More than a decade ago I was diagnosed with Crohns Disease. I had first gotten sick almost a year earlier, unfortunately my early doctors did not think to check for Crohns. It wasn’t until I had lost just under 100lbs and my life consisted of ERs, Fevers, Pain and my bed that I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
I happened to go to a specific ER, where a group of GIs, one of which has devoted a significant portion of his life to studying IBD. It took one look at my chart and medical history for him to look at me and say “I think you have Crohns Disease”.
When I first became sick, I had only heard “Crohns Disease” once as a good friend of mine’s mother had it. I didn’t know that there were multiple options for treatment, I didn’t know the complications, I didn’t know anything. The following years were lonely. I found out another friend of mine had Ulcerative Colitis (same family of IBD) (who ended up helping me with my daughter way more than she had to prior to my diagnosis) and met another friend with Crohns. It was still odd talking about it.
There wasn’t medication commercials on the TV, Facebook wasn’t public yet (or popular until later) so instant support groups were out, I had no idea that so many people had the disease and were suffering right along side of me. To make it worse, my then husband and my family didn’t quite understand that there was so much more to it than a “bathroom disease”. No one around me understood the pain, urgency, fatigue, nor the side effects from my medications. I looked healthy enough, and at size 0, my friends were envious.
The first few years that I was diagnosed were the most lonely I had ever experienced. I had so much shame about a disease a couldn’t control. I just dealt with it as my disease stabilized. Having a bowel disease wasn’t something you talked about at parties, and I even tried to hide it from my close friends (online).
A couple of years later I had developed severe inflammation again, it started turning into scar tissue in my small intestine and colon. I learned what a bowel obstruction was, and after the first few, it became near constant. I was in and out of the hospital monthly.
It seemed like all there was to my life was Crohns. That was it. Now that Facebook was more popular I leaned heavily on my online friends and found some support groups. Furthermore I said “Fuck it” and started being vocal about what I was going through.
Everyone online was bombarded with what I was going through. I started TELLING people I couldn’t deal with the symptoms, I started EXPLAINING what Crohns Disease really was. I’d post pictures from the hospital or from my infusions. Showing people what Crohns Disease was.
Then I started hearing from people. I found out my then boyfriend’s niece has IBD. I had people acknowledging that even though people with IBD didn’t look sick, they were.
I had support and I tried to share it with whomever needed it.
I eventually had a bowel resection a few years ago after so many bowel obstructions I lost count. Even after being in the first 50 in IL to try Entyvio. Luckily, I have only had minor problems since then.
I am technically in remission. My last blood draw showed elevated levels of inflammation, so we’re just watching and waiting. So unfortunately I’ve become complacent with this disease (and also focused on dealing with some other issues, IST & POTs) as well as quiet.
However, I’ve learned that being open with the world about my Crohns served a purpose. People remembered. I have talked to just under 60 people in the last two years because of Crohns. People who have the same symptoms, were being diagnosed or just diagnosed, people in the hospital, family members of Crohns patients. People who just needed questions answered, who needed to vent, who needed someone to understand. I’ve talked with friends, their family members, friend’s friends, and strangers who found me through my social media platforms. I will never ever mind, I remember how hard it was in the beginning, I remember how horrifying and lonely it can be. Worst of all, I remember not knowing anything or what was going to happen. So I will always be up to talk.
It occurred to me last night, that THAT is a benefit of the awareness week. The more people know, the more people available to talk.. the more people who might recognize the symptoms in themselves and loved ones and get a diagnosis. The more people might not feel alone or overwhelmed with what they’re facing. The more people talking about it, the further we get.
So Happy Crohns & Colitis Awareness Week and remember to keep talking! It’s more than a bathroom disease!