Nicola Ranson

@nicolaranson | contributor
I've had ulcerative colitis since I was ten, which led to a lifetime of exploring how to help my body heal, especially from the impact of stress and underlying trauma. This led to a career as a therapist focusing on the body-oriented approaches I find effective. Counseling has taught me how to listen, how to speak from the heart and acknowledge the dark side while leaning into the light. In 2019 I was diagnosed with anal cancer which makes for a gnarly combination with ulcerative colitis. Lying in bed for months gave me plenty of opportunities to draw on my life's work and use the multiple tools that I now want to share through my writing; a way to connect which helps all of us feel less alone.
Grady Stewart

The Icky Feeling of Ulcerative Colitis

It’s 2:47 a.m. when I first wake up to rush to the bathroom. As I look in the mirror, under the buzzing glow of the overhead fluorescent lights, I can’t help but feel trapped within my own body. All at once, I feel so confined to my internal reality, yet deep down, I am desperately scratching at the boundaries of my own body. I plead with bones, guts and white blood cells to relax. I know I can’t get too worked up at my body because I don’t want to add any turmoil to the war waged inside of me. I’d like to credit my calm demeanor to rigorous Buddhist training, but really I just don’t want to make anything worse. I argue with myself and with my body like a bitter old married couple. In these moments, I am two different people, though really, there is just one of me, alone in the bathroom at 3 a.m. It’s an odd feeling. It doesn’t help that my house is silent and I am alone in a slumbering world. The unwatched TV sits silently screaming late-night infomercials behind a dark screen, my friends are all binging tonight’s latest dream, and I am so alone. I scamper back to bed and wrap myself in a bundle of cold sheets. Slowly, I drift back to sleep until eventually, I awake to an intruder breaching the tranquility of my bedroom. An icy wave of panic washes over me as I realize the mysterious invader is under my pillow. Then, I reach over and hit the snooze button on my phone’s alarm. It is 7:21 a.m., and I am no longer alone. Over the past three years that I have lived with ulcerative colitis, I have experienced many challenges. Anemia, bleeding, pain, weight loss, and other symptoms have all forced me to confront health as a process rather than a given. “The ick” is one of the most complex struggles I have faced since my diagnosis. The ick strikes at any time and in any place. Whether it is 4 a.m. or 2 p.m. and whether I am at home or on a roller coaster at a theme park, the ick is there. The ick sticks to the moments I spend in the bathroom in the dead of night and the moments when I am surrounded by my friends at a party. The ick is a persistent, sickly, and grimy feeling that sticks to me. The ick is isolation, discomfort and doubt all mixed together like the ingredients of a pot of gumbo. The ick marks me as sick, as a patient and as abnormal. Sometimes, I wonder if I’ll ever get rid of it. Secretly, the truth is I feel like the ick is a part of me. It makes me feel unclean and tainted. When I try to explain the ick to others, often I feel even more alone than before I said anything. Eventually, however, I’ve discovered the cure for the ick. Sadly, it’s not removable with Clorox, or Oxy Clean or any organic cleaner from Whole Food. Instead, and ironically, the ick is best treated by surrounding myself with supportive others. Today, by connecting with my community and the chronic illness landscape, I have learned I am not icky, or alone. While I am different and challenged by my health, the ick is not really what sticks to me. Instead, what sticks is what I make stick and what I choose to put out into the world. After all, together we are more than any disease.

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Need self-care? Try connecting with your Inner Kitten.

<p>Need self-care? Try connecting with your Inner Kitten.</p>
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Need self-care? Try connecting with your Inner Kitten.

<p>Need self-care? Try connecting with your Inner Kitten.</p>
3 people are talking about this
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Perseverance is keeping going

<p>Perseverance is keeping going</p>
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Nicola Ranson

Why Ulcerative Colitis Is Not Just A Bathroom Disease

Ulcerative colitis (UC) certainly feels like a bathroom disease when I spend so much time on the toilet. I get sick of constantly focusing on the stupid bathroom. I’m always alone there. No one else understands the pain I experience while I distract myself by imagining Marjorie Simpson’s hair in the patterns on the white vinyl floor. It can be lonely, especially at night. Most people disengage and dismiss my suffering as soon as they hear the words bowel or diarrhea . I get it; it grosses me out too. But UC is not your great aunt’s irritable bowel (which I really don’t want to hear about). Rather, the symptoms go way beyond the bathroom. I’ve had UC for 56 years, beginning at age 10, and I still get symptom surprises. I’ve had sores in my mouth, aches in my bones, insomnia, anemia, vomiting, worry … it’s an endless list. I was recently hospitalized with all the symptoms of sepsis, a general body shut-down, due to, you’ve guessed it, inflammation from ulcerative colitis. One time I broke out in a high fever with red lumps running down my legs. The doctors said it was erythema nodosum, which sounds really impressive, but it’s just Latin for “red lumps.” There are the endless questions in the chat groups, “Has anyone else had…?” When things are bad, my body seems ready to break out everywhere, and I don’t know if these symptoms are from UC, medication side effects, or stress. But there’s also a comfort in knowing that my body is a whole system, trying hard to let me know that all is not well when my immune response goes awry. UC is an autoimmune disease, which means it’s much bigger than simply targeting the bowels. However, I refuse to be defined by the illness or its favorite bodily functions. The other day I caught myself thinking, My bowel feels good right now , then I suddenly realized, No, damn it , I feel good. When I don’t feel good, I sometimes focus on the parts of me that are working, like my breath and thoughts. I can choose to use a breathing exercise to relax or concentrate on the word I’ve chosen to guide my day. When I succeed at either of those things, it’s a real accomplishment; I’m doing something good for myself. With so much out of my control, it’s been worthwhile learning to focus on what calms me and my little bowel too. Who wants to live life up their own ass (or arse , as the Brits and Australians say so nicely)? Even when I’m stuck in the bathroom, I can shift my focus. I’ve brought plants, pictures and inspiring books into that room, even if I only glance at them for a moment. (It beats looking at the floor.) During that moment, I am providing comfort for myself; an exhalation, a caress. If I can focus on that in between the bad bouts, I can get a little space, some perspective, and enough strength to raise my head, look outside the window and see the trees and a whole world beyond UC, reminding me that I am part of life. I’m participating to whatever degree is possible now, which will be much more down the road, especially if I take care of myself. Just like my house itself is more than a bathroom, colitis is more than just a bathroom disease. Yes, my body’s fundamental plumbing is damaged and in need of repair. But I can help it along by giving it the love and attention it needs and that I need. By focusing on my wellness, such as my strong legs and pain-free feet, I can coax myself into calm. And calm is a state where I can be open to receive some of the love and support that’s out there but invisible when I’m all tensed up and trapped inside my own pain. When I slip into that larger perspective, I’m able to make choices that can keep me out of the bathroom, or at least make it less the center of my world. No, UC isn’t just a bathroom disease. It is so much more than that, and so am I.

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