It started with what I thought was a stomach bug. But a week in I knew something was up. I acted quickly and sought the help of a GI to figure out what was wrong. After we quickly ruled out viruses I was scheduled for my first colonoscopy. I am 27.
The last time I heard the word colonoscopy it was because my parents had to stay home to drink some awful chalky liquid to prepare for their over-50 routine scopes. Needless to say, I was confused and slightly nervous at the prospect of sticking anything up my butt. I had heard of Colitis and Crohn’s Disease before, but only in the worst terms. With that diagnosis on the horizon, I freaked. I thought my whole life would change. I was scared of not being able to eat my favorite foods or enjoy a glass of wine. I thought it meant life as I knew it would be constantly disrupted by painful cramps and feared I would spend many waking hours in the bathroom. In short, this diagnosis was the worst I could fathom.
Yes—I know this may sound melodramatic considering all of the other ailments that I could have. But when you’re in it, and you realize the disease you have is chronic, it feels overwhelming. Colitis is not something that goes away. It sticks around your system, only flaring up when stress takes over, making you even more stressed and even more sick. It’s something that has likely been inside me this whole time, like a foreign invader secretly working its way through my lower intestines.
All of a sudden, it became part of my identity. “I have Colitis”. I started looking for others that had it too. I found a couple of friends and even some family members who had varying degrees of Colitis or Crohn’s. They became my support system. I needed someone to “show me the ropes” and teach me how to deal with a chronic disease. What I needed help with most was being okay with the word chronic. In the end, it’s not just the steroids and maintenance medication that helped me feel better, it was being okay with this condition. By changing my vocabulary and how I approached Colitis, I was able to lessen the stress that inevitably caused my symptoms to flare up. They taught me that Colitis is a very personal disease and everyone has their own reactions, diets, and mechanisms to deal with it.
Since I realized that stress is a trigger for me, I started my treatment by learning how to manage my stress. I started going to meditation classes, which helped move my emotions out of my gut and into my head, where I could work on letting them go. My GI assured me that I do not need to radically change my diet, but that I should maintain a healthy one. I started consuming less of the bad and more of the good. I would talk to my friends and family about my symptoms and they would reciprocate, making this condition feel less alien and more of a thing to manage than a thing to dread. I’m still learning how to manage my Colitis and being mindful of how my body and my mind are feeling at any given moment. Even though I focus more energy on my health now, I’m treating myself better than I was before and making self-care a priority in my life.
IBD should not be stigmatized. The more we talk about these diseases in alternate terms, the less scary they look. There are all types of chronic conditions that are manageable- acne, muscle pain etc. and Colitis is just another one. Today it’s a reminder to treat my body with respect.
Arielle Benedek works in Product at BuzzFeed. Follow her on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.