My IBD Story: A Glimmer of Hope….
Updated: Mar 20, 2021
I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis when I was 28 years old. It took about 2 years to get into remission but once I did, I was fairly stable. Unfortunately, stable meant constant weight fluctuations, severe abdominal cramps, crippling fatigue, and lots of other unpleasant symptoms that I’ll refrain from sharing, but since I had heard such terrible stories of other people living with this illness, I came to realize that I was one of the lucky ones. During a routine colonoscopy ten years later, my doctor told me that she was changing my diagnosis to Crohn’s Disease. She felt that I probably had Crohn’s all along but felt confident that at least for the time being, it wouldn’t actually change my treatment plan. I didn’t have a huge feeling about this change one way or another since my medications would be remaining the same. I continued on in my “remission” for the next six years, although as stated before, I never actually felt very healthy. I just considered it a win that I didn’t feel sicker.
IBD Specialist and New Diagnosis
Around that same time, I found a new doctor, only because she was close to my home and considered an IBD specialist, not because I wasn’t happy with the one that I had. When I first went to her, she wanted me to start fresh and complete all the fun, invasive tests all of us out there with IBD know so well. After completely getting violating from top to bottom, she came to the conclusion I was very likely misdiagnosed all these years and I probably didn’t have IBD! Well, I was thrilled to say the least. My first thought was “why the hell have I been on medications for 16 years if I didn’t have IBD”, but that quickly turned into “who cares….no more yearly colonoscopies; less risk for colon cancer; and no more daily medications!!” This was quite an exciting time for me and although everyone around me was very skeptical about this news, I jumped right into celebrating. I got off all my meds (with my doc’s blessing) and planned to monitor my health for the next 6 months while doc and I went on a bit of an experimental journey “together”…although truthfully, the risks seemed far higher for me than for her. Despite these risks, I had such a glimmer of hope. I started to imagine what my life would be like without this illness hanging over my head. To be able to make future plans without thinking of how my health might affect them. To not have to explain to new people how I am living with this chronic illness. To be able to start eating foods and alcoholic beverages that I’ve avoided for so long. Even to start taking Advil again! There were so many exciting possibilities!
Psychotherapist Specialized in Clients with IBD
With that though, came some unsettling thoughts that were popping into my head. The most notable was “who am I if I don’t have Crohn’s anymore?” The most problematic and worrisome thought was related to my job. I’m a psychotherapist with a private practice in Los Angeles, specializing in clients living with IBD, so who am I to have that specialty if I don’t even have that illness?? During this time, I had to watch myself question my identity, my future, my understanding of my body and countless other things that felt confusing to me. I had to start navigating my life with new rules and policies and although it was exciting, it also felt weird.
My Glimmer of Hope
Sadly, it didn’t last long and that glimmer of hope disappeared around month 5 of our journey. I started having such intense physical symptoms that I quickly realized that as much as I wanted my doc to be right, she was most definitely not and there was no question that I had been diagnosed correctly 16 years ago and had just been in a very stable remission these last many years. More violating and invasive tests later, all was confirmed and I did, in fact, have Crohn’s Disease. While I can’t say that I was happy to hear this news, there was something weirdly comforting in knowing that I know this illness, I know who I am with this illness, and I know who I am to my clients with this illness.
So now, I can just continue on with my life in the way that I have been for the past 16 years, minus those 5 short, hope- filled, medication free, exciting months.