why i smile.

what was the first thing you noticed about this picture?

what did you notice first?

what did you notice first?

1 week worth of meds? 1 years worth of medical records & insurance claims?

this photo captures the meds i take on a weekly basis. i should clarify not all of these are medications for crohns disease, but surely 75% of them are to counteract the side-effects of the medications that keep me alive. that keep me living. that keep me smiling.

there are many risks to the medications we take & ive experienced some very scary ones, some that have left damage & others that have made other drugs unsuitable for me to inject now.. but a life of Remission is worth the risk & that is something i will always believe until we celebrate a cure or a vaccine that could potentially prevent IBD or eliminate carrier risk.

at 17, entering college, i took upwards of 35 pills a day (12 just being pentasa). after months of taking so many pills a day, the sensation of putting any pill in my mouth made me puke almost every time. there were days i simply couldnt hold down the pills because it was just too much.

time is a blur, but within the next year i would return home every 4-6 weeks & receive #remicade infusions. my mom accompanied me to nearly every single one. soon the #infusion center felt like home & i would return on my own. & soon, i made my parents stop driving 8 hours on the weekends i needed infusions and asked if i was able to receive them in the hospital across the street from my dorm room. lucky for me, i did not have class on fridays, so i could wake up in my sweatpants, put on my jacket & walk across the street – on good days, i would study & the bad, i would try desperately to sleep despite the awful sounds i would hear, as i was across from the ER. years have come & gone, infusions turned into injections, then eventually back into infusions.

this photo captures many things, but the thing i want you to see is a smile. its a pretty simple thing to a lot of people – a smile in a picture. but pairing it with a representation of only a weeks worth of meds being chronically ill for over 10 years? to a person that gets it, they know how hard smiles can be to come by.

the 16 year old girl inside of me is roaring with jealously; the 17 yr old girl who had a terribly swollen face in her senior pictures is screaming. the 18 yr old girl with little self-esteem entering a new relationship wants to strange me. and still to this day, living as a 27 year old single woman with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, life is still a strange & terrifying thing to me. its still full of pill boxes, infusions, injections, hydration powders, nutrition supplements, sharps containers & pillboxes with timers built in…

but NOW, there is a smile. it might have taken 10,000 frowns & 10,000 other smile to get here, but im happy now. 10 years have passed – way more than 10 colonoscopies too. but in my journey, ive met amazing people whom i cannot put a numerical value on, only sentimental. ive met new friends that have had eerily similar diagnoses, received hand-written letters from across the globe & even ran a 1/2 marathon with Team Challenge Wisconsin and along the way, passed by & met/ran with members of teams all around the US who i still keep in contact with.

i have met new people, found peace with my #diagnosis & have even managed to change some lives along the way – even if only for a day. some people in the #IBDcommunity dont agree with the sense of humor i have & to them i say, thats okay! i advocate in different ways than others but doesnt make me any less credible & shouldnt make me any less happy.. and certainly shouldnt make me hold back on going after my dreams. im this way because i want to be & 10 years ago, i would have never had the emotional strength to go through scopes, hospitalizations, #infusions, injections & surgeries that required me to be in the most humiliating “jackknife” position. humor has always been my coping mechanism & if that means making fun of myself without the risk of hurting someone, i will.

im thankful to have been blessed with this curse. i know this life is not what my parents had intended for me, and certainly not what i envisioned it to be. but the truth is, i am beautiful because of it. all of the bad shit my disease has given me, its given me SO much more than i have ever deserved.

despite living with #IBD, i smile.

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#IBDselfie #IBDawarenessweek #inflammatoryboweldisease #crohnsandcolitisawareness #chronicillness #CCFA #crohnsdisease #ulcerativecolitis #crohns #colitis #autoimmunedisease #autoimmune #IBDfamily #CCFA #teamchallenge #myIBD #1in200 #iamjustone #purpleproject

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an ode to my commode (a poem about shitty diseases)

an ode to the commode (& other shitty diseases):

its a shitty disease, this thing called “Crohns”
put to a movie title, it would be “king of thrones”

theres a few secrets that some like to keep hidden,
but since im a rebel, i like doing the forbidden
there are too many puns,
besides “it gives me the runs”

“what CAN you eat?” its simple really..
no popcorn, no butter, no spicy chili,
no milk, no red meat, no seeds and no nuts
no broccoli, no beans or id have no guts.

“how do you poop?”
the snake poop, the crippler, the incredible hulk,
the splash back, houdini, the second wave bulk.
theres the spinal tap, the drunk poop & lincoln log turds,
then the one you rethink having cheese curds.
greasin’ the bowl, growin’ a tail,
the times you cant wait to get out & inhale.
its too hot in this room, get me out now,
sixteen times a day, i scream & shout OWWWW.
i grunt, i groan, i scream & i yell
if theres one thing im good at it’s IBD hell.
the bloop, clank however you put it,
a dump is a dump, a shit is a shit.

with the amount that i spend on soft toilet paper,
WELL…….there is no rhyme to this one. im just an expert.

at the age of 26, i cant trust a fart
bring a spare set of panties, cause ive mastered the art.

im an old soul, trapped in an old body,
thanks to medical debt, retirement wont include a Maserati.

creaky joints, spare clothes & osteoporosis,
the joys of annual tests for Tuberculosis!

laxatives have become a part of my norm,
sometimes if im lucky, my poop has great form!

you may have left me with medical debt,
and sometimes depressed, since theres no cure. yet.

