What I'm Thankful for After 365 Days With Crohn's Disease


Dear 2017,

You were a year full of surprises. I thought I knew what to expect, but you shattered all of my predictions. I anticipated a year full of bittersweet endings and new beginnings, with my college graduation, a final summer before the real world, and the start of my career. And while all this occurred, these events did not define you, 2017. You threw a wrench in my plans and I’m still picking up the pieces.

Instead of ringing in 2017 with champagne and friends, I toasted the new year with a glass of colonoscopy prep and a grim diagnosis: Crohn’s disease. I spent the next 12 months struggling to regain my health after it was taken away so suddenly. I battled severe abdominal pain, frequent bathroom trips, and significant weight loss – all of which left me unable to embrace the milestones you had in store.

As I look back at this past year, I would expect to feel resentment, frustration, and a slew of negative emotions. But what surprises me most is the lack thereof. As cliché as it sounds, I’m oddly grateful for you, 2017. I’m grateful for a life-altering diagnosis that molded me into the person standing here in 2018, and I wouldn’t change the past year even if I could.

I don’t want to sugar coat my situation. Last year sucked. 2017 knocked me flat on my face and never once lent me a hand back up. But out of that pain, I learned more than I ever imagined I would in 365 days. My experience may be highly individual, but the lessons I’ve learned are universal. And although I never thought I’d say this, a few thank you’s are in order.

1. Thank you for forcing me to let go of control.

I’ve spent my past 23 years desperately grasping for control. As someone with a textbook Type A personality, I’ve always felt uneasy entering uncharted territory and did my best to micromanage my environment. I’ve come to realize that no amount of meticulous planning or worrying will ever change my circumstances. Control is an illusion. Instead of wasting our precious energy on things outside of our control, we can learn to embrace the unknown and face fear with new found excitement.

2.Thank you for teaching me that it’s OK to ask for help.

Independence, strength, and self-sufficiency are all valuable qualities. But sometimes we need to lean on each other when the going gets tough. I used to believe that enduring hardships alone makes you stronger, but I’ve now realized that it only breaks you down. Surround yourself with people who support you at every stage and ask for help when you need it. The people that belong in your life will stick around for the hard times, and the ones who don’t will inevitably fade away. And that’s OK. Different people come into your life for different reasons, and not all relationships are meant to be lifelong.

3. Thank you for showing me that no matter how hard you fall, you can always pick yourself back up.

Everyone has to start somewhere, even when that somewhere is rock bottom. When I first set out to build up my physical strength during my recovery, I barely had the energy to walk around the block. I had to take my recovery one day at a time and set small, attainable goals for myself along the way. We all set New Year’s resolutions with the best of intentions, yet we often fail to achieve these goals. This is because change is hard. If changing your life was easy, then everybody would do it. The key to sustainable change is taking baby steps towards a goal and celebrating small victories along the way.

4. Thank you for reminding me to enjoy the little things.

We have so many things to be grateful for each and every day, yet we rarely take the time to count our blessings. And we often don’t realize how good we have it until our luck takes a turn for the worse. Living with Crohn’s disease, I have good days and bad days. Although the bad days may get me down at times, I’ve found a deeper appreciation for the days when I feel happy and healthy.

5. Thank you for restoring my perspective.

After reading this, you may think that I have it all figured out. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I still find myself getting caught up in petty drama, societal pressures, and things that ultimately don’t serve me. I’m not perfect nor will I ever be close to it. But after this past year, I think I have a slightly better sense of what is truly important to me and for that I am grateful.

We’ve all raised our glasses to the new year ahead, but I’d like to take a moment to toast 2017. Thank you for the unexpected twists and turns, and for showing me that I’m strong enough to handle anything thrown my way. And cheers to everything in store for 2018. The good, the bad, and beautiful. Let’s make it count.

Sincerely,

Hayley

Follow this journey on Chronically Fulfilled.

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