Where do I start? A genuine question that I have no answer to, so please bear with me as I attempt to explain my journey and subsequently, the journey of thousands of people that have experienced the diagnosis of a chronic illness.
I guess the logical starting point is the doctor’s office; this is where most people face their own mortality at some point in life. For me it was no different, however, my experience was neither insightful nor enlightening. After suffering for over a year with abdominal pains, constant diarrhoea and blood loss, I was informed that a colonoscopy was needed to fully diagnose suspected inflammatory bowel disease. May I point out that I was sixteen at this point and had already, begrudgingly, received numerous fingers up the bottom before obtaining this news and felt that the doctors had been secretly building me up to this momentous event.
Like a well braced and obedient dog I followed orders, while maintaining my awareness of fear and reserve. I adorned my backless gown with pride, walking with the greatest posture that you have even seen on an awkward sixteen year old with her bum on full display. My dignity had walked out on me months before this point. It turns out that it was in cahoots with my pride and upon mastering the position of a dog on heat to be greeted with another well lubricated finger by the doctor the two had vacated my body, along with the finger. I can remember counting down from ten as I was injected with some delectable drug to keep me as calm as possible. I woke up faced with a screen projecting parts of my own intestine. Before I could shout, “Come have a look ma! You’re daughter has finally made it on the small screen!” I remember noticing that the pinky, red lining of the intestines had quickly turned a mixture of black and purple, dotted with fleshy bumps. That was it, that right there was the moment I felt my life change.
Immediately things started to change as I could feel my face going colder as blood drained from it and my mind flooded with a million thoughts at once. Although one question was at the forefront; will I stop being me? The medical questions come after life-altering realisations. For me they did anyway, obviously you want to know if the doctors can help, how they can help, what other symptoms will I get, am I going to die?! But it’s the fibre of your own being that you consider first. Will I be strong enough to get through this? How will my family cope? Am I going to lead a normal life?
As presumed, I was greeted by the doctor, once again, after anxiously waiting for weeks after the colonoscopy. A successful diagnosis of ulcerative colitis. I asked the relevant questions, while trying not to cry and lose my cool in front of my parents. They handled it extremely well. I mean they were obviously concerned and very upset but refused to cry in front of me or exit the room with flailing limbs screaming “nooooooo!” in an acme style skit. I am very thankful for their strength during that time and to this day they have inspired me to keep my cool and plough on.
Since this initial diagnosis I was later diagnosed with Crohns Disease and everything that comes with it. I’ve had more drugs than I have hot meals and decorate my hands and wrists with needle marks more often than the latest Topshop imitation jewels. I am now twenty-eight and have debilitating flare ups that stop me achieving any sort of long-term career, as well as leaving me in incredible pain. At the end of last year I was diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis, which as you can imagine is a bit of a kicker. HOWEVER, this depressing rant is leading to an uplifting finale so please indulge me.
I am now in an extremely happy, content place. This isn’t down to the prescription pain relief, or finding Jesus Christ, this is because I am still here. Not only that but my mind is stronger than ever; my passion, my self-respect and my will to live are still helping me see the bright side. That is mostly down to the amazing support of my family and friends that suffer with IBD.
Now, are there more extreme, life-threatening illnesses out there? Yes, of course. I am very lucky in a lot of ways, but this is my life and I suffer with a debilitating illness that plenty of people do not have to deal with, an illness that has taken many lives. So to anyone who is unaware of colitis, ulcerative colitis and crohns disease, I implore you to have a look on youtube at a quick video summary or a glance at the Wikipedia page. These diseases and the effects they have on people needs to be fully understood as there is no cure and it can hit anyone, at any age. To any parents of children with IBD please understand that you are the key to their inner strength. Sufferers of any invisible illness are the strongest people that I have ever met and with the rise in awareness we can start to lead happier lives.
One does not have to have gone through this exact experience to understand the sentiment that I am trying to portray. Every single person will inevitably reach a point in their own journey when they question their own strength, when they feel scared of the direction their life has taken. It is through experiences like this that we realise our own capabilities and learn how to cope. So I would like to end this story with a quote that I find extremely meaningful;
‘A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because it’s trust is not on the branch but on its own wings’.
Trust your gut.