Hi everyone! My name is Ryleigh, I'm 17, and I have Crohn's disease. I'm currently a senior in high school and plan to attend college in the fall. Something that most people don't know about me is that I used to be able to name over one hundred dog breeds when I was little, but I've forgotten a lot of them now.

I was diagnosed with Crohn's in early October 2020, right in the middle of my marching band season, trying to complete college applications and stay on top of my schoolwork. I had been having symptoms for over a year, so while it was a huge relief to finally have a diagnosis, it came as a big shock to my family and me. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness at a young age is the hardest adjustment I've ever had to make. With my very busy schedule, I was always working on a project or at band practice, so I never had adequate time to process my diagnosis. It was something in the back of my mind that I almost refused to deal with. I didn't want to think about what it meant for my future or what would come next, so for the longest time, I just didn't think about it.

In the past few months, I've made an effort to understand and begin to accept my diagnosis. I do research about IBD on my own to understand what's happening to my body, and having that understanding has helped me process what I'm going through. I've become active in the chronic illness community on social media; being able to talk to people my age going through similar struggles has been so amazing. I love to hear other peoples' stories and offer support to anyone I can, and everyone's support has been so important in my acceptance process. I've become more open with my loved ones about my diagnosis, including what it means to have IBD and how it affects me physically and mentally. Although I have lost some friends over my diagnosis, the majority of the people around me have been incredibly supportive and so understanding. Something that I've always admired about other people is the strength they display when faced with difficult circumstances. While it's so easy to self-criticize and only focus on what you're doing wrong, I've learned to appreciate the strength that I've displayed throughout this whole process. I'm closer than ever to accepting my diagnosis and so excited for the future. 

When my GI psychologist mentioned the PAC to me and described what their members do, I knew I had to learn more. Advocating for my fellow IBD patients and helping newly diagnosed patients is something that really interests me. As someone interested in medicine, the idea of completing research about IBD intrigued me and drew me to the PAC. Having this incredible community of IBD patients to learn from and talk to is absolutely amazing. Everyone has been extremely kind and welcoming, and I'm so grateful for that! It's so much easier to come to terms with your diagnosis when you meet so many amazing people who are faced with the same challenges and work hard to improve the patient experience. I'm very excited to continue to share my story and hope that it can be helpful to other IBD patients. Through my involvement in the PAC, I hope to help complete toolkits for IBD patients, conduct research about IBD and all the ways it can affect a person, and connect with the other members to make lasting friendships. I'm so excited to begin this journey and can't thank everyone enough for how kind and welcoming they've been!


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