“what do you eat?!”.. a familiar phrase..
the others? oh, i could go on for days.

misconceptions of “invisible illness”, ive heard them all.
“youre to fat, youre too skinny”, too many to recall.

the most annoying one?
“i’ve got your cure-all”
“stand upside down, eat tree bark, take these supplements, youll be fine”
while i roll my eyes, envisioning bottomless wine.

should my poop be this color? am  i sicker than i think?
all of these strange symptoms just make me want to drink.

porcelain throne, john, loo.. i see you too often, in my humble conclusion.
look beyond my smile, often its illusion.
im exhausted, im tired, i want to throw in the towel.
some days i do.. because fuck my small bowel!

my buttholes itchy
im feeling bitchy.
in many ways, IBD deserves no praise..
but its strangely blessed me in unexpected ways…

before i got sick

the following is a collaborative piece that would simply not exist without the knowledge you have all given to me. i dedicate these words to all of the generous souls who have let me inside of their personal worlds. on the good days.. and on the worst days of their lives. this is my love letter to all of the people who have made an impact on my personal journey.

dont let my positivity fool you. i have had hardships and struggles in my life with disease. i will not lie; there are days i quit, knowing i can start over fresh the next day. but the things that have been taken away from me due to my disease, have in turn provided me in opportunity; ten fold. friends, networks of support, communities filled with IBD & autoimmune patients just. like. me. who knew?

a letter to my younger self

dear self,

you just turned 16. life is exciting. you have the world at your fingertips. you learn how to drive this year! there are so many things id like to tell you, answers that would have been useful & encouragement that you needed at certain periods of your life. have a seat & lets go through a few things:

dont go for the slidetackle. having your knee completely reconstructed the summer you turn 16 isnt ideal. having an unsupportive wobbly knee for the rest of your life isnt, either. this game will prove to be, essentially the last game you really ever play. though the rehab sucks, you get to work out with mr suda every day after school. listen. his advice proves to be meaningful during the next few years of your life.

have hope. you will have a brush with death in may of 2004. 3 days after your 17th birthday, on july 13th, 2004,  you will be diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. you will have more questions than answers. summer is a blur & is spent with family trying to put the pieces together of a heavy diagnosis. much of the next few months you spend in the bathroom or on a couch dependent on other people. you will learn how much your brothers care for you. (when you get home from the hospital, dont try to carry a gallon of milk up the stairs, you fall.) that disgusting hospital spray? leave it there.

the next year is full of steroids, different concoctions of many pills & your best attempt at senior memories. then comes college; i wont give it all away.. some of that is pretty fun to find out on your own. some of it is not fun. 

hug tighter. the day before you move to college, a friend passes away. you will regret how you acted the last time you saw him.

life at 21 will be hard. trying to live as a functional college student just beginning to learn how your body attacks itself is hardno one will understand it, including you. despite hours full of IV Remicade each month, you’ll go in for a routine GI check up &  walk into your first surgery an hour later. that one doesnt end fun. you’ll sit on a donut for part of the semester. it will become a funny conversation piece. (youll still have issues for a loooong time). youll get a second diagnosis of IBD, this time Ulcerative Colitis. that hopeful self-injection they want you to take? no one tells you that youll need it the rest of your life. instead of sulking and seeking other ways to ignore the pain, accept it. life becomes SO much easier when you accept it. you wont be (as) bitter & your focus in life becomes crystal clear. you will be an advocate for yourself & share your story in front of Miller Park. ps – its windy that day, leave the cards at home.

you will gain relationships with lifelong friends & you will gain new family (sisters, a niece and a nephew – that part is not finished yet). loved ones will perish because sometimes, those who love us the most, stay for the shortest time here on earth. you will lose yourself in relationships, but somehow pick yourself back up. you will learn who your friends are & lose unsupportive links in the process.  your faith in God will be tested & many times, all you will be able to do is cry. keep praying – things get better. college is full of ups and down (you fail stats class), but you graduate. & even make the Dean’s list! milwaukee turns out to be the best decision youll ever make, ill let you see why.

at 23, you will be tested & make a choice that will impact many lives. you will relive it many, many times. in the end, you will win.

youll fall in and out of like in many different places, sometimes the same place twice. some of those that are let go prove to be blessings in disguise. in time, the wounds heal. trust me, things definitely work out ♥

life with an illness isnt easy and there are are many obstacles you will face. your first job, your first apartment.. you will work your ass off. youll be faced with a decision to make, which will likely be the hardest one you have had to make that will lead you to today.

if there is one piece of advice i could give to you it would be this: do it all over again. dont do anything different. its taken 26 years for me to love you this much. blessed is the life you live. you have hope, you have been given support and you have decided to do something bigger with your life.

love, me

ps – dont forget to smile.