Practicing Gratitude When You Live With Crohn's Disease

As the weather shifts to winter and we put away our Halloween decorations, I find my mind turning to this next season - Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving has always been somewhat of a complicated thing for me. I love the holiday, the food, the friends and the family. But to be honest, there have been a lot of years when I’ve struggled to be grateful.

Crohn's has always been worse in the fall around Thanksgiving

I recently shared that my Crohn’s disease has always been worse in the fall each year, from the very first major flare I experienced until long past my diagnosis and established remission.

Being so ill in October and November each year compounded the spirit of the holidays for me, and it brought bitterness around the idea of Thanksgiving. What was I thankful for? I was sick, so sick sometimes that I couldn’t even sit around the table with my family, and year after year I was being dismissed by physicians, I wasn’t on an effective treatment plan, my pain wasn’t managed, and my life felt like it was on hold.

Less angry and frustrated once diagnosed

Reflecting on those seasons is painful for me. It reminds me of the fear and devastation I lived with on a daily basis, and it makes me think of how things have shifted.

After I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, I spent Thanksgivings being grateful for a persistent doctor, a diagnosis that let me understand what was going on in my body, and hope for better days. I wasn’t always healthy in the fall, but I was less frustrated. I was less angry. I tried to practice gratitude again, even if it felt bittersweet.

Crohn's is always with me, even in remission

I’ve now been in remission for almost 18 months. It’s been a different type of challenge, and it’s been laced every day with the fear of a flare, but it’s also given me a new perspective.

I am, and forever will be, chronically ill. I have an autoimmune disease that may be active or passive but is with me in every moment of every day. Learning to be thankful for this life took me time, but I do think that working through my feelings on it has served me well.

How I practice gratitude with Crohn's disease

While I understand every single IBD patient is in a different place with their disease and acceptance, their physical and mental health, I wanted to share some things that have worked for me to practice gratitude while living with Crohn’s disease.

  1. Notice the good days. Or good hours. The times that I can work or run errands or prioritize other thoughts over those of my stomach and my bowels.
  2. Appreciate the people who walk this road beside me. Friends, fellow IBD warriors, family members, the people who cheer me on when I am feeling okay and the ones who cheer me up when I am not.
  3. Recognize the ways in which you have paid it forward. I know sometimes this seems very minor for me, but living with Crohn’s disease means I’m constantly educating others in big and little ways on what chronic illness is like, on what it means for my life and my relationships. I think about the ways that sharing my story and things I’ve learned along the way has hopefully helped someone reading here. I think about the ways that I’ve been able to make recommendations or pass along tips to friends in different stages of the battle. And for all of those things, I feel grateful.
  4. It might sound silly, but I try to remember that sometimes, I feel like my own version of a superhero. Living with Crohn’s disease has been really really hard for me at times, and yet, I’ve pushed through. I’ve chosen to continue reaching for my goals, continuing my education and growing my family, and those are all real victories every day.

I’d really love to hear if your relationship with Thanksgiving, or practicing gratitude, has changed and/or evolved during your life with IBD. I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts below!

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