I’m a planner, and what most would refer to as "Type A". I like to know what’s ahead of me, and am easily shaken when things don’t go according to plan. I've always had a pretty clear picture of how my life would play out, and had no intention of deviating from this dependable plan. You can imagine how I reacted when I was diagnosed with a disease that I would live with for the rest of my life.
Saying that it changed my plans would be an understatement.
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in December 2017 at the age of 22. I was finishing up my last semester of college and relishing my final months before entering the real world. My biggest concerns before my diagnosis consisted of which dining hall I'd go to for dinner or how I'd spend my upcoming Friday night. Although I considered myself a generally healthy person, in hindsight I exhibited some glaring warning signs of illness. During the years leading up to my diagnosis, I often experienced problems with digestion and abdominal pain. These symptoms came and went and I never sought our medical attention. Unfortunately, I waited until my health completely deteriorated before I took these concerns seriously.
My first major Crohn’s flare occurred after a stressful week of studying for my CPA exam. I studied accounting throughout college and felt fairly confident for the exam, but nevertheless my nerves got the best of me (I later learned that stress is a major trigger for my disease). During the weeks following my exam, I experienced intense nausea, frequent trips to the bathroom, and an inability to eat or drink much of anything. I tried desperately to convince myself that I had a stomach bug, but my condition continued to worsen. I lost close to twenty pounds by the time I saw a gastroenterologist three weeks later.
Numerous tests and a gallon of colonoscopy prep later, I was officially given the verdict: Crohn’s disease. Based on the level of inflammation in my intestines, my Crohn's disease was labeled as 'severe'. I took the news surprisingly well for the first few days, and looking back that should’ve been a red flag. Besides planning, I’m also skilled at bottling up my emotions. I wound up spontaneously bursting into tears over a bowl of chicken soup a week later.
For many months following my diagnosis, I struggled to get my disease under control through the use of medication and a paleo lifestyle approach. I moved home with my parents to recover, and used the copious amount of post grad free time I had to scour the internet and read every book touting to have the “cure” for Crohn’s. The first doctor I met with told me that, with the help of medication, my disease would improve but my health would never be "great". I refused to accept this notion and was more determined than ever to prove him wrong. Along with medications, I've tried everything under the sun to improve my condition, from dietary changes to supplements to homeopathy. My health is far from perfect, but I've experienced great improvements and continue to search for new ways to feel my best.
It took me a long time to come to terms with my diagnosis, and it will take far longer for me to be comfortable with this new badge I wear. As much as I'd like to pretend that my Crohn's disease doesn't define me, in many ways it does. Not a day goes by that I'm not reminded of my condition, but instead of looking at my disease as a limitation I choose to view it as a strength. It forces me to live in the moment, as I'm much more aware that my healthy days are a gift and not a guarantee. It has taught me question everything, from conventional wisdom to the stories that I've been telling myself throughout my life.
I’ve done a lot of soul searching and finally reached a place where I can look back and reflect on how far I’ve come, and decide how I want to live life going forward. I’m incredibly passionate about living a healthy, balanced lifestyle, and believe that we can find answers to health issues beyond the options offered by conventional medicine alone. While it's important to be realistic and set reasonable health goals based on your condition, never sell yourself short. We are all capable of healing. The key is stay motivated, be resilient, and never stop searching for answers. I’ve gained such valuable insight and inspiration from the people who share their stories about living with chronic illness, and am so grateful for the community that they’ve created. So I hope you’ll join me for some stories of my own, and read along as I live life not according to plan!