My story is quite common, although I didn’t know it in the beginning. I was ill for years before finally being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, which basically means my intestines think it’s groovy to cannibalize themselves. Leading up to my diagnosis my symptoms were blamed on anything from food allergies to depression. I wish I could report that after diagnosis life got easier, but Crohn’s was only the beginning. My body is collecting diagnoses like trading cards and hasn’t given me the hint that the deck is full yet. Treatment for one condition can, and usually does, exacerbate another so it’s based on which disease will cause the most damage in the short-term. It’s annoying, frustrating, and makes hiding in a hole sound quite appealing. At the worst of times, I’d like to be struck down by lightning or taken out by space trash. This is not how I imagined my life would be, and learning how to reinvent myself in the face of these challenges is the biggest struggle of all.
The good news is that I’m a better person because of it. I’m slightly more patient, less controlling, and I have a freight train’s worth of empathy. I don’t sweat the small stuff, which has made me a better partner in the emotional sense. Losing independence can be completely demoralizing and dehumanising, but the single most important thing I’ve learned is to ask for help when I truly need it. I still push myself whenever I can, but knowing I have a lifeline has improved my stress level significantly. I can’t do everything that I once could, and spent countless hours depressing the hell out of myself by focusing on all of those things I’m no longer capable of. This obviously got me nowhere, so instead I try to focus on the things I can do. I still grieve for the person I was, and I don’t suspect that will ever change. Some days (weeks, or months), are more difficult than others, but it’s all part of the process and that part does get easier with time.
I didn’t forget how to laugh and that has probably saved my life. Having the ability to find humor in awkward and inappropriate situations is oddly satisfying. I laugh until I cry, and sometimes cry until I laugh. Laughter is my favorite drug. The best thing I can say about myself is that I somehow retained my sense of humor throughout all of this, and let’s face it, Crohn’s alone gives me some pretty good material. Once you can laugh off crapping yourself in public, the world is your oyster.
How a person deals with their illness is as individual as the disease which afflicts them. It’s okay to be depressed, pissed off, or lost. As scary as it can be, know you aren’t alone. Life has a way of handing out shit sandwiches, but sometimes you can find a really nice person who’s willing to share a cookie if you’re open to it.
This post can also be found on Cass’s blog under her Illness Army series. She brilliantly and graciously opened a section of her blog for submissions from people with chronic illnesses as a way to share their stories, network, and offer/receive support from those with like diagnoses.
Please consider adding to the database by contributing your story. For guidelines and how to make a submission, go here.
One of the worst parts of chronic illness is the sense of isolation, but by connecting with others it helps to lessen the burden and valuable insights can be gained in the process.