The Power of Community When Battling Chronic Illness
Community. What does it mean to you? Once you're diagnosed with a chronic illness like Crohn's disease, it means the world. It means having a support network. It means knowing you don't have to face your daily battles alone. It means finding a sense of yourself in others and knowing there is validation for each emotion, worry, and obstacle that comes your way. Thanks to social media, so many of us chronic illness warriors are able to connect over the internet. Blogs, social channels, and forums have given us all a place to reach one another.
"There is simply no reason to take this beast on alone."
When I was first diagnosed with Crohn's in 2005, Facebook was just launching. There really wasn't a vocal group of inflammatory bowel disease advocates right at my fingertips. Rather than knowing there are 1.6 million Americans taking on the same disease, I spent years suffering in silence. Nowadays, there are so many ways to find support and words of encouragement. There is simply no reason to take this beast on alone.
While it's amazing to connect with chronic illness warriors online, meeting them in person is a whole different level. You almost feel starstruck after corresponding for years over Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter...sometimes even text message. When you finally get to meet the person in the flesh, it feels surreal. Even though you've never actually met, you feel an instant bond and camaraderie. A camaraderie that's only possible with someone when your illness is also their reality. Seeing an online friend in real life and witnessing that they are everything and more you envisioned is incredibly cathartic and uplifting.
While family and friends lift us up and are there through the good days and the flares, having a group of friends around the world who also take on IBD is the best medicine of all. If you have questions about a medication, or are going through a specific procedure or surgery, chances are these friends have been in your shoes. If you're frustrated with the daily symptoms and side effects, chances are they've experienced similar challenges.
The IBD family is ready to take you in
While no two people experience IBD the same way, each of us have had a similar journey. Just taking on the day to day and learning how to navigate the illness sets you on the same playing field. It can be daunting to reach out to a stranger on social media who is vocal about their battle with IBD, but I can assure you that the IBD family is welcoming and ready to take you in. All it takes is for you to reach out, even on a feel good day, start a friendship, and you'll witness for yourself how easy you will bond and how effortless it is. It's truly magical.
We are only as strong as our support networks and, when you sprinkle in those who get you and empathize with your struggles and your pain, you'll feel a renewed sense of self. You won't feel so isolated and alone. The future won't feel so daunting. Look at fellow advocates and witness their inspiring stories, see how they didn't allow IBD to hold them back from following their dreams...and then, do the same.
What type of IBD have you been diagnosed with?