ImproveCareNow Talking_about_ibd


I've Had It Up to Here

I returned home on Tuesday evening, dropped my bag on the floor, sighed, and looked at the pile of clothes still sitting on a table beside my desk and thought, ‘Thanks for the reminder.’ I had been looking forward to attending a great IBD meeting in Montreal this past weekend - planning to, but in the end my unruly body decided that traveling was not a good idea. Consequently, I missed the conference, my friends, and had left the pile of clothes atop that table and spent the past near-week in the hospital.

 

I find that when I’m hospitalized, for the first few days with the nausea and upchucking and pain meds and exhaustion, I’m relatively okay with being in the hospital. Relatively. But then I reach a point, a threshold level, when I’m feeling okay enough or frustrated enough or just as though I’ve had enough and feel the inescapable need to devise my exit strategy.

 

Crawling into my own bed last night, I felt as though I simultaneously belonged nowhere and everywhere. There’s an ease in being transposed in hospital, academic, or home situations that is comforting but alarming. The same habits flood back to me - using my medical lingo (“No an 18 French is not acceptable, please get a 10 French, and I’ll be putting in the NG tube myself, thank you very much”), putting my disease history in chronological order (deciding, as doctors have taught me, what is relevant and what is ‘personal’), reciting my IV speech (“I’m a hard stick, go a little higher or a little lower, but try wherever you think you can get it”), and explaining my ever-faithful teddy bear companion (yes, even at 21 years old). It’s routine. But it’s also disorienting, a feeling that leaves me awake at night, blinking at the ceiling, wondering when the bruises on my arms will fade and knowing that the ones on my spirit may never quite heal. This is not intended to sound fatalistic or depressive, just honest, a feeling that sucks me back to a fetal position regardless of the 9 years of IBD, until I feel like a little girl just wanting to be hugged.

 

A friend, who was at the conference that I missed, was texting me today and asked me how I was doing. Throughout our conversation, he asked me if I was taking it easy and taking care of myself. I replied that I think we both do a much better job of taking care of others than taking care of ourselves. I’m the first one to hold someone’s hand, to hug them, to offer company to the hospital or an equally difficult/upsetting task, yet the last one to ask for my hair to be held back as I vomit. And luckily for me, I have friends who do not ask (because they know I’ll politely decline) and help me out anyway and I love them for it.

 

Similar to my reaction to the over-sized NG tube, sometimes that tantrum of “It’s just NOT FAIR” bubbles to the surface. And that’s okay, even if it feels like something I should’ve gotten over. When I’ve had it up to here, near-tears and all, the comfort of having people who ‘get it’ is immensely helpful. I don’t have to explain myself to them, and it makes me really believe that there will be more conferences, more opportunities, despite the pain and frustration that accompanies any chronic illness.

 

My only advice when it comes to ‘having-it-up-to-here-moments’: eat a cupcake (if tolerable), stare at a picture of PDemps for a while, listen to a favorite song, dig up your old yearbook and reread notes that make your heart warm, hug someone, and remember that there are always people in the wings waiting to catch you.

 

Jennie


To Nudge or to Push

Mother to teenage son:  “Hey, have you taken your medicine yet?”

Son (playing video games): “I will in a minute!”

Mom (wondering whether it’s worth the fight):  “You know, you’re gonna move out in a few years and you’re going to have be able to do this without me telling you.  And you know you don’t want flare-ups if you can help it!”

Son: “Nope, you’ll have an alarm on your phone and you’ll just call me and keep nagging until I take it.  Can’t wait for that!” [insert sarcasm]

And, end scene.   Mom walks offstage slowly, imagining how many more times she’ll ask before he takes it, if he’ll ever fully be in charge of his body, maybe whether he’ll be living on her couch at 40….

Is this exaggerated?  Maybe.  But I know many families in this boat.  They don’t have emergencies, and they get a clean “Good job, no problems this quarter!”  during the GI checkup. The child has a good quality of life when it comes to school and sports and social time and… it’s because mom stays in charge. She’s in charge of the medicine, the questions for the doctor, all the IBD knowledge necessary to lead a good life.  She’s running this show!

How much should we push our teens to start taking charge and showing responsibility?    It’s difficult.  If we push too little, they don’t grow up.  If we push too hard, they may retreat and we'll keep doing everything anyway “because someone has to.”  And by the way, ‘Why wasn’t that last flare and hospitalization enough to make him wake up and start doing something about it?’


