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9 Reasons I'm Grateful for My UC

One thing my poor battered bowel never gets is my gratitude. As someone who has had ulcerative colitis (UC) since I was 10 years old (56 years), I sometimes feel that well-meaning people who try to put a positive spin on UC aren’t helpful at all. (I can definitely relate it to the term “toxic positivity.”) However, as a therapist, I know that there are psychological studies that reveal gratitude can help us feel better. Here’s what I found when it comes to UC and gratitude:

1. LEARNING TO BE TENDER WITH MYSELF

I used to rage at my bowel and all the pain and unfairness. Then I realized that wasn’t helping; the compassion I longed for had to start with me, even if I wanted it from others (including the medical system). Learning to be tender with myself is an ongoing practice, but I have become much better at lying on the couch and taking an Epsom salt bath instead of pushing myself when my body is screaming, “STOP!”

2. ANONYMITY

It’s tough to have an invisible illness when it feels like no one really knows what you are going through. (Although living with someone and sharing a bathroom can give them a rough idea.) But anonymity can be handy when you’re on a job interview or first date. I’m grateful that the invisibility of UC allows me to “appear” healthy a lot of the time.  It’s my choice whom I want to tell.

3. EMBRACING MY APPEARANCE

When I’m in a flare, my worries about weight are all health-related. I don’t much care how I look to others when I’m so thin that I’m afraid of falling down the toilet! On the other end, I have had the “steroid balloon look.” When I’m in those situations, all I want is to feel better. I swear to myself that if I can recover, I will never again worry about my appearance for sheer vanity. That usually doesn’t last long, but when I catch myself thinking vain thoughts again, I take it as a sign of health, and I am grateful for that luxury.

4. OWNING MY STRESS AND LEARNING TO RELAX

UC can be so depressing at times; there’s so much to worry about that it can feel like a full-time job to not give in and give up. I really am grateful that UC has motivated me to learn whatever I can in order to feel calmer and happier. I love it when I can recognize tension in my body and reduce it with meditation, yoga or whatever else that brings me back into balance. There is so much that we can’t control with UC, but I’m grateful I’ve discovered how I can manage my own stress. Learning to cope with UC led me to become a therapist, so I’ve been able to use my own lessons to support my clients too.

5. MENOPAUSE

OK, I may have lost half of you here, but the other half are going to experience this sooner or later — surprise! It’s good news. The docs never said much to me about hormones and UC, but for me, things improved a lot after menopause. While a lot of women complain about it, I have been very grateful and can talk about menopause as something to look forward to.

6. APPRECIATING FOOD

I am currently in a very long flare, so my diet has been limited for a while. Whenever I am past the liquids-only stage, I really appreciate food. Fortunately I happen to like white rice, bananas and consuming more carbs than I would if I were in remission. (Not everyone’s diet looks the same, but most of us deal with some dietary restrictions.) As things get better, I look forward to each food group that may be coming my way. Bring on the almond croissants and coffee — it has been far too long. Eating normally, something so many don’t think twice about, is something I savor.

7. A CRASH COURSE IN RESILIENCE

Now that I am older, I see my contemporaries struggling with feeling that their bodies are unreliable, many for the first time in their lives. For those of us with UC, this may have started much earlier. This is just one reason that living with chronic illness does build up resilience. We learn to accept that life can be pretty tough and rough at times. Dealing with UC has taught me skills like pacing, patience, self-discipline and learning to let go of non-essentials, such as attending that party, in order to put my health first instead. Even though I’m often resentful for the losses, when I see someone struggling with body changes, I realize that UC has given me a head start in many ways.

8. REMISSION

This one is easy. I am SO grateful to have a condition that ebbs and flows with periods of remission. I am thankful to have had many moments of remission in my life. (Hello coffee and almond croissants!) When I am in a flare, it helps a lot to know that, in all likelihood, things will get better at some point; they certainly aren’t going to stay the same. Even now, in the midst of a seemingly never-ending flare, I have hope for improvement. And within the flare itself, there is improvement; I can leave the house now and have enough energy to do some work and sit at the computer. This gives me hope.

9. COMPASSION

We live in a society where we are constantly told that it is selfish to focus on ourselves. But we’re not talking about buying $1,000 handbags here (sorry purse lovers). We’re talking about listening to our bodies and respecting our limits and health. Having to learn this for myself (yes — it is an ongoing lesson) gives me a lot of compassion for others. Many people live with some sort of pain, so all the lessons UC has afforded me help me feel compassion toward others too.

Thank you UC! Writing this list has made me aware that I am grateful to you, even though I wish we had never met! And guess what? Listing them did make me feel better!  

Readers, please let me know what’s on your gratitude list and whether looking at UC through the lens of gratitude has helped you in any way.