Why My Crohn's Diagnosis No Longer Feels Like a 'Life Sentence'

One year ago, a week after my 22nd birthday, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. At that time, like most people, I had no idea what that was. I remember sitting in my hotel room feeling so overwhelmed and repeating the same two words over and over again in my head: life sentence. I wasn’t technically wrong – I had been told that there was no known cause or cure for my disease, so I would be dealing with it for the rest of my life.

After my diagnosis, I went through the various stages of grief. Just because the effects of Crohn’s aren’t immediately visible to the outside world doesn’t mean you haven’t lost anything on the inside. I started to grieve for the opportunities and dreams I could feel rapidly slipping away from me. When I was diagnosed, I had just finished my undergraduate degree with the grades to do honors, but I suddenly found myself far too sick to continue studying and with no backup plan. I was forced to move back home with my parents, five hours away from all my friends. Relationships were tested by my constant visits to the hospital, the distance and the self-consciousness brought on by sudden loss of independence. It doesn’t help that the steroids you’re put on to heal your insides make you gain so much weight in the face that you can hardly recognize yourself on the outside.

To deal with all of this you have to majorly shift your perspective. It’s easy to stay in that grieving period and be too afraid of what you might lose if you try anything new. I know what that loss feels like, but I also know the great feeling of triumph when I achieve something I didn’t think I was capable of anymore. There will be times when I’m sick and tired and I can’t do all the things I’ve planned, but I know I’ll always have my support team behind me. This is so important because having a chronic condition of any kind can be extremely isolating. It often feels like no one around you can understand what you’re going through and, most of the time, you don’t want them to understand. It’s hard enough having to go through it yourself, but watching your family worry and travel long distances to be with you is just as hard. It’s not difficult to fall into the trap of feeling like a burden and to downplay your condition so as not to inconvenience anyone. You have to remember that this is a journey and you will have people by your side to go on it with you. You’re never truly alone.

Graduation I have the most incredible support team of friends in the world. They missed compulsory classes to come sit with me in the hospital and cheer me up. They dressed me in their graduation gowns and caps and let me take photos in them when I was too sick to be at my own graduation. They inspired me to keep going and to get stronger every day. For that, I am eternally grateful. Without this illness, I wouldn’t have discovered just how much I am cared about by those I love. Crohn’s may have taken away some of my dreams but it hasn’t taken away my ability to love and be loved. It can’t take away my spirit or my will to keep dreaming. I have new goals now and new things to look forward to. There may be struggles up ahead, but I’ve got through a year of this already. I know I’m strong enough to persevere.

Crohn’s disease is a diagnosis, but it is not a life sentence. It can’t take away your freedom to love and dream and lead a (relatively) normal life. Don’t let it dictate who you should be or what you should do. Take some of the power back. Keep your support team around you and let them plan amazing things with you. Crohn’s does not define you.

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