A sad man thinking while it rains into puddles, threatens to drown him.

Weathering UC During Life's Storms

"Storms make the oak grow deeper roots." –George Herbert

Last night, I saw rippling streaks of lightning across the black night sky. It flashed its wiry, electric charges, and my body responded in its normal nervous flinching. Moments later, the booming bass of thunder signaled the proximity of the oncoming storm.

On this Friday night, my husband and I were sitting out on our barn balcony overlooking the farm. The approaching storm interrupted our serene conversation.

"It’s getting closer," he said, after noting the time lapse between the lightning and thunder. And then my gut rumbled its own thunder. It signaled I needed a bathroom break.

Coping with life's "flares" on top of UC

For the past 3 years, I have been in the middle of multiple converging storms. First, the physical and mental dealings of perimenopause have poured its mean-spirited thrashings upon my body. Then, throw in confusion and fear of COVID-19, which alone has caused me to experience new tempests as a high school educator. Added to it, many ulcerative colitis flares that informed me my "normal" hacks for weathering this colitis dragon haven't been effective.

So, what's a person to do when life's squalls seem to converge at once?

Well, I'm going to be honest... I've not handled these storms in the most helpful ways. More often than in all my 50+ years, I've found myself either feeling on edge or just plain ol' crying. Neither response is pretty.

Grounding myself during a storm

But watching the approaching thunderstorm last night, it reminded of the quote that these natural cloudbursts "make the oak grow deeper roots." While I believe that society overall is experiencing a "mental despair crisis," I'll save my thoughts on that point for another day. The reality is that conflict and hardships are a part of life. Learning how to handle them offers everyone valuable lessons.

So, I began considering the lessons contained within the recent storms of my life.

My body is changing

What can I learn about my body going through perimenopause? First, my body is going through a transition. (I thought the hormone changes of puberty were the only "changes" my body would encounter. No, someone failed to warn me about this time of life.) But change can be good... right? Life has brought me many new and better changes over the course of my 50-some years! I see that most evident in my home and husband.

Professional turbulence is inevitable

Next, the winds of change in the classroom can also offer beneficial lessons. Through the pandemic, I've learned to streamline my curriculum. In addition, I've learned to let go and not sweat student progress or lack thereof. I can't control other people’s behaviors. All I can do is control myself and do the best job I can do.

So, I'm learning each day, during each class, to find opportunities of gratitude. Each student is dealing with change in his/her own way, too. So, we're in the "same boat" as we navigate these changes.

UC flares will happen

Finally, I know that UC flares will happen. "It is what it is," as my dad says. I've lived and dealt with colitis since I was a teenager. So, what lessons can I find as hidden gems in the throes of a flare?

First, I think flares pop up as my body's own form of communication. A flare is like a text message (or maybe a harsh email?) saying, "You need to quit stressing and watch what you put into your body." I've come to believe over the years that my flares forecast what's going on mentally and physically.

How am I treating my body and mind?

So, each time a flare occurs, I need to take an inventory of what's happening in and around me. What's the weather like in my headspace?

Am I exercising enough? Am I getting enough sleep? Am I nervous more than I’m happy? Am I taking time to relax? Or am I in a constant rush? What's my diet like? Am I drinking and/or eating what I know my gut can't handle? In short, have I gotten sloppy in how I think and act?

Listening to our bodies and our UC

If I (and others living with IBD) will stop and reflect, a flare will offer insight. Is this a time to find more opportunities for gratitude? Is this a time to look for moments of "awe" and inspiration in our personal worlds? Or are we pushing too hard?

Do we need to take time to relax? Do we need to breathe more consciously and intentionally? (Have you noticed yourself holding your breath or just taking shallow breaths?)

Our bodies communicate to us moment by moment. But are we listening?

Standing strong amid life's storms

The next time you're hit with a flare or by another one of life's storms, think about mighty oak trees. Their roots are buried deep in the earth to gather nutrients and form a solid foundation so as not to topple during a storm. We need to do the same.

Here's the point. None of us are immune from storms. The level of life's challenges varies from person to person and year to year. Learning to dig in and gather life's nutrients will build our personal health foundation to help us weather the winds and rains of time.

Let's share our resilience

Above all, I believe that everyone can cultivate personal growth by looking for lessons during these times of struggle. Instead of allowing these past few years to dampen my spirit, I'll look instead for the signs to build up my roots of resilience.

What do you do to help yourself during the "flares" of life? Please share your experiences and comments here. You just might help lift and strengthen someone else's roots.

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