Open not Broken

I started off my life with Crohn’s as a nine year old boy with very little support outside my family … and frankly I just did not want anyone to know. I had some goals – mostly about excelling in school. During my years of elementary school and junior high, I told nobody about the battle I was having inside.  I didn’t want anybody to know about it and I certainly did not want to stick out from the crowd. “I want to be invisible,” I remember myself saying.

 

If you ask my friends now, they will most likely tell you that I stick out like a sore thumb. After you show your face on a video screen in front of the entire high school to tell them about Crohn’s everyone pretty much knows who you are. The other thing they might tell you is that Alex loves not being "normal" and he is okay with being different.

 

Some of this perspective on my changed life came to light while I was sitting in church listening to a sermon. I honestly don’t listen to all the sermons.  Maybe it’s that some of them are just over my head; but this one was different.  In his sermon the minister at my church compared the breaking of bread to the breaking open of one’s heart. He says, “We don’t usually think of being broken as a good thing. The word ‘broken’ really has a bad sense about it, suggesting that something is useless because it doesn’t work anymore. But suppose we think of it more in terms of ‘broken open’ and offering a way to get to the inside of the thing.” His philosophy about broken hearts really struck me. I wonder now whether he wrote this sermon about me.  Because when I think back I was broken (or at least my intestines were); and somewhere along the way that broken heart or broken situation, in my case, opened up.

 

I am now okay with everyone knowing I have Crohn’s.  I don’t have to hide in a corner when my Mom flushes my PICC line and I am okay wearing my backpack with my TPN lines hanging out and the pumps whirring away in public.  I enjoy meeting with my Doctor and talking about my disease with him, and speaking to other people with ostomies and IBD. The things that I hid from before have turned into my favorite things to do. The shy, soft-spoken boy has been replaced by an open, out-spoken one because I was willing to open my heart to my disease.


None of Your Business

For a long time, I thought I owed people disclosure of my Crohn’s disease. I thought it was as obvious as my hair color and couldn’t get far into a conversation without it coming up in some way. And in truth, virtually any story from the last nine years relates back to my IBD, but nevertheless the disclosure was a near-immediate thing.

 

I challenged myself when I came to school to not tell people. Not to hide it from anyone, but to be Jennie first and a person living with Crohn’s second. But now, as I apply to graduate school, I feel torn.

 

Whenever I tell someone that I want to be a pediatric psychologist for chronically ill children, they always raise their eyebrows and comment on how specific it is. Why, they want to know, did I choose that? Well (insert sigh here), I often tell them, I have Crohn’s disease.

 

But this, in all reality, is not really true. Of course I do have Crohn’s, but I don’t want to be a psychologist because I have Crohn’s. My exposure to pediatric chronic illness was because of being a patient, but why I want to pursue Psychology is because I’m extremely passionate about the field and doing research. Not as a patient, as an academic.

 

And this is the push and pull of my disclosure saga - to tell or not to tell. It’s one thing when I’m sitting face to face with someone and have the opportunity to explain and show (aka flash) my ostomy and delve into my whole gut-filled story. Sure, okay. It’s quite another when I’m applying to graduate school and trying to articulate my relevant research experience, to people that I have never met before all over the country who will likely only look at my application for a matter of minutes. In this case, disclosing excessively seems unnecessary - an unprovoked therapy session almost - and so I’ve tried to step carefully, disclosing succinctly in a way that does not consume my personal essay.

 

The heart of the issue is that it’s my story to tell. Disclosing is a choice and I get to decide who gets to know. Be it for graduate school, or a new friend, or a boyfriend, I can choose whose business it is.

 

Because I am not Crohn’s. I am Jennie, and proud of it.

 

Jennie


Scary Stories

“Ill people are more than victims of disease or patients of medicine; they are wounded storytellers.  People tell stories to make sense of their suffering; when they turn their diseases into stories, they find healing.”  James Swanton, in forward to The Wounded Storyteller:  Body, Illness, and Ethics (1997). 

My girls love when I tell them scary stories.  Not the overly gory kind, never with bad endings, but definitely the kind with those spooky “just around the corner” monsters that, in the end, are shrunk, tamed, made nice, or were never really monsters in the first place. 


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