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If I Was Never Diagnosed

Sometimes I ask myself what life would be like if I were never diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease. If at 17 years old, my doctor never came into my hospital room and used the words “ulcerative colitis.” What would happen if I was just… “normal.”

Better off without ulcerative colitis

I’d like to think I’d be better off. That if I didn’t have my condition I’d be some kind of superhero. I would have changed the world by doing something amazing like coming up with the cure to cancer of inventing Netflix. I’d like to think if I were never diagnosed, I would know what exactly “normal” is. I wouldn’t have ever seen the inside of a hospital and I would be married with 3 lovely kids. All of their names would start with the letter S.

I’d like to think all of those things, but honestly, if I wasn’t diagnosed with IBD, I don’t know who I’d be right now. I certainly wouldn’t be Shawntel Bethea. I don’t believe inflammatory bowel disease defines me as a person, or even as a patient. But I know it molded me into the person I am today. I know my condition is the reason for a lot of bad in my life. It’s also the explanation behind a ton of good.

What my condition has taught me

Through surgeries, I became humble. I got to know people I would have never otherwise connected with. Surgery forced me to slow down, which allowed me to appreciate life that much more. Failing medications taught me resilience. It taught me to stay positive. It taught me to have hope even when I may not want or need to. My IBD friends taught me understanding. They taught me what it’s really like to have people in your life who can relate. They taught me how to be understanding, even when I can’t always empathize.

My condition didn’t make me Shawn. My mom made me Shawn. My condition bettered Shawn. My condition allowed me to see life in a different light. My condition allowed me to appreciate life. My condition pushed me, teaching me to never give up on life. My condition hurt me, teaching me to be grateful for the painless days.

Would I really be better off without the most substantial aspect of my life?

As much as I’d love to say I think I would be “better off” without inflammatory bowel disease, I’m not sure if even I believe that. How could I be better without one of the most substantial aspects of my life? How can I achieve greatness without the very thing that pushed me to become great?

I will never know what life “would have been” like without my condition. I will never know if what I “could have” been. But that’s okay. It’s okay because I don’t want to know. I like the person my condition has molded me into becoming. I appreciate the lessons my condition has taught me and while I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy, I can most certainly acknowledge and appreciate what it’s done in my life.

So I ask you, what if you were never diagnosed with IBD?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.