Eryn Murphy

@erynmurphy | contributor
Eryn was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease as a sophomore in college. She hopes to become an advocate and help combat the stigmas that surround IBD and mental illness so people can feel confident despite their diagnosis. When not writing, you can catch her wasting money at the movie theater from seeing movies multiple times.
Eryn Murphy

Fighting Insurance for Access to Crohn's Disease Medication

When I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s disease it seemed like every minor misstep upset me. Going somewhere and not being able to eat the food triggered a breakdown. The mere thought of having to do my own shots brought tears to my eyes. Dealing with insurance and pharmacies always sent me down a dark mental path. To me, the frustrating process of having to fight for my medication always served as the biggest reminder that Crohn’s disease is chronic. I was 20 years old when I was first diagnosed, but even at 20 I could see through the façade. It was clear to me immediately how insurance and pharmaceutical companies try to take advantage of patients. Medication prices are increased out of the blue, or medicine is withheld completely for unexplainable reasons. At 23 years old, I thought I was an expert at having to deal with the roadblocks Crohn’s disease threw at me. Until I pulled up to the pharmacy drive-thru window and was told my medication was $65 instead of $5. The reason? The assistance program I was enrolled in on top of my insurance was suddenly missing from my file. I had to take my medication that day, so I had no choice but to pay for it and deal with the issue later. I called the assistance program and they explained that error should never happen. I was transferred to the pharmacy’s customer service number. A woman told me the assistance program information was nowhere to be found. I asked why and explained that it had been in my file for a year without a problem. “Well it probably expired after it hit the one-year mark,” the woman said. “If that was true, it would have expired last October. It’s July,” I deadpanned. “And it never expires.” For a second she was silent, not answering my rebuttal. “Can you just stop lying and return the money that is owed to me?” I asked. Immediately, she agreed to transfer me to the billing department and apologized for the mistake. Even once it was fixed, I sat in my car for a few minutes to try and collect myself. I buried my face in my hands and let out the sob I had been choking back for the past 30 minutes. Despite how confident I sounded on the phone, the stress of the interaction broke me. In the years since my Crohn’s disease diagnosis, my pharmacy ran out of my medication, and insurance denied the medication my doctor prescribed twice. Another insurance company took weeks to authorize a prescription only to try and change the medication type once it was approved, forcing me to stay on my parent’s plan. Nothing about that phone call was new, but that didn’t make it easy. A few hours later, I felt a bit guilty for the harsh way I treated the woman. It most likely wasn’t her fault; she was just doing her job. The moment of guilt quickly faded when I wondered what happened to people who were not as assertive as me. Did companies continue to take advantage until they caught on? Was their battle to get the medication even more difficult? Over a year later, my pharmacy delayed my prescription’s delivery. There were still a couple of weeks until I needed to take it, so I shrugged it off. Except then it was delayed, again, and again I called and apparently the pharmacy was waiting on insurance approval. The woman I spoke to said she would try to expedite the process so I could receive my medication the day after I needed it. When I received the email notification that it was delayed again, I called back. The person on the phone told me it was actually my doctor the pharmacy was waiting on. For weeks, my doctor allegedly had been ignoring the prior authorization forms. I called my doctor’s office and explained the situation. “Yeah, that’s a lie,” the nurse said bluntly. “We haven’t received anything.” She then asked for the pharmacy’s phone number and said she would take care of it. Within a few hours, she called back and confirmed it was done. I called the pharmacy back the next morning and asked for a status update. The woman on the line said they were still waiting for my doctor. When I said I had spoken to my doctor’s office twice in the past 24 hours and that the forms were sent, she put me on hold. “Yes, so…” she said once she returned. “We did receive the forms this morning.” “They sent them yesterday,” I interrupted. “But continue.” After weeks of back and forth, I finally got my medication three days after I was supposed to inject it. I hoped that would be the end of it, at least for a while. But a few months, later I found myself faced with a similar dilemma again. As I talked to my mom on the phone, she lamented at how fun “adulting” was. In the background, my dad made a joke about Bernie Sanders. I hung up on them and slammed my phone down on the couch, bursting into tears. Fighting with insurance and pharmacies for access to medication you need is not just “adulting.” It’s surviving. People with chronic illnesses and preexisting conditions, no matter their age, must explain why they deserve to live a full life over and over again. It’s a never-ending and dehumanizing battle we shouldn’t have to fight.

