When the Disease I Knew Introduced Me to the Disease I Feared
My journey with Crohn’s has been a long and winding experience. Not only has it taken a physical and mental toll on me, but I’ve suffered with it for the majority of my life. I was diagnosed at 10 years old when the only care I should have had was which backpack to get for the new school year. Instead, my parents and I were saddled with medications, procedures and doctors’ visits to squeeze in before fall came and the bell rang.
Aside from the difficult nature and logistics of my condition, my age excluded me from learning additional details of the disease. There were other factors of Crohn’s that I was not privy to as I was just a kid. Every piece of information was filtered. I was just there for the ride and when new problems arose, we listened intently as the doctor explained. As I grew and faced new challenges in my everyday life, my disease became somewhat forgiving. I essentially breezed throughout middle school and my freshman year of high school. I wasn’t technically in remission but it was something I was happy to accept.
The tide began to turn between my freshman and sophomore year of high school. I became angry. Then I became sad.
My friends and I were growing apart and I was tired of watching my brother and sister live their lives with social events, while I was stuck at home playing Gamecube games. I thought I could explain it away. Yet, all of a sudden, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to open the curtains in my room. I was in the fall semester of my sophomore year and my grades began to fall. I hit the bottom fast. I started hurting myself.
Misery was my best friend and my enemy. It came in the form of a broken piece of glass and the upstairs toilet. I started getting nauseous while going to the bathroom. My stomach started to ache once more. I was scared out of my mind.
Ashamed of what I thought to be a disgusting disease, and my lack of self-control, I kept hurting myself. My grades kept dropping. There was nothing worse than feeling lonely, gross and hopeless. I thought I was a lost cause. My depression was swallowing me and the few gasps of air I had left were precious. I searched for reasons outside of my own mind for feeling this way and came up empty. What was going on with me? Why couldn’t I shake this leech off of me?
I slowly began to get better both physically and mentally and pulled myself from the bottom of that gnashing pit. What had I done to achieve this? The answer is… nothing. It just stopped. It was such an unsatisfying conclusion to come to. It was almost as if I simply forgot about it.
The rest of high school went by fairly smoothly. I found my way back to my friends and renewed my interests in my favorite subjects. I started dating my high school sweetheart and formed new friendships. Everything was as peachy as it could be for a high schooler. My graduation night was also the same day as my 18th birthday. There was so much to celebrate! I did have a hard time getting up to the stage because of the massive cyst on the back of my leg. But, eh… who cared? I was 18 and I just graduated high school. Eat my dust!
Except that didn’t really happen. No one “ate my dust” but me. From that time on, I experienced the worst of my disease. I was in and out of the hospital, lost weight and gained weight, other physical symptoms came and went and my mental health was delicate. I thought I’d ditched that monster. When it began to interfere with my college courses, I started to lose faith in myself. What was the point of trying if I was just going to have to keep dropping out because I was sick? I felt like a failure. All of my friends were graduating with degrees and living their dreams while I laid in bed unable to get to school. I never felt so low.
All of the other times I was suffering felt like nothing to me. Even as I started to make my way back to normalcy, I saw no point in reaching for my goals. As soon as I started, I’d just have to quit again. So I settled. The feeling of never getting what I truly wanted crushed me. My brain fog was too heavy, my depression was intimidating and my self-esteem was in the basement with broken stairs and no way back up.
I was 23 years old before I learned that depression and Crohn’s were closely related. Apparently, they go hand in hand. All of the reading I’d done and the doctors I’d seen never clued me in. I was elated yet angry. It wasn’t just me. It was several people living with Crohn’s. It was like I’d seen the light. Finally, I felt like I had a reason behind all of this anguish. I’d been battling my demons for close to a decade before I found any kind of answer. That is not to say that everything suddenly became OK, but I had something tangible. I could point to these studies and anecdotes and say, “Look! They’re just like me.”
Working on myself has never been my strength. I’ve given into my worst impulses too many times to count. Now I have two diseases to conquer.
I have currently been in remission for close to three years now and but I’m still fighting with my mental health. The biggest difference is my awareness surrounding it. I have other Crohnies to turn to. I can hear their stories and ask for their advice. Sometimes I wonder what would’ve happened if I’d made the connection earlier in the life. There are too many possibilities to consider, and who knows? Things could have turned out exactly the same. Every day is a test. Will I wake up and want to die? Am I going to spend most of my day in the bathroom? Or will everything turn out alright? Pass or fail, I know this much. I’m a fighter, I’m still here and I’m becoming OK with that.
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