With Crohn's Disease, the Smallest Tasks can be Huge Accomplishments
What is your biggest accomplishment? For me, some days just taking a shower feels like running a marathon. During times in my life where my Crohn’s disease has been severe and active for long periods of time I would not be able to do much more with my day than lay in bed; weak from anemia and weight loss so that I would have to sit down in the shower and rest afterward.
After my showers I wouldn’t even bother blow drying my hair or finishing getting ready, I was too exhausted. I’d just get right back in bed and daydream of better days.
This is a story about a girl in college who has Crohn’s disease, though at the time she was misdiagnosed as having ulcerative colitis. If you haven’t caught on, the girl is me, and though this wasn’t that long ago I was a completely different person than I am today.
I did not know anyone else who had Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
I did not talk about my disease with anyone. It was a big, dirty, ugly secret.
Isolating myself because of Crohn's disease
I was extremely embarrassed by my illness and because my symptoms were so severe I was isolating myself. I kept finding excuses to cancel plans with friends or I’d start fights with my boyfriend simply because I wanted to be by myself.
I knew that I was going to be in severe pain and running to the bathroom losing blood in my bowel movements and I didn’t want to be in the company of others while that was happening.
I was living in a single dorm room on campus and my bathroom was shared with the girl who had the room next door.
That is where this story begins.
Struggling and extremely sick in college
Getting to my classes was becoming more and more of a challenge. Crohn’s disease causes damaging inflammation in the digestive system. My intestine was so severely inflamed that every time I used the bathroom I would stand up to see a toilet bowl full of red because of the blood loss.
The pain was unimaginable; I thought I was going to die at times. It felt like my guts were just shredding apart, as if at any moment my bowel was going to perforate. Because of the severe inflammation I was using the bathroom 20+ times a day and I was also not able to absorb nutrients well.
Blood loss, malabsorption, weakness, and fatigue
The blood loss led to anemia and the malabsorption led to weight loss; both causing me to become very weak and fatigued. All of this made it a challenge to get to my classes, but worse was the urgency I was experiencing.
I would leave my room and walk to the elevator in my building and the next thing I’d know I would need to find a bathroom ASAP or... you guessed it, I had an accident. How humiliating it is to be pooping your pants in college, which I did, a lot!
Do you have Crohn's disease?
I began to start skipping my classes because I was just too sick to go, but there is one I still managed to make myself get to because it was the only source of joy I felt back then. It was a tap class that fulfilled one of my requirements so I took it just for fun.
I grew up as a dancer and did regional and national competitions and by the time I was a Senior in High School I was teaching and choreographing on my own. I loved to dance! So my tap class in college was the one thing that I wanted to make it to because it was the only thing those days that made me feel like me.
Just one more step
One foot in front of the other
You’re almost there
You can do this...
Tap class was in Roosevelt Hall, one of the furthest buildings away from my dorm room. Every day I had this constant internal dialogue as I walked from my dorm to class. It was sort of like a pep talk, urging myself along until I got there. The walk was on a slight incline the entire way, which back then felt like I was walking up a huge hill.
Pushing myself while in pain
My biggest accomplishment during that time? It was not anything spectacular at all. Making it to Roosevelt Hall felt like overcoming a lot back then. Right after that semester ended I received multiple blood transfusions because of the amount of blood loss.
That whole year I had been pushing myself to see friends, hold a job, and go to school but by the end of it everything had slowly dwindled away.
Does exercising regularly help in the management of your symptoms?