Eryn Murphy

Pushing Your Comfort Zone With a Chronic Illness

Someone once told me that anytime you are uncomfortable in life, you are experiencing growing pains. You shouldn’t be afraid of them or run from them; you should embrace them. They told me it’s called your “comfort zone” for a reason, and the only time you grow as a person is when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you don’t do this, you risk staying stagnant throughout life instead of evolving. After being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease my sophomore year of college, my health was up and down. Every time I started feeling better, I pushed myself to act how I did before I was diagnosed. As soon as I felt a grasp of normalcy, it was impossible for me to resist, even if it wasn’t something my body could handle. As time passed, I worked hard on self-control and tried to appreciate my new comfort zone. I went on road trips, but brought my own food instead of eating fast food like my friends. When my roommates went to the mountains for fall break, I went with them, but when they hiked I read a book at the bottom of the trail. The more I compromised, the better my health became. I wasn’t just experiencing grasps of normalcy; feeling good became my normal and I was terrified of losing it. Compromising transformed into staying in a comfort zone. I had my routine that worked for me, and I worried that straying from it in the slightest way would be catastrophic. Because of how much I resented not being able to control my body, I wanted to control as much as possible, and in my comfort zone, I could. Except… the more I held myself back, the more restless I became. For the first time in years, I had energy, and I was too scared to use it. My friend reminded me that life is filled with peaks and valleys; there was no way I could prevent every bad thing from happening. I realized the more I lived in fear, the more I would miss out on. Slowly, I started branching out. I allowed myself the occasional food indulgence, went to the gym more, and booked trips with my friends. In a way, I allowed myself to live again instead of just surviving. It’s still a balancing act, and I constantly find myself fighting the battle of what I want to push myself to do versus what I know my body can handle. It feels like I’m standing on the edge of a diving board. Before being diagnosed, I could see how far below the water was and how deep it was; I always knew that if I chose to jump, I would be OK. Now, because of the uncertainty having a chronic illness  brings, I can’t see any of that. The most important thing I’ve learned in the past few months is that sometimes it is OK to not know what is going to happen. While I sometimes feel the need to take a step back and compromise to make sure my health isn’t harmed, I’ve learned to embrace the uncertainty. There is no way to prevent bad things from happening, but I realized blocking out the bad meant I wasn’t allowing myself to experience any of the good.

Eryn Murphy

Accepting That Chronic Illness Makes My Life Different Than My Friends

In high school, I dreamed of moving to New York City. I loved the excitement, the Broadway shows, and the idea of limitless possibilities. After I got sick with Crohn’s disease my sophomore year of college, the idea of moving to a city where I knew nobody, would have to find a new doctor, and build a new support system was terrifying. What if I had a flare up and there was nobody there I could rely on to help me? My dream began to change. All I wanted was to get a job where I could have health insurance and live near my friends and family. So that’s what I did, and I stayed in the city I grew up in and where I went to college. Most of my college friends stayed too, and some of my high school friends came back when they finished college. My support system stayed the same, and my health improved to the point where I didn’t need to return to the doctor for six months. When my roommate announced she would be moving across the world in the coming year for an amazing job opportunity, I panicked. Who will I room with now? Can I afford to live alone? What if my other friends start to pack up and leave? Should I be going on an amazing adventure too? Am I falling behind? Will I get stuck while everyone else moves on? As I panicked, I remembered that it’s more difficult for me to pack up and move across the world. I have an emotional support dog that would have to move with me, and a chronic illness that is triggered by stress. I would have to find a way to have my medications delivered. I would have to find a new doctor. A friend of mine reminded me that since my diagnosis, I have been forced to grow up faster than some of my other friends, and because of that I have already found myself. I realized that forcing myself to move before I was comfortable or ready would be a disaster. While my personality does not like staying stagnant, I have to realistically understand the limitations of my diagnosis. Having a chronic illness means trying to keep everything else in your life as calm as possible to try and prevent flare ups. Even if you don’t want to always stay in your comfort zone, the scariness that change brings can be stressful enough to put your health at risk. It can be hard to accept that, but it’s important to recognize that no one’s experiences are universal, and your path will not and should not match anybody else’s journey.

