What IBD Has Taught Me

How Has IBD Changed Your Perspective On Life?

Most people who've lived through an illness will come away with a new perspective on life, or some other take-aways that stay with them. It's no different with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is a chronic illness, which means that it never really leaves you, but you go through periods of wellness and illness. After spending a ridiculously healthy childhood, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (one form of IBD) at age 16. I had no way of knowing what the future held for me, and how my life would be affected by the diagnosis. I took it one day at a time when I was living from flare-up to flare-up, but j-pouch surgery has afforded me the ability to reflect on what ulcerative colitis taught me, and how it changed my personality.

Everything Can All Go Away Tomorrow

It can sometimes feel like the hourglass is running out. It's important not to dwell on that, but it's also a good idea to use time wisely with the view that it's not unlimited. Image © Anthony Bradshaw / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

You often hear people say things like "enjoy every moment," and that's something I've actually taken to heart. One thing about a disease like IBD is that you never really know what it's going to bring you next. I've had my j-pouch long enough that it's probably a good bet that I'll continue to do well, but that's by no means a guarantee. I could still develop complications related to IBD, or something completely unrelated that affects my j-pouch. I just don't know, and so, at the risk of sounding like a greeting card, I do try to savor the moments where I'm pain-free and able to function.

Eating The Cookie

I've decided to eat the food I love and not worry so much about it. I already have restrictions, and I'm not going to impose more on myself. Image © Burazin / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

Most people with IBD have a complicated relationship with food. It's important to eat right for better health, but food should also be enjoyed. I have diet limitations, like most people who've had surgery on their intestines, but I can tolerate a lot more than I could when I had ulcerative colitis. I've had to go weeks eating nothing but liquids or eating nothing at all, and I know those days could come again. While I'm able, I'm going to make cookies with my kids, and I'm going to eat them, and I'm going to enjoy it.

The Importance of Exercise

Exercise is important for so many reasons, and people with chronic illness may not always be able to do it, but doing as much as you can when you can will help. Image © Luca Sage / Taxi / Getty Images

I didn't always exercise—and I've gone for long periods where I stopped. When I feel well enough to do anything, even just a walk, I do it. This is going to be the best thing I can do for myself to help prevent other health problems that tend to affect people as they get older. I do what I can, when I can, because I know that an injury or other health problem can easily crop up, and having a stronger body will help me.

Having Patience

Woman On Phone
It can be difficult at times to listen when other people have problems that seem to pale in comparison to yours. Having patience and compassion for others is both important and rewarding. Image © JPM / Image Source / Getty Images

Not everyone spends their young adult years in and out of the hospital, and sometimes it can be a strain to have a relationship with someone who doesn't seem to grasp the "big picture." It's easy to get bogged down in the daily difficulties of everyday life and to forget that every day without pain and disability is a good one. It can be difficult to find compassion for other people's problems after you've been sick, because they may seem trivial. Everyone has challenges in life, and rather than taking the attitude of "well, it could be worse, listen to what happened to me," offering some patience and empathy with others is more important that proving who has had a worse day (or life).

Leaving Complications Behind

Tangled Wires
Some situations are just too complicated to untangle, and you have to ask yourself it it's really worth trying. Image © PM Images / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Because my world could change any minute, I've learned to be frugal with my energy, and to place it behind those things that really matter to me. I can't put time and effort into something that isn't making sense for me and my family, and that sometimes means leaving things behind. Not everyone will understand this, especially when your goals are different and you aren't able to help them achieve theirs. Living the best life I can, with as few unnecessary stressors as possible, is more important than what other people think of me.

Making Time For Who And What Matters

Friends At Dinner
Go out and have a social life! Say "no" when you need to, but say "yes" as much as possible. Image © Getty Images

For a lot of years, I declined invitations and severely limited my social life. Sometimes that was a good choice, because boundaries are necessary, but I think it rather became a habit. Now, when a friend wants to go for a drink or go shopping or almost anywhere, I'll do everything possible to say yes. I may have deadlines and chores and so many other mundane things that "need" to get done, but I'll drop them all in order to spend time with the people that matter to me. I really don't know if there will be a next invitation, so I'm taking the one that's offered today, and I'm not looking back.

Crafting The Life You Want

Everyone will have different take-aways from IBD or another illness. I've chosen to prioritize family and travel over other things in my life, but you may have other goals. The important thing is to know what you want out of your life, and to deliberately move towards it. IBD may get in your way, and you may have to readjust, but keep going towards building the life you want to have for yourself, because I can guarantee you--it won't happen any other way.