two people pushing stones up a mountain with one being larger than the other

Crohn’s Disease Opened My Eyes to the Privilege of Being Healthy

This remission thing from Crohn’s disease is a weird state of existence, for me. While I’m not 100% healthy, by any means, I am far healthier than I was back when this flare started in 2012. Years of untreated Crohn’s disease, Psoriasis, and Psoriatic Arthritis caught up and left me debilitated. Regrettably, it’s hard to be active. One day while trying to be active, I realized how Crohn’s disease opened my eyes to the privilege of being healthy.

I need to backtrack a little.

My husband suggested I try rock climbing to help manage stress

A few months back, I accepted a full-time job offer. I’ve freelanced over the past few years, but haven’t had to pull a 40-plus-hour work week since 2012. I knew stress management would be important to keep the health train on the tracks, and was trying to figure out a plan. My husband is an avid rock climber and he suggested I try it out. I’ve declined on several occasions and a couple of years back, my rheumatologist had told him that it wasn’t the best idea.

Other people just don't understand the pain and limitations

Over the past couple of years, his climbing friends have tried to get me to go to the gym, as well. I’ve gone so far as to explain to them how Crohn’s and Psoriatic Arthritis have affected my hands, and that didn’t go over quite as expected. One of them replied how they too “have a little arthritis and just take an NSAID-containing medication before climbing.” So they “totally get it.”

I facepalmed while reading that text.

They totally didn’t get it.

For those of us who live with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, we know the rules of using NSAID medications. I tried my best to ignore it, but that comment festered in my brain.

Desperate to feel better

A little over a month into the job there were some issues coming to a head and the stress was affecting my Crohn’s symptoms terribly. My hands were going numb, too. The numbness was about as bad as I have ever experienced it over the last several years. The only thing that made my hands feel better were stretching and a training ring that you squeeze to help strengthen your hands for climbing. My husband caught me on a really stressful day and he persuaded me to try climbing out.

Desperate to expel some work tension and anxiety, and to apply any type of pressure on my hands possible to feel better, I agreed. I took a class and tried one route. It was okay. I spent a lot of time trying to find grips that would work with my arthritic hands and feet. It was my first attempt climbing, so I wasn’t expecting to be the best. I just wanted to feel better.

A few days later, I went with the husband to his other climbing gym. I told myself going in that I didn’t have to climb to the top, and found a route I wanted to try. Next, I set a half-way-up goal. I knew I’d be content if that’s all I could muster. On my second attempt up, I was gassing out. I yelled, “Take,” which meant I was ready to come down. He then shouted, "It's all in your head."

Trying to explain my condition and why I can't do certain things to my husband

Honestly, if the husband thought his words were encouraging enough for me to start climbing again, he must have forgotten who he married.

When I came down, he still tried to tell me how I needed to get out of my head… that I could do it… and that it was all in my head. Honestly, I wanted to kick him where the sun doesn’t shine.

I took a deep breath and reminded him, as I sometimes have to do with him and my parents, “Hi. Sick person here. I run out of energy faster than you and I’m in pain.”

I went to sit down, relax, and contemplate if I wanted to attempt the route one more time. While sitting, the same friend who made arthritis comment started trying to encourage me to go back up. It took a lot of self-control to just blink and smile. My good friends know the look.

About twenty minutes passed by and the husband came over and asked if I wanted to try the route again. I was feeling a little better, so I went for it.

When I passed the half-way goal, I assessed how I felt and made the decision to keep climbing.

When I reached the top, two thoughts went through my head. “Oh snap, I’m gonna have to come down.” And, “Oh crap, how am I going to get down?!”

I yelled, “Take,” and started repelling down. When I reached the ground, I collapsed to the floor. My legs were like jello, and I had tears streaming down my face like my eyes had sprung a leak. I was a ball of emotions. Once I got composed, I explained why this was such a big deal and how his words made me feel.

It's not mind over matter when it comes to Crohn's and arthritis

Crohn’s disease and arthritis have robbed me of so much, and unless you’ve been in that boat you won’t get it. He can climb up a wall when he feels like it. And he can hang upside down using just the tips of his fingers and toes. He has so much control over his body, and for him perhaps sometimes it is mind over matter.

I don’t know if he will ever truly, “Get it.” But this was how Crohn’s disease opened my eyes to the privilege of being healthy. And for a brief shining moment, I got a glimpse into what it was like to experience the privilege of health.

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