Ulcerative Colitis Stole my Spontaneity but Gave me Strength: The Losses & Gains of Chronic Illness
When I was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2017, I had the same thought that most young women probably have when they receive the news that they have a chronic illness – “My. Life. Is. OVER.”
Dramatic? Definitely. But did I believe it at the time? MOST definitely.
Getting diagnosed with a chronic illness can sometimes feel like someone is taking away everything you thought you knew a about life and yourself. But the thing is, is it isn’t. Yes, your life will change, in some ways it will change drastically, but you can’t get caught up in the thought cycle of “what has IBD taken away from me.” Instead, I committed to focusing on all that IBD has given me.
Living with chronic illness can feel defeating and frustrating and tiring, but it’s all about finding the positivity, finding the silver linings and finding the light in the darkest of days (I know, I’m a cheese ball, but it’s true).
It’s the only way to get through it, the only way to continue living a happy life in spite of the difficult hand you’ve been dealt. Radical gratitude is my motto and I’ve come to a place where I have radical gratitude for my diagnosis.
Thank you, ulcerative colitis, for everything you have given me.
Ulcerative colitis stole my spontaneity, but gave me great planning skills:
I no longer can just say “sure, why not!” every time I’m asked to do something or go somewhere because I never know if I’ll have food to eat, if I’ll feel well enough, etc. I now, as I like to say, can make calculated “spontaneous” decision. As long as I have enough time to plan for my food, plan for if I end up feeling sick, plan for having my medication and supplements, etc. then I know I can confidently say “yes” to an opportunity. I’ve nailed these planning skills, and love getting all of my ducks in a row, so I can still have the experiences I want in life. So, I may say a few less “heck yeses!” and a few more “can I have a few days to think?” but I also know I find myself having a lot more of a meaningful life and meaningful experiences because I truly sit in my thoughts before saying yes.
Ulcerative colitis made traveling harder, but gave me a new lens in which to experience the world
As with the spontaneity, I can’t simply go into trips, no matter if it’s one night or a whole month, without planning ahead. Some may think this is a nuisance, but I’ve gotten so good at it that I don’t think twice when planning or preparing for a trip. I know the foods to bring in my suitcase, the foods I can bring through TSA, the travel probiotic to buy, the supplements I need with me, etc. I also know the closest grocery story and best healthy restaurants that I can actually eat at that are closes to where I am staying. And, if it’s an extended stay, I know where the closest doctor’s office or hospital is – just in case. But my favorite part about traveling since my diagnosis is that I experience the world and new places and cultures through a new point of view. I used to just go along during family trips and see things through the eyes of my older brother or parents, but since having ulcerative colitis my passions for health and wellness have skyrocketed even further. Now, when I travel, I love exploring by trying new foods I can eat, finding the best healthy cafes and restaurants, the best smoothie bowls, the best yoga classes and the best running routes. It’s given me my own lens in which to explore the world.
Ulcerative colitis stole some of my energy, but gave me strength
If you have IBD, you know how horrible the fatigue can be; and if you don’t have IBD, imagine this – you’re so tired that you physically can’t keep your eyes open and you can’t seem to get out of bed or off of the couch, but sleeping more doesn’t help at all. It feels like you’re moving through a pool of almond butter 24/7, like life is happening in slow motion. For me, it’s been one of the hardest symptoms to deal with because I’m used to having energy and living an active life. But what this fatigue, and my entire journey with ulcerative colitis, has shown me is that I’m really f*cking strong, even when my body feels it’s weakest. I’ve spend weeks bedridden but still studying so I could get my personal training certification, I’ve spent days in the hospital and then come out ready to take on the world, I graduated college in the middle of a flare – I remind myself of these accomplishments when life feels difficult and realize this strength? It’s the best gift. So I may not feel my strongest at times because of ulcerative colitis, but I sure as heck know I am.
Ulcerative colitis stole some of my extroversion, but gave me comfort in my own presence
I’ve never been a wildly social persona (where are my fellow INFJs at!?), but I definitely used to be more social. Knowing I get sick from so many foods and simply don’t feel very well many times, had, at first, forced me to not be as social (going to parties when it feels like someone is stabbing you in your gut is 0% fun). But now I realize I like it this way. I’m selectively social and truly enjoy my alone time more and more as I get older. I love spending time in my own thoughts, I fully enjoy my own company and I’m confident saying no to late nights out (because let’s be real, even without ulcerative colitis, I still hate staying up late). I feel so much more centered and in-touch with who I am now that I do spend less time going-going-going and it’s helped immensely in my personal growth journey. I used to shy away from too much alone time because 1. FOMO and 2. I was a little intimidated by my own brain. I’m a deep thinker and it used to scare me sometimes. Now I embrace all of my feels and thoughts and dreams and emotions and it’s the best thing ever.
