My freshman year of college, I had a new friend I thought I could trust with anything. Although I was a very private person, I decided to reciprocate her honesty and share what was then my big secret: I have Crohn’s disease.
At this point in my life, I struggled to open up about my health because I was not yet comfortable and accepting of the idea that there was something so majorly “wrong” with me. The only people in my life who knew about my disease were my family members. Sure, my peers speculated as to why I missed so many days of my senior year of high school, but back then I never directly told anyone about my medical condition unless I absolutely had to.
When I came to college, I immediately felt like an outsider. I had a medical single room because with a suppressed immune system and my Crohn’s symptoms I could not handle living with a direct roommate. I tried to be social, but I soon realized that socializing at my school equated to partying, which I never have been a huge fan of. When I finally met a few girls I clicked with, I deemed it necessary to try my hardest to maintain those friendships, which meant I needed to be less secretive.
I have always been a listener. I am the friend you can come to with your problems and I will sit for hours as you endlessly talk about your life. I prefer this instead of talking about myself, mostly because I like helping others, but also because I have been burned so deeply in the past by friends who defied my trust.
I felt relieved the first time I opened up to my new college friend about my big secret. She was understanding and curious, and I truly enjoyed answering her questions because I got the sense that she actually cared about me. It dawned on me that maybe telling more people about this significant aspect of my life wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
Weeks passed since that revealing conversation, and our friendship did not change. I was thrilled that I was being accepted for who I was and that she still wanted to be my friend despite my health limitations. I could now be more honest with her about why I couldn’t hang out some days or eat certain foods. I realized I was too critical of myself before; having a disease doesn’t make me any less of a person or friend.
I soon realized, however, that maybe my friend didn’t realize how big a deal it was that I had confided in her with something so personal. One day I was studying alone in my room and overheard her in the next room telling a group of our peers about my disease.
I felt betrayed. I could not believe my friend assumed she was in the position to share that information about me with others. Had I not been clear enough in saying that my disease was serious and confidential? Maybe she did not realize doing that was wrong, or maybe I was overreacting. Either way, I didn’t like how it made me feel.
I dwelled on what she had done for days, until I finally realized the real problem: By being so secretive about my disease, I had given her control over that information. If I had just embraced the fact that yes, I do have a disease, she would no longer have the power of my secret over me.
This process of acceptance and openness in regard to my disease didn’t happen overnight. I continued to struggle confiding in others because of what my friend had done. I limited my social circle for years following because it was easier for me that way at that stage in my life. In hindsight, all I really needed to do was own my disease. Secrets are stressful and complicated and give too much power to those on the receiving end. I don’t want my life to be a secret.
As I approach my 22nd birthday, I look back on my 18-year-old self and my heart aches for her. I gave so much power to others because I was not ready to have that power for myself. Now, I realize how empowering and important it is for me to be in control of my disease and who knows about it. I cannot be exposed by a friend if there is no secret to out.
Sharing my story has enabled me to finally feel a sense of freedom from the burdensome secret I carried with me for so long. I realize with a disease that takes away my control of so many pieces of my life, it is crucial that I maintain power over it in any way possible. Transparency is a relatively new concept for me, but I like what it has offered so far.