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When I Decided My IBS Diagnosis Would Change My Life for the Better

April 12, 2009. I am lying in a hospital bed, coming out of an endoscopy. The anesthesia hasn’t quite worn off yet — I sit up and feel its dizzying effects for a minute before I lie back down. I can’t quite remember, at the moment, where I am or how I got there. Then, I hear a doctor’s voice. “It’s irritable bowel syndrome (IBS),” she says, before walking out of the room and out of my life forever. It occurs to me that I should feel relieved, and I am wondering why I don’t before I fall back asleep again.

I was 14 years old and a freshman in high school in 2009. On that day, April 12, I remember entering the hospital in the hopes of receiving a diagnosis for the stomach pain I’d dealt with for three years already. Although I did receive a diagnosis on that day, a diagnosis was all I received.

IBS. Three little initials. It’s amazing how many symptoms, anguish, pain and suffering lies within those three letters. IBS stands for irritable bowel syndrome, a long name for a collection of chronic stomach pains, intestinal problems and fatigue that affects up to an estimated 9 to 23 percent of the population. The cause of IBS is unknown, although some people place the blame on a dysfunction between the gut, nervous system and brain and their connections. More simply, the brain is supposed to “tell” the stomach when to move or do other things in order to digest food and perform normally. My brain and stomach don’t seem to enjoy “talking” to each other — either that, or they just don’t speak the same language. “Get a multi-language dictionary!” I felt like saying. “Figure it out!”

After receiving the IBS diagnosis from the doctor (who I never saw again, because she did not think the IBS diagnosis was “serious” enough to justify her time or effort), I began voraciously researching my condition, cursing the doctor all along for not offering me any information on managing this illness along with my diagnosis. Furthermore, as I continued researching, some of the tales I read from people with IBS horrified me, as did their overall tones of disheartenment. I remember that almost every personal account of IBS I read included the word “suffering” — one account went so far as to say that “IBS doesn’t kill you, it just makes you want to kill yourself.” Reading this, I felt all my hope draining out of me. I was sick, it seemed, and I would stay sick.

Thus began a period of several years of struggling with the hopelessness that a diagnosis of a chronic illness can bring. I knew that IBS would change my life, but it took me several years to decide that it was going to change my life for the better. My chronic illness motivated me to cut certain people out of my life who couldn’t understand my pain and open my heart to new people who could and did. It allowed me to create poems and songs, pushed me to find a sense of humor, and has helped me live a healthier lifestyle, free from the processed foods that taste oh-so-good but make my body feel oh-so-bad. More than anything, living with the chronic pain of IBS and my other disabilities has shown me the importance of living with a positive attitude, and just how much of an impact this attitude can have in making everyday life as a person with disabilities easier.

I learned to drive in my junior year of high school from a former race car driver with a strong Brooklyn accent named John. I remember sitting behind the wheel for the first time, placing my sweaty hands on the steering wheel and turning around to look out my back window.

“Whaddaya doin’?” declared John. “Why are you turned around? Your car is in drive!”

And thus I learned the first lesson of driving: You can’t drive forward while you’re looking backward. As a person with disabilities, I have found that this lesson continues to ring true. You cannot possibly move forward with your eyes stuck in the rearview mirror, lamenting labels, diagnoses or things you used to be able to do that you cannot do anymore. I have learned to keep my car in drive and my eyes pointed forward. While it is likely that I will always struggle with certain disabilities, they do not have to consume my life.

They will not consume my life. My life will consist of sunny days and goldendoodles, huge hugs and steel guitar strings and beaches, photographs and smiles and most certainly pain but certainly not suffering, because while I may not be able to control if I am in pain, I can always control whether or not I am suffering.

I will not live a life of suffering. I will not look backward.

Rather, I look forward to life; even more importantly, I look forward to living — with IBS, or without it.

woman standing with kayak in front of rock
Ariana on a kayaking trip

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Share with us the moment, if you’ve had it, where you knew everything was going to be OK. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.