Ulcerative colitis stole some of my body’s feeling of normalcy but gave me true confidence and body love
I’ve always been pretty confident, but it wasn’t until I got diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and dove in to openly discussing it to over 30 thousand people that my confidence was taken to a new level. It’s made me realize that I am who I am, the struggles I’ve been through are nothing to shy away from and my diagnosis, although not the only thing that defines me, does play a big role in my life. It’s also given me a deeper sense of love and appreciation for my body. I no longer look at my body and only see it’s outer shell, I see all that it DOES for me on a daily basis. This body fights for me each and every day and that’s worth so much more than a 6-pack to me. I’ve also learned to be gentler and kinder to my body and it’s been life changing. A chronic-illness-fighting body is an insanely strong body.
Ulcerative colitis stole some of my friendships, but gave me new, meaningful, supportive ones
Not everyone will even try to understand what you’re going through. Not everyone will be empathetic. Not everyone will accept that you’ve changed or don’t want to drink as much or need to eat different foods. And guess what? That’s okay. Those are the people that don’t deserve to be in your life. So, let them go and instead, focus your energy on the people who DO try to understand, who ARE empathic, who do accept you and your life choices. I’ve found those people and I hold them tight because they’re the biggest blessing in my IBD journey.
Ulcerative colitis stole my carefree dating life, but gave me higher standards
Being in my 20’s and (sort of) dating (but not really because #entrepreneurtryingtocontinuebuildingherbusinessandimtoobusyformenbutishouldprobablymaketimeforthem???) I’ve found that having ulcerative colitis seemed like a roadblock at first. It felt awkward having to explain it to guys I was newly dating and I felt like they would see it as a “burden.” But then I realized “HOLD UP. If someone is WORTHY of loving me and me loving them, they will accept my disease and see that it does not define who I am.” My standards have risen and honestly, I no longer feel awkward telling someone about my diagnosis. I have ulcerative colitis and, although it doesn’t define all of me, it does play a huge role in my life (and business). It’s all about finding someone who balances not only associating you with your diagnosis, but also being interested and empathetic towards what you’re going through. And if they can’t do that? BOY BYE.
Ulcerative colitis made me rethink some dreams, but led me to my true calling
I used to think I would work in corporate at a cut throat PR job and live in the city. I then thought I was going to forever work as a full-time personal trainer at the super nice gym I got hired at. But neither of those worked out. The PR job because I realized the stress level of that environment would be horrible for my health, and the personal training job because being on my feet literally all day just about wrecked me (I hate admitting that but it’s true – my fatigue was HORRIBLE during my time working there). But mostly, my diagnosis made me realize my passion for helping OTHER people with their health and wellness journeys. It’s what ultimately led me to getting my health coaching certification and then taking my business full-time. It’s morphed and changed and grown since then and I now also do business coaching because I’ve seen how life changing following my passions has been and I want all women to have that opportunity. Career satisfaction is HUGE for a truly well life in my opinion.
Ulcerative colitis stole what I thought was my identity, but gave me a new voice (one that I’m so proud of)
I thought I was pretty set in who I was. I thought I was “finished.” But then I got diagnosed and realized I had so much growing, learning and becoming to still do. I’ve grown more in the last two years of having ulcerative colitis than I think I had in the 20 years before that. It’s matured me, given me an older soul than even before, made me more empathetic and compassionate, made me more confident and assured in who I am, it’s given me depth. It’s also given me a voice, a voice that speaks out about living with chronic illness and helps others.
Ulcerative colitis has changed me, but in the best possible way. If someone gave me the option to go back in time and magically not have IBD, I would say no. Because without ulcerative colitis I wouldn’t be the woman, daughter, sister, friend, coach or business owner that I am today.
So, I no longer as “why me?” when thinking about my disease, because I know why me. Because I’m strong enough for this life and because maybe I needed this diagnosis to show me who I truly am at my deepest core. Maybe I needed this diagnosis to finally commit to running my own business. Maybe I needed this diagnosis to finally blossom and grow and find my true place in this world.
So, although ulcerative colitis will continue to try and take take take away from me, all I see are blessings.
Thank you, ulcerative colitis, for giving me the gift of self-discovery.
What has your diagnosis given YOU? I would love to hear! Xx
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