When I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis nearly a decade ago, I was told my case was “mild” and I should go on living my life. I had no idea what I was in for at that point. In fact, I was relieved to find out it was ulcerative colitis (which seems laughable at this point) after being told for more than five years that it was “all in my head” and I just needed to relax. I was told to take Asacol and resume my normal activities. As it turns out (I’m sure you’ll be shocked by this) I couldn’t resume my normal activities.
|photo credit: Cuddles via photopin (license)|
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) turned my life upside down. A few months prior to my college graduation from St. John’s University, I found myself unable to travel to take my finals and instead of jumping into the work force that I had prepared so hard for, I was just trying to get by.
Determined not to be slowed down by my disease, I applied to graduate school and got into my dream program at New York University. If I couldn’t work, I’d advance my career by getting my master’s degree. It was a great goal, but each day I was getting sicker, and I was deteriorating rapidly. I wasn’t eating, with fears of an accident during classes.
Four weeks into my program at NYU, I was waiting for the subway I noticed I could not turn my neck to check if the train was coming. I thought it was strange and mentioned it to my parents when I got home. A few hours later, when I got into bed, I couldn’t breathe. My family rushed me to the emergency room, where we quickly found out I had developed pneumonia from being so run down due to my flare up.
My return home after a week in the hospital was short lived. After a day or two, I couldn’t walk up the stairs without getting winded. A quick chest x-ray showed pneumonia in both of my lungs, which we later found out was caused by a hospital-acquired staph infection. I was rushed back to the hospital, this time to ICU, and was pumped with the strongest antibiotics available. If you know anything about IBD, you know that antibiotics and digestive diseases make for a messy combination. In short time, I was diagnosed with C. Diff and I was back to the hospital for a third time. I had to withdraw from my semester at school and it took months to recover. I still have PTSD from this experience.
However, that was my only IBD-related hospital stay in a decade with the disease. I never had to have surgery for my IBD. None of my flare ups required an emergency room visit. That’s not to say I’ve had it easy. For a couple of years, I would flare up every three to four months. I would commute with the worst cramping you could imagine and my fatigue was impossible to overcome. I felt at times like a prisoner in my own home. Inflammation has popped up in my ears and eyes at various points. At the ripe old age of 27, I got shingles on my face.
Right before my wedding in 2011, I seriously considered having my colon removed, but it thankfully never came to that. My doctors found the right combination of Ascaol, Remicade and 6MP to manage my symptoms and I’m living a relatively normal life.
So why do I feel like I’m stuck in the middle? Like many patients, I look to the internet for support and a shoulder to cry on. On the internet I find amazing advocates who are doing so much to spread awareness and fight for patients. There is no price that can be put on the value of what they do. Yet their diseases are often significantly much more progressed than mine. They are in the ER at a blink of an eye. Their chronic pain requires frequent surgeries and hospital stays. Some of the advocates I’ve followed through the years have even died from complications due to IBD.
Every time I go online to vent or complain about my symptoms, I find someone who has symptoms 100x worse than I do. I feel guilty…oh so guilty…for even thinking of complaining. I feel like I should be grateful that my disease hasn’t progressed beyond a certain point, but instead I am depressed that I don’t feel well enough to feel like myself.
I’m here to tell you today that you aren’t alone. Yes, you. You, who is well enough to work but feels exhausted all the time. You, whose IBD is progressed enough to be a pain in the ass (literally) but not enough of a pain to allow you to go on disability. You, who is flaring up and is in the bathroom 15 times a day but is still going to school. You, who is afraid to get in a car for fear of an accident. You aren’t alone.
You’re allowed to be in pain and you’re allowed to be pissed about it. Every day is a struggle for you. You learn to expect the unexpected with IBD. You may not live with a j-pouch or an ostomy, but you’re sick too, and it’s OK to grieve about your disease. CCFA’s “Escape the Stall” campaign wasn’t egregious to you because that’s the life you live every day. I hope that I could be your voice. I hope that I do this group (that’s stuck in the middle just like me) justice. I invite you to let me know what you think in the comments section below.