This series contains to-the-point references to a chronic bowel illness and all the fun things that come with it. Be aware if any of this could make you uncomfortable. Otherwise, enjoy!
“Oh God, that’s awful, I’m so sorry.” It’s okay, stranger I just met at a pub, I’m not dying! Although in many ways, it does really feel like it.
I was 19 when I began to ignore the blood in the toilet. I continued to ignore the overwhelming nausea, and the fatigue making me need to sleep every couple of hours in order to function. I ignored the stomach pain, the joint pain, the pain of admitting something could be wrong with me. I went to my lectures, I went on nights out, I smiled and laughed and prayed that it would just go away.
It was one fateful night when I found myself covered in my own vomit and faeces on the toilet at 2am, crying and calling 111, that I allowed myself to think it could actually be something bad. I was taken to A&E where I was told, “It’s probably an IBD”, and sent on my way. From then it was a continual succession of GP’s fingers up my rectum, stool samples and blood tests. It didn’t take long for the second A&E visit, when I was admitted to hospital for the first time since infancy.
After more fingers up the bum and invasive tests, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. One of those diseases where someone always has ‘a friend of a friend’ who has it. Colitis is an autoimmune chronic disease that is only cured by removing your entire colon (and even that has its complications). It’s similar to its more popular sister-disease, Crohn’s, but is a different type of bacteria. Colitis also stays just in the colon (large intestine), whereas Crohn’s can manifest anywhere in the digestive tract. But that’s enough of a biology lesson.
There is nothing quite like being told at 19 years old that you are now forbidden from being a normal 19 year old ever again. I entered a whole new world where I wasn’t just worried about university anymore and I had a whole new weight on my shoulders to carry. It opened my eyes to all of the people I knew around me growing up who had chronic health problems from childhood, and I had just brushed it off, assuming they were cool with having it, or just not thinking about it at all. I never thought about how it would really affect them until it was me in that situation. My selfishness had been truly exposed.
It took a long time for me to really accept the gravity of the situation, and that I was unlucky in how severe my case was. I wanted so desperately to carry on as I always had. I was in a constant fight with my own body, and it was exhausting. Missing out on things I had been excited for, and never expected to be absent from. All of a sudden becoming a ghost in people’s lives, triggering a huge fear of being left behind. A diagnosis like that seizes you quickly and without remorse.
There’s a million articles to be written on my experiences with the disease, in hospital, and living with a chronic illness afterwards, and I intend to write a lot of them. You can expect to enjoy a short series on the highs and lows of having chronic health problems as a young adult. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for a few.
For now, I’ll impart some wisdom on realising that it is real after months of denial: It’s okay to miss the old you. It’s okay to be furious that you have lost time and memories. You need to feel those things before you can be at peace with them. I’m still not quite there yet, but I’ve got a lot of time. It is a lifelong disease after all.
Photo by Eduard Militaru