Eryn Murphy

Giving Up Drinking for Crohn's Disease Doesn't Mean I Can't Have Fun

“Why do you still like to party if you don’t drink?” For a moment I stared at the boy, incredulous, as his words sunk in. Until meeting him, no one had tried to prove I wrong for still having fun in spite of my Crohn’s disease diagnosis. His condescending tone when he said “party” made it hard to not roll my eyes. I didn’t consider it partying; I considered it hanging out with my friends. “For me going out and drinking aren’t mutually exclusive so if I still want to go out and dance with my friends I’m going to do that,” I said. “But why partying? Why not find other hobbies that don’t involve drinking?” He pressed. In his head, because I had a chronic illness, I did not belong in the bar where he had met me. I belonged at home. “Why do I have to give it up entirely when drinking is only a small part of it? I already had to give up a lot of other things so I’m going to keep doing what I can do if it means I can feel normal,” I countered. After this he relented, but the conversation left a bad taste in my mouth. It was the summer before my senior year of college. I was old enough to be in the bar and had been socializing like everybody else; he hadn’t even realized I wasn’t drinking until I told him. So what was his problem? For almost two years, I had continued going out to parties and bars with my friends despite the fact I could no longer digest alcohol. Nobody else had ever been opposed to my decision. If somebody I didn’t know asked to get me a drink, I declined it. If they asked why I wasn’t drinking, I explained that I had Crohn’s disease and couldn’t drink. There was no point in lying, and I am a firm believer that people can only understand if you are honest with them. People who knew what Crohn’s disease was would then mention the person they knew who had it and that they usually didn’t drink either. My friends were great, and would sometimes jump in and explain so I wouldn’t have to rehash the same thing over and over again. When my symptoms were flaring, I missed out on a lot. As soon as I was feeling better and it wasn’t necessary for me to be at home all the time, I picked back up all the things I did before getting sick. I discovered what I could still do and what needed modification. Two sips of alcohol made me feel like I had food poisoning and a hangover for multiple days in a row. Instead of feeling better once it was out of my body, I developed new symptoms that stayed. Even after starting medication, I recognized it was too dangerous to risk; I would rather stay healthy and not drink than drink and risk my medication not being able to counteract the side effects. Having a chronic illness, good days are not guaranteed, so I take full advantage of those days because I never know how long they will last. I don’t apologize for continuing to have fun despite not being able to fit into the social expectation. Giving up drinking was not a hard sacrifice to make, but giving up socializing all together just because alcohol is present was an unreasonable expectation. It would feel against my outgoing nature to spend all of my time sheltered away from people, and I wasn’t going to let my diagnosis dictate my personality.

