a colon on the sleeve of a shirt

Wearing IBD on Your Sleeve

Last week was Invisible Illness Awareness week. A time for those of us who battle Crohn's and ulcerative colitis to share our stories and wear our diseases our sleeves. There's nothing more empowering than talking about your patient journey with someone else who can relate, knowing that after the conversation you've touched someone's life. You've been able to connect on a level that so many of us yearn for.

Of my over twelve years battling Crohn's, the first nine were spent in silence.

I never shared with strangers. I only told close friends and family members. I smiled through the pain and pretended I was like everyone else. It's exhausting to pretend. It's stressful to try and hide behind a happy face when all you want to do is roll up in a ball on the couch and try to overcome a flare. It's not easy to hide something that is such a big part of who you are. There's so much more that goes on beyond the bathroom stall. You and I both know Crohn's is so much more than that.

Since I opened up about my battle and made it a part of my conversations three years ago, it's helped me more than words can say. Each hospitalization, procedure and surgery was easier knowing that others were in my corner, rooting me on, praying for brighter days. I no longer had to carry the brunt of the disease on my shoulders. The weight was distributed among those close to me and strangers near and far.

Whether it's sharing inspiring stories on my blog, "Lights, Camera, Crohn's: An Unobstructed View each Monday or speaking on a stage at a Crohn's and Colitis Foundation event, it's incredible to feel a sense of community. Times have changed since I was diagnosed in 2005. You can reach people with inflammatory bowel disease all over the world with a few clicks. We're able to connect so easily over social media.

There's no reason anybody, any age, should have to take on this beast alone.

Crohn's and ulcerative colitis are invisible--but they don't have to be. Make your patient journey a part of your story. It doesn't have to be your identity, but give yourself credit for all you've endured and recognize that it's a big part of who you are. It's nothing to be ashamed of. I credit Crohn's for making me the person I am today.

We can think of our disease as a blessing and a curse. It doesn't just need to be the latter. By stepping forward and showing others you aren't scared to share, you could be inspiring others to do the same. We have the power not to feel isolated. We have the ability to join together and be there for one another when the going gets tough. We can find humor and comfort in knowing our reality is shared with so many others. Our caretakers, doctors and loved ones need to know so they can help us. I promise you, once you get the courage to share you won't be disappointed.

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