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My High School Teacher Judged My Story, But The Mighty Won't

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Looking back

I’ve forgotten what it truly feels like to be hooked up to tubes while my hospital room cluttered with gargantuan “Get Well” baskets of cookies I couldn’t eat. Fast-food commercials were especially unsympathetic.

I try to remember being a patient, existing on a cocktail-of-chemicals diet straight through the veins. Some things stick out in my memory — like watching my father eat a ham and cheese sandwich. I would have sold my soul for one crunch into that toasty, golden brown goodness. I didn’t particularly like my doctor. She’d shout to my mom, “Don’t worry, Momma! Don’t worry,” with the most worrisome inflection.

What is Ulcerative Colitis?

Twenty years later, I’m out of the hospital but still very much living with ulcerative colitis. I haven’t talked about it publicly. Until now.

I’m not embarrassed. When people inquire, I’ll talk about any part of this unglamorous disease. I try to keep things humorous if possible, deeming “medicinal enemas” as “milkshakes” is a more fun euphemism than “topicals.” And I’ll tell the anecdote of my well-intending grandmother complimenting my slim figure when I was actually experiencing a pound-dropping flare-up. (Ouch. Thanks, Grandma.)

The biggest reason I haven’t spoken up is because others go through larger health challenges. My story isn’t one of remarkable perseverance. Yes, I’m scared to be on drugs with serious risks or to have surgery in my future. But I have the best of both worlds: Things have gotten just crappy enough (no pun) that I savor the small, joyful moments, but things have never gotten so bad that I couldn’t function for long periods of time.

The second reason I haven’t publicly written about colitis is silly. I’m subconsciously scarred from the first time I ever opened up about it. It was the first time I didn’t receive a perfect mark on my paper.

When my teacher handed my personal story assignment back, it punched me in the stomach. She’d graffiti-ed my paper with comments and corrections. This was my story, I thought — there were no rights or wrongs about it.

People aren’t always comfortable reading intense material. Maybe that was an issue for my teacher. I admittedly have a hard time digesting people’s stories when they deal with sensitive subjects. The thing about The Mighty is, there’s always light to glean from the darkness. Honest, helpful, inspiring — this describes the pieces connecting people on The Mighty.

But The Mighty wasn’t around then. So, high-school me wanted to stand up and say, “Teacher-who-extolled-my-pretentious-piece-on-Macbeth, you’re putting down my straight-from-the-heart story?! This is real. The other stuff is fluff.”

Packing up my books when the bell rang jolted me out of my pity party; my ego already started panging less. Sure, I was vulnerable, but that didn’t mean I should never share. By default, this paper was going to be judged. I knew what I was signing up for. At the end of the day, it was a step forward in sharing my story. You’ve got to start somewhere.

That’s what I love about The Mighty. That’s why I came to work here. Every person’s piece is implicitly an A+. Stories aren’t critiqued or put down like they so often are around the web. And that doesn’t mean it’s not real. In fact, the stories are often the most real, beautiful thing you’ll read all day. OK, maybe I’m biased, but think about it: Every reader opens up for the sake of helping others. Whether it’s to inspire people going through similar challenges or to make others appreciate being able to walk, talk, taste, hear or feel. Or maybe just have a good poop.

Originally published: January 20, 2015
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