elephant standing on person's back

And So It Begins

Since I was 19, my disease has evolved in severity. However, the initial symptoms that alert me to a flare have not. When the condition is present and awake, there is no subtlety to it either. It's loud, obnoxious, and overwhelming.

One would think that I should have known something was wrong, terribly wrong from the start. But my symptoms are not traditionally IBD-centric. I've never been one to conform, and perhaps that's the only thing that marries me to my disease. We are alike in that way. We carry on, on our own in our own way. My ulcerative colitis doesn't look like everyone's ulcerative colitis. No two patients present the same.

The signs of UC began with fatigue

I was the most tired teenager, I knew. Whereas all my friends were able to party all night and head straight to class, work or church, my body was shutting down at midnight and then several times during the day. No matter how many supplements I packed into my system, the coffee I drank or naps I took, I was always tired.

Not just sleepy, but I felt like I was carrying an elephant on my back.

My mother asked me a while back why I never said anything to her about feeling so drained. There was no real answer I could give her. I was completely confused by what was happening to me. I also was a single college student under the age of 20. I was still dependent on my mom. I was an intern and didn't even have a boyfriend. I was only responsible for my grades and putting brads in my boss' scripts. There was no reason for me to be tired. How embarrassing would it have been to go to my mother who was a single mom with her own business, while working on two television shows, to tell her I was falling asleep in class or at my bosses' home?

The symptoms that come with a UC flare

What I didn't know was that this was the beginning of my body being taken over by UC. I often listen to people say their first symptom was blood in their stool or something else related to the digestive system. Those issues didn't come for about 2 years for me. To this day, this is how my flares begin.

They start with extreme fatigue. Then it rolls into the urgency, back pain raking up and down my back, scalp sensitivity, loose and bloody stool, and vomiting. On occasion, an ulcer in the esophagus will join the party.

What to do once symptoms of a flare start

After having our diseases for so long, we believe we can handle all of the issues that come along with them, on our own. However, playing defense against an ulcerative colitis flare as early as possible gives you the best chance for proper healing and remission. There is no shame in seeing your doctor or "throwing in the towel" with a visit to the ER.

We are fortunate to have resources available to us to help us navigate through our disease journey. Take advantage of them. There is no medal for suffering in silence. And you are doing more harm than good. So, the first thing you do at the very first sign of symptoms is to call the doctor.

Next, ask for help. People are always offering to help when you don't feel well, so take advantage of it. If someone can provide meals, run your errands, help organize your house while you rest, that's okay. And if no one has offered, ask. A lot of times, people are willing to help but don't know how. So they don't offer because they don't want to insult. There is nothing wrong or weak with needing some help. You can also use that rainy day cash, if you have it, for housekeeping services or grocery delivery service.

The point is, give yourself a rest to allow your body to heal. As a mom, I have a contingency plan. I have a group of moms who will help with carpool, volunteer work, etc. until I am back on my feet. I've created a village for my son and me. We don't always need them, but they pick up the bat-phone when it rings.

Know your symptoms and communicate with your doctor

Track your symptoms in an app or a journal. When we are sick and have only 15 minutes, after an hour wait, in the doctor's office, we may forget all that has happened. But if you can keep a recording of your symptoms, you can give the doctor the best chance of treating your disease. While tracking your symptoms, write down any questions or concerns, you have to not forget them. This will help ease some tension and anxiety, as you know that solutions will be coming soon.

It's important to know that everyone's journey with ulcerative colitis will be different. Inflammatory bowel disease demands different things of its patient. So, comparing your case and experiences to others will be futile. You may put unnecessary pressure on yourself, that won't allow you to heal. Know your signs and stay in communication with your doctor. That is the best way to protect yourself.

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