Exactly 20 years ago today, the course of my life was forever changed when I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease. Life is made up of moments that are strung together, some of which may be easily forgotten, and some unforgettable. Here is a single moment on May 23, 1997 that I'll never forget.
A few days prior to May 23rd, I overheard my mom talking on the phone with my doctor, when I heard the word "Crohn's" for the very first time. I knew that I was sick, and I wanted to know more, so I first searched my encyclopedia for answers (remember those days?!). It led me nowhere, so I then went to the Internet, hoping to find out what this word could possibly mean.
This was back in the dialup AOL days, when whatever you typed in was exactly what you got, and the computer didn't seem to make sense of it for you, like it does today. I typed in "Krones" and that's basically where the hunting for answers stopped, cause I got nowhere real fast
A few days later I was back at the doctors with both of my parents. The entire day was a blur, except for this one single memory. I was sitting in the pharmacy and handed the first of many medications that would change my life. I looked at the bottle that was given to me, which was dated May 23, 1997. When I close my eyes, it feels like this happened just yesterday. It's one of those memories forever etched in my mind.
I went from being your average, happy 12 year old, to losing 30 lbs. in a month, in nearly constant pain, while taking 96 pills a week. My Crohn's was aggressive and difficult to manage, so a few weeks later I was admitted to the hospital for the first time, and I was taken completely off of all food for over 2 weeks. This was my new "normal," and at the same time, something that I couldn't possibly comprehend.
One of the medications that I was on came with the lovely side effect of puffy cheeks, which drastically changed how I looked. In August 1997, I went back to my middle school to check in before the start of the school year, and I learned that all of my friends were heading to the beach, and I was the only one that wasn't invited.
This is another moment that changed me. The moment that I believed that no one wanted a sick friend.
From that day on, I did my very best to hide my Crohn's Disease. I became a master of disguise. I learned to smile through my worst pain, so that no one knew that I was secretly suffering inside.
By the time I got to my sophomore year of high school, very few people remembered that I even had a disease. I was on a new medication that worked well and came with fewer side effects (at the time), and I was in complete remission at that moment. All I wanted was to fit in, and I finally felt like I did once again.
Fast forward to now, and I'm anything but normal…but…that's what I love the most about myself! There's no one else exactly like me in this world, and to me, that's magical.
Over the past 20 years with Crohn's, I've learned so many lessons, and many of them I've learned the hard way. It's always my goal that by sharing my lessons with you, it will make your journey easier.
Sometimes I wish you could see where I actually started with my health & disease, because if you saw me then, you would understand why I believe that you're capable of absolutely anything that you set your mind to.
There truly are no limits, but first, you have to believe.
Crohn's Disease & The Lessons That I've Learned:
Challenges Are a Part of Life
It took me a LONG time to realize this, and although challenging times aren't easy, recognizing that challenges are simply a part of life make them easier to accept. Challenges come and go, like seasons, and they don't have to permanent.
As with most of us, I've faced challenges in literally every area of my life, and when they come up, I hang on tight, push forward, and look towards the good times that are sure to come, because rainbows always follow the storms. Always.
Change is Inevitable
As many others do, I grew up with a set plan for my life. I would have a career as a fashion designer, eventually owning my own company. I would be married at 26 and would have 2 kids by the time I was 30. Life would be perfect. This is how it works, right?
In all reality, my life has turned out drastically different, and yet it couldn't be any more beautiful because of it. I used to fight change, but now I've learned to embrace it. Just like facing the challenging times, the more I accept that change is a part of life, the easier it becomes.
I've learned that when life feels like it's crumbling all around you, it's really just creating the space for the magical life that is to come.
There is Always a Choice
Life can feel painful at times, but I believe that we each get a choice in how we see and respond to it. We can choose to learn the lessons from these hard times and let life build us up into who we are meant to be, or we can choose to let it destroy us. The choice is always up to you.
Many circumstances in life will be out of your control. I couldn't control being diagnosed with Crohn's Disease, but I can control how I choose to see and respond to it. This has made all the difference.
I could have easily let this disease destroy me. I could have become angry and bitter, asking "why me?" Self-pity is not the way that I choose to live my life, so I learned to let go of what I cannot control, and look for the good, even when it feels like it's incredibly hard to find.
It's because I choose to see this disease as a gift, that it becomes exactly that.
Forgiveness is ALWAYS For You
I've written about this topic before, and how forgiveness played such a huge role within my healing.
I believe that holding onto grudges can make us sick, because I know it did for me.
I've been hurt by friends and family many times throughout my life, because I had expectations of what they SHOULD be. They didn't meet my expectations, therefore I felt let down, and perceived what felt like they didn't care.
I held onto these grudges for far too long, until one day I had enough, and finally came to the realization that my anger was only hurting me.
So I let all of the resentment go. I looked for the good in the situation, and I moved on.
While the change happened the moment that I decided I was done, it was a process to fully move forward. I realized that my friends and family that I felt "hurt me," actually gave me the best gift they could have given. Besides my husband and a few friends, I had no one else to pick me up when I fell, so I had to learn to pick myself up, on my own.
If they were there for me in the way that I thought that I needed them to be, I wouldn't be the incredibly strong woman that I am today. That's the truth.
Letting go and forgiving has been a huge piece of the puzzle, to healing my entire life.
Being fearless doesn't mean that you won't experience fear, because we ALL do. Rather, it implies to become aware of & recognize your fears, but to move past them anyway.
I've faced so much fear throughout my life, and I've taken risks that I didn't know how things would turn out.
One of the biggest fears that I've ever faced was during my last surgery, when I had over 6 feet of intestine removed. Before the surgery, I was terrified of making the wrong decision, even though I had no other real option, but something deep inside pushed me forward.
When you find yourself afraid of something, think back to when you faced another challenge that was even more fearful. Remind yourself of how you made it through that time. This can help put fear into perspective and give you that extra push to move forward.
It's because I took big risks and pushed past my fears that I am where I am today. If I had stayed comfortable, I wouldn't have had this opportunity to write this post for you!
"If I'm Going To Be Free, I've Gotta Be Me"
I first heard this quote from Bob Proctor and it resonated deeply with me. I spent so much of my life trying to fit in, and trying to be what I thought everyone else wanted me to be, until I realized that being my unique self is the key to my happiness.
The outside world will try to tell you who you should be, what you should act like, and what you should dress like. But.. What is TRULY amazing about this world is that there is no one else exactly like YOU.
I wrote in my self-confidence post the importance of knowing who you truly are, because that can never be taken away from you. What are your qualities that you're most proud of? For me, I know without a doubt that I am loving, kind, generous, mentally strong and incredibly resilient. Who you truly are is not your physical appearance, your job, being a parent, friend…or anything else that exists outside of yourself.
I've learned that I can't live my life for anyone else. It may not always feel easy, but being yourself is where I believe that true happiness and success come from.
Knowing and being exactly who you are can set you free. If anyone is going to judge you for that, they aren't worth a moment of your time. Life is a journey. I'm still learning more and more about myself every single day, but today I'm very proud of the woman that I have become.
Crohn's Disease once felt like my enemy, but it has now become my greatest gift. I have learned to turn my pain & suffering into lessons that I can share with all of you!
And THAT my friends, is the REAL reason why I'm here.