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Chronic Illness: The Bully Inside My Body

I recently sat down to dinner with a group of friends. One casually asked me how I was feeling, to which I replied, “I’m feeling healthy. My Crohn’s is in remission, arthritis isn’t too bad, and the hives are under control.”

Cue the awkward, “What the…?” looks from them.

Now when I say “friends”, I’m not talking acquaintances, I’m talking REAL friends. The, we went to high school together, shared deepest secrets, been there for each other’s biggest life moments type of friends. So, their expressions took me by surprise.

What I didn’t realize is that since I had been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, osteoarthritis, and chronic hives over the past couple of years, I hadn’t shared that with any of them. It was my little secret that I often dealt with on my own.

Which got me thinking… Why hadn’t I told them about these issues?

That’s the ironic thing about living life with chronic illnesses. I’m not ashamed of them, but I often keep them to myself out of fear of others thinking I’m being a hypochondriac or overly dramatic about my health.

In my early thirties I looked at my health naively. If you get sick, you go to the doctor, take the medicine you’re prescribed, and get better, right? But that’s not the case with chronic illness. It’s like a bully inside my body: it’s unpredictable, painful, and makes me feel defeated at times.

That’s why I’m so thankful to have my “dream team” at UAB Medicine… a group of specialists I see on a regular basis. They not only monitor my illnesses, but they also care about my overall wellbeing. I’ve even had one tell me, “I’m watching you like a hawk. I’m going to help you feel better.”

Because I will live with these conditions for years and possibly forever, they have created a “new normal” for me. I take a lot of medications, some of which can have nasty side effects. There are days when my insides hurt so badly that I feel like I can’t get out of bed.

But what I tell myself – and would tell others who are suffering from some sort of chronic illness – is stand up to the bullies. Take care of your body, your mind, and your spirit. Fight the bullies by keeping yourself healthy, and rest when your body tells you. Let others help you when you need it, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find your motivations in life, and let them guide you and give you something to look forward to every day.

Chronic illness is part of my life, but I won’t let it define me. I take each day as it comes, knowing that there’s a purpose for me here – one those bullies can’t stop me from fulfilling.