It’s easy to complain about inflammatory bowel disease. The constant worrying about where the nearest bathroom is, what you should and shouldn’t be eating, and side effects of medications – it’s not fun. But strangely, I don’t wish for a life without it. Having ulcerative colitis has changed me, and I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t been through all of the challenges I’ve faced. So with Thanksgiving coming up, here are five reasons why I’m grateful for my ulcerative colitis.
I’ve met people I wouldn’t have otherwise met. For the past few years, I’ve facilitated a support group through the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. I’ve met so many kind and interesting people who have taught me things I didn’t know about IBD and who have inspired me and kept me going. Whether it’s through email, a comment on this blog, or attending a support group meeting, it’s always a pleasure getting to know someone else going through something similar.
I’ve learned how to stand up for myself. I used to go to doctor’s appointments with a list of questions and only ask one or two. Not anymore. I’ve gained the confidence to ask all of my questions and make sure I understand the answers, to call my healthcare provider and insurance company as many times as it takes to get billing issues straightened out, and to lead an hour-long support group meeting. As someone who has struggled with social anxiety for my entire life, it hasn’t been easy, but ulcerative colitis has forced me to take charge of managing my illness.
I’m no longer as scared of getting sick as I used to be. I’ve always been a bit of a hypochondriac. If my head hurts, I worry that I have a brain tumor. The slightest chest pain and I’ll call my mom to ask if I’m having a heart attack. I still worry about those things to some extent. But I’m not nearly as scared as I used to be. Because I am sick, and I’ve been really sick. I’ve gone to the ER and I’ve been hospitalized. I’ve taken all kinds of scary-sounding medications. And parts of it were terrible, but it was also ok. I handled it. And if I get sick again, either with a colitis flare or something else, I’ll handle that too.
It has made me a kinder person (or at least, it has made me try to be a kinder person). I’ve met enough people living with IBD or other chronic illnesses to realize that we’re all dealing with something. There’s no such thing as a perfect life, and we all struggle sometimes. I try to keep that in mind when having a stressful interaction with someone and to be a little kinder. I probably fail at it at least as often as I succeed, but I try.
I appreciate the times when I’m feeling good, and the things my body can do for me. I’m grateful for the days when I can travel without needing to know exactly where the bathrooms are. For the days when I can make plans and exercise and live my life. During a colitis flare my body feels like it’s at war with itself and I find myself asking my colon Why are you doing this to me? But I appreciate the days when my body feels strong enough to go for a run or get through a dance class. My body isn’t perfect, but it’s doing the best it can. Just like me.
So this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for my illness and what it has taught me. It has made me stronger. And though there are times when I wish I didn’t have ulcerative colitis, I don’t want to go back to who I was before I was diagnosed.
What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving? Are there times when you’re grateful for your illness?