Eryn Murphy

Having a Love/Hate Relationship With Your Medication

My last semester of college, I sat in class as my professor brought up side effects of medications. I don’t remember how or why the conversation got brought up. He went on to say that he didn’t understand how people could willingly take medications that had such risky side effects, and sometimes wondered if he would take the “skin condition” or “stomach ailment” over the medication. Immediately, my body filled with anger because I have a so-called “stomach ailment” known as Crohn’s disease. He didn’t know this of course; all he knew was that I was registered with my school’s disability services because I had something chronic. The moment passed, as it always does, as I reassured myself that it wasn’t his fault. He didn’t know any better. The only way you can know is if you have something that requires that sort of medication. I hate my medication, but I also love it. The first medication I tried provided instant relief, but gave me insomnia. The second one, that I still take to this day, helped even more, but it caused my hair to fall out until it was extremely thin. The third medication I tried, which I also still take, is a painful shot that could also cause lupus or cancer. I didn’t want to take this medication; my doctor and I both wanted me to take a different one. Unfortunately, insurance said no, twice. I had panic attacks over the idea of taking it, scared of the pain and of the possible side effects. For the first seven months, someone else had to administer the shots for me because it is very painful. I hated it, but I didn’t have a choice. A few months after starting this injection, my feelings for it became complicated. Combined with my other medication, I found myself feeling the best I had since being diagnosed. It was the most I had ever felt like my pre-diagnosis self. I could eat French fries and chocolate in the same night if I wanted without worrying about terrible consequences. The anxiety I felt about eating foods I would normally stay away from while out with friends or colleagues started to disappear. The stomachaches I was used to tolerating decreased. My energy returned. I regained freedom and ease of mind. For that reason, I love my medication. If I didn’t take it, I would have stomachaches so bad I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. I wouldn’t be able to digest food, and would continue to lose weight until I was hospitalized. It’s not a stomach ailment I can just ignore and choose to live with. As much as I don’t like it, I need the medication more than I can worry about possible side effects because my life depends on it. I despise it, but at the same time I am grateful for it. It’s a fine line to walk, but one that anyone with a chronic illness knows all too well.

Eryn Murphy

How to Support a Friend Who Is Chronically Ill

A few months ago, I started attending a support group for other college students with chronic illnesses. It was great getting to talk with people who could relate to what I was going through, but one of the most common complaints of everyone else in the group was that their friends didn’t understand what it was like living with a chronic illness. As I sat there, I felt bad that I didn’t have this problem. Overall, a majority of my friends are incredibly supportive. The more I attended the group, the more I realized the attendees wanted their friends to know exactly what they were going through without having to explain it to them. When the counselor leading the group asked why it seemed my friends were more supportive, I told her it was because I was always extremely vocal about what I was going through, and I recognized early on that my friends would never be able to know exactly what it was like to have Crohn’s disease. Unfortunately with chronic illnesses, you just don’t know what it’s like unless you have it. When I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s disease as a sophomore in college, I texted and Snapchatted my friends the news as soon as I left the doctor’s office. A few were shocked, but most of them already knew I was sick with something, just none of us knew what. Over the next few months, I opened up and let my friends, ranging from class acquaintances to my childhood best friend, know about my newfound diagnosis. There were some bumps in the road at first. One friend asked me if it was contagious, and one made a comment that I was lucky I could lose weight so easily. Another was extremely scared and asked me if I was going to die. For a while, most of my friends’ main concern was if I was going to be well enough to drink alcohol on my 21st birthday, when that was probably the last concern on my mind. While those things frustrated me, I realized they just didn’t understand what I was going through, and just like my diagnosis was a learning curve for me, it was a learning curve for them as well. I know my friends will never know exactly what it’s like to have Crohn’s disease, and I would never want them to because that would mean they’d have to be diagnosed with it too. I also know my friends don’t need to have Crohn’s to be supportive of me. There are always the slip-ups, like when someone forgets I don’t drink alcohol or that I can’t eat pizza, but those are minor moments that just take a quick reminder. I don’t mind reminding them because they offer to hold my hand during my loading dose of medication. They know I get dibs on the bathroom when traveling and let me pick the restaurant when we go out to eat. They listen to me vent and visit me after surgeries. They do all of this for me while I support them with whatever they are struggling with, because that’s what friends do. In life, there will always be people who choose not to be there for you, but I’ve learned the right people will step up when needed… if you let them. The only way people can help you is if they know what’s going on, and that only comes with honesty and patience. No one’s life experiences are universal, and once I stopped holding my friends to an unrealistic standard I found it was a lot easier to appreciate their support. I learned to let them support me in whatever way they can, while trying my best to articulate what I need. Having a chronic illness can make or break you, but having a strong support system can lift you up on days you can’t carry yourself.