in no way is meant to diminish someone’s experience with chronic illness. It honestly sucks.
But when I’m feeling down about it, I remind myself that I am breathing. I am on this planet with family and friends who love me. And yes, my body isn’t always kind to me, but I try to be kind to it. I am able-bodied, I’m in remission, and I have health insurance. I am able to prioritize what is important and what is not. All things considered, I’m rather lucky.
I encourage you to practice gratitude. I promise you it’ll put your chronic illness in perspective.
Anyone who meets me would assume I am a successful young woman. I have a job, I am (mostly) healthy, I live in a great city, and I have great friends and a supportive family.
Strangers, however, don’t know what’s happening inside of my body. They don’t know I have clinical depression or that I have a chronic illness.
Having Crohn’s has made me understand that no one knows what is happening in someone’s life — or in someone’s body. We do not always know why someone is behaving a certain way or why they are reacting to a certain issue.
Invisible illnesses are easy to dismiss. But having one has reminded me to be kinder and more understanding of those I meet. I try not to assume or judge. They may not have an invisible illness themselves, but I guarantee they are facing an invisible battle of some sort.
I hope at least a little of my toxic optimism rubs off on you and that you can take a second to think about how life with IBD has changed you for the better.
It may have weakened my body, but it has strengthened my character.
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