Tonight ends the last day of Chron’s and Colitis Awareness Week.
I’ve never been one to publicly talk about my disease, so writing this blog post right now is taking huge amounts of courage and bravery. It’s taken me more than three years to get to this point. After reading countless stories of others struggling with IBD this week I realized that my disease is not something I should be ashamed of. Being open and honest about it is actually a sign of strength. Pretending to be fine and okay when I’m not isn’t.
When I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in August of 2013 my entire world seemed to flip upside down. I hate appearing weak and so I tried my best to be tough about it all, yet inside I was crumbling. How could I go from being so healthy to so unhealthy? How could I have an autoimmune disease? Why was it triggered? If no one in my family has Ulcerative Colitis, why do I? Will I ever be able to travel again? Eat anything I enjoy again? Have babies one day? Get married to someone that will love me with all the highs and lows that my disease may entail? Am I going to be fat from my steroids forever? Is my life as I know it completely over?
Navigating my first year with colitis was a struggle, both physically and mentally. I tried my best to kick ass. I went to therapy to learn stress management techniques since stress can intensify and aggravate my symptoms. I never ate anything my doctor didn’t recommend. I didn’t touch a sip of alcohol. I didn’t miss a single does of any medication. I was doing everything right, and I was healing, yet inside I still didn’t feel like the Gabi I’d used to be. Looking back on that Gabi, struggling with the initial shock of a chronic disease, I wish I could go back in time and tell her “you got this” and force her to believe it.
I’ve always been one to bottle things up and keep my worries and fears inside. Three and a half years later I still struggle with accepting my disease and all of its ups and downs. It is not an easy road and I don’t think it ever will be. I may not ever fully accept my disease or understand why it happened to me. This past September I got a tattoo in honor of my battle with colitis. It reads: I will learn to love the skies I’m under. I might spend the rest of my life learning, but I’m okay with that.
This past summer I flared after a glorious year and a half in remission. As heartbroken as I was to be back in a hospital gown, I knew that I had to be grateful for the magical days I’d spent living and breathing without worry. I’d had an amazing run – a year and a half filled with new friendships, lots of art, my favorite foods, and love.
I’m now just beginning to come out of my second flare. My body is healing again. During this time (a confusing time still filled with some rough days) I can’t help but reflect on my journey since my initial diagnosis. There is so much I have learned about myself, thanks to my disease.
I’ve learned just how strong I am. I can endure physical pain that I wouldn’t have been able to stand before 2013. What would have been a huge deal to me then is something manageable now. Mentally, I have grown so much in terms of coping with my stressors and anxieties. I believe I mature with every passing day.
I’ve learned the importance of confidence. There is no way I could ever live a happy live if I was hiding my disease and keeping it a secret. My disease should not make me a coward. It makes me a god damn survivor for every miserable day I get through. It makes me a warrior and that is something I need to tell myself every day when I wake up. Reaching a point of being open about my disease has allowed me to take huge steps in my life.
I’ve learned that people aren’t always understanding. Not everyone is as empathetic as I’d like or expect them to be. It can be a disappointment, but its a part of life. Just because I would never treat someone a certain way, doesn’t mean they have a problem with treating me that way. I’ve learned to not hold onto relationships or friendships that harm me or do not benefit me. IBD is a silent disease; people can be very ignorant because they can’t see my struggle. I am learning to spend my love, care, and concern only on those who do the same for me in return.
I’ve learned that I can still have a beautiful life with this disease. On good days I can still scarf down a bacon cheddar cheeseburger with waffle fries and a side of cole slaw. I can still travel the world – I already have two trips booked for 2017! I found someone who loves me regardless of my sickness. He is there for me when I feel and look like hell, calling me gorgeous and reassuring me that I’ll get through it. He has never once allowed me to feel an ounce of embarrassment.
Every day is a fight against myself. I can be depressed and upset and pity myself for being cursed with a disease that I’ll have for the rest of my life. Or I can get up, tell myself “you’ve got this,” and find something to be thankful for.
I’m so lucky to have the support system that I do. I’m so lucky my body has been responsive to the first medication I ever tried. I’m so lucky to live in a world with beaches and mountains and sunsets that I get to experience. I’m so lucky to be alive.
I’ve come so far from the Gabi I was in 2013. Today, I’m my favorite version of me.
“I love the person I’ve become because I fought to become her.” – Kaci Diane