Overcoming Mental Hurdles of Anemia
Last updated: December 2021
Unpredictability reigns supreme in my experience with ulcerative colitis. Each success in managing my disease comes with a twist. My symptoms manifest most strongly through anemia, leaving me unable to get out of bed on some days. Even after treatment, anemia continued to ensnare my life and left me feeling highly incapable and unconfident. Mental hurdles associated with the condition threw a wrinkle in my already complicated disease. In overcoming this additional barrier, I gained a surging confidence to tackle life's challenges with strong perseverance.
Unproductive days of fatigue and brain fog
While anemic, I put feelings of normalcy on an unattainable pedestal. Everywhere I looked in college highlighted the lives of smart, athletic, and capable individuals, but those qualities evaded my far-reaching grasp. Trying to comprehend sentences in a textbook felt more futile than flipping through the pages of a book in a foreign language. Thoughts of exercise hardly crossed my mind. My hyper heart jumped out of my chest on even the gentlest of walks. After receiving iron infusions, I hoped to move on from those unproductive days.
Although my lab work came back normal a few weeks later, something still felt off. The brain fog that clouded over my mind while studying hardly disappeared. When I jogged, each subsequent run left me more exasperated than the previous one. My former anemic life left me in a state of uneasiness after my iron levels returned.
Settling for a life of sickness
I gave up on tasks early and often because I had no belief that I could complete them. I resigned myself to a "sick" life for so long that after a while, I only saw my life through that lens of sickness. My own hand pushed away from the pedestal that I associated with normal, healthy living more so than any symptom of a disease. Hiking to the top of an active volcano in El Salvador in early March gave me valuable insights into ways to overcome this mental obstacle.
Hiking a mountain gave me the strength to overcome the anemia
Although living in Charlottesville, VA provided me with ample opportunities to hike, Santa Ana towered over any mountain that I previously climbed by a comfortable 4,000 ft. Tilting my neck upwards to catch a glimpse of the summit felt like sitting in the very front row of an IMAX theater. As I started the climb, familiar thoughts of ineptitude crept over me. Inching closer with each step only made me feel further away from my goal.
I didn't have the choice to give up
I would have given up many times over if given the chance, but I had no other option. Because of a history of bandit attacks up the mountain, police escorted hikers. This meant I had no choice but to climb with the ascending group. Laboriously, I pushed myself up the volcano. Without an alternative, I let go of any thoughts about giving up and replaced those with a singular focus on completing each step. As I reached closer to the peak, the accumulation of time spent doubting myself and my abilities started to fade. In the essence of each step, I was successful; I was capable. Looking down at the volcano's crater from the top remains one of my fondest memories and serves as a personal reminder to remain determined in the face of future hardships.
Anemia may rear its ugly head again in my life. However, the stranglehold of the condition will no longer intimidate me. Through the peaks and valleys of ulcerative colitis, I learned to remain steadfast. Unlike how I felt a few months ago, I now believe in my own capabilities. I previously saw my life through a lens of sickness, but my experience with anemia has given me a stepping stone that allows me to courageously traverse new heights.
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