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How I Found My Strength When I Needed Surgery for Crohn’s Disease

We all have moments in our lives that are impactful, memorable, and challenge us to our core. I recently had one of those moments while attending a Tedx women’s event in St. Louis. The speakers were all phenomenal, but one in particular really struck a chord with me. Her name is Anne Grady. Anne’s teenage son has severe mental illness issues, and she’s a cancer survivor. To say she’s encountered her fair share of challenging days and trying times is an understatement.

I asked Anne what advice she would give to those battling chronic health conditions. She said, “Every day is another chance to practice. If you don’t get it right one day, give yourself permission to be human and try again the next.”

A few “mantras” that have helped her: “It is what it is, but it will become what you make it. All I can do is all I can do, and you got this!”

Anne’s presentation centered around an equation: courage + resilience = triumph. As she puts it, courage is the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous. It’s the mental or moral strength to persevere and withstand danger, fear or difficulty. She went on to explain that resilience is the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. It’s our ability to get back up after we get knocked down.

Whether you live with a chronic illness like Crohn’s disease or not, we all experience some form of pain or discomfort through our lives. It’s the painful memories and trying times that really shape us into the person we are. Courage is not about the absence of fear or difficulty; it’s using the tough times as a catalyst to help us grow strong enough.

Anne also shared a great quote from motivational speaker Mary Anne Radmacher: “Courage doesn’t always roar — sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying I’ll try it again tomorrow.”

I love this quote because it speaks to so many of us who day after day battle chronic pain and the unknown.

It’s overwhelming when you have the stress of a chronic illness. That quote serves as a reminder that some days are going to be harder than others — and sometimes our spirit may break — but we always have the ability to bounce back and strive for feel-good days.

Speaking of bouncing back, Anne brought out one of her favorite childhood toys on stage — a bop bag — and explained how she’s come to appreciate that we’re all a little like a bop bag. When life knocks us down, we get back up.

Living with Crohn’s can be exhausting, disconcerting, scary and heartbreaking, but it’s important to try and find strength through your struggles.

When we make it through a difficult time, it’s called “post traumatic growth.” While we can’t see it at the time, we’re able to look back with perspective and learn from it.

When I was hospitalized and told I would need 18 inches of my intestine out in July 2015 — and the doctors sent me home for 10 days to build up my strength — I had never been more scared in my life. My fears of surgery, the countdown to returning back to the hospital and the unknown of whether the surgery would bring me the comfort I yearned for was overwhelming. But looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. What was one of the hardest periods of my life ended up shaping me into a much stronger and healthier person.

It may seem easy to talk about courage and resilience during a calm time in your life. It may feel like it’s a whole different beast when you’re in the thick of the storm. The key is having gratitude for not only yourself but others, too.

As Anne said, “Oftentimes when I’m sad, frustrated or disappointed, it’s because my expectations and my reality are out of alignment. Most people are doing the best they can. People don’t wake up and think, ‘How many people can I disappoint and frustrate today.’ If you lifted the rooftops off all our homes, you would see we’re all dealing with something.”

When the going gets tough, try your best to recognize what is good in your life and give those around you the benefit of the doubt. It’s a powerful way to build resilience. The next time you’re faced with adversity, don’t run from it or let your emotions get out of control. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to practice resilience and courage to help you triumph.

Follow this journey on Lights Camera Crohn’s.

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