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To Those Who Felt Sad After Kathleen Baker Won an Olympic Medal With Crohn's Disease

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I found out about Kathleen Baker’s Olympic silver medal at 3 a.m.

I wasn’t awake to watch her take on the 100 meter backstroke because I’m almost never awake past 9 p.m. anymore. And that’s because Kathleen Baker and I share the same disease.

I found out when I woke up at 3 a.m. with some nightly steroid-induced insomnia. Because I have wonderful loved ones who are supportive of me and my struggles with Crohn’s, I checked my phone to see no fewer than four texts that all said something along the lines of: “The girl who just won silver in the backstroke at the Olympics has Crohn’s!” *American flag emoji*

My first emotion at the news was excitement. Because that’s awesome! Damn, good for this girl! I did the world’s quickest Google search and saw all the headlines about Kathleen “overcoming her disease” to win an Olympic medal. I work in social media and public relations, and it’s exactly the awe-inspiring stuff people love to click on.

But after my cursory glance at Google, I got a little sad and I couldn’t put my finger on why. This was a fellow Crohn’s patient succeeding in one of the biggest arenas in the world! And then I put voice to the thought that goes through my head whenever I see someone who’s chronically ill achieving some huge feat — If they can do it, why can’t I? What am I doing wrong?

Now let’s speed past the logic part that says I’m not doing anything wrong, she just spent her entire life training for the Olympics and I didn’t. The point is, sometimes when a sick person sees an “inspirational tale” of another sick person overcoming all odds to win an Oscar, or become an astronaut, or win an Olympic medal, they feel a little beat by their body. It’s one thing to say, “Hey, I probably can’t achieve greatness when my body barely wants me to achieve alive-ness.” But it’s harder to tell yourself that when you see someone surpassing those odds.

So rewind back to my Google anxiety hole — I’m sitting here, berating myself for not being an Olympic medalist and also for not being healthy enough to do basic stuff like go to bars with my friends. I’m wondering if I’ll ever be able to achieve the things I want to in life. Or, in a darker thought, if I’ll ever be able to achieve anything of note.

But then I did some reading, which is an activity I recommend for anyone who thinks they know everything. I read this great article that not only made me cry — it pointed out all the sacrifices Kathleen has had to make because of her Crohn’s. You see, in my mind she was a super human, laughing at all of us mere mortals who were stuck in bed thanks to our symptoms. Now I know she’s just like me — I focus all of my energy on holding down my job, and doing the best work there that I can possibly do. She does the same thing, it just so happens that her job is being a badass freaking Olympian. 

It’s a great reminder that when you’re sick, you can still accomplish (almost) anything — but you can’t accomplish everything. I can write for a living, I just may not be able to like, run my own production company where I oversee 15 hit shows (like a certain Shonda Rhimes). Kathleen can swim in the Olympics, she just may not be able to compete in every single event she might like to. Maybe there’s an alternate world out there where Crohn’s doesn’t exist and I’m the next Mindy Kaling and Kathleen has 25 gold medals.

But in this world, we’re working with what we’ve got. And I think we’re doing a pretty bang up job.

Opening photo courtesy of YouTube: NBC Sports

Originally published: August 10, 2016
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