Growing up, I always felt a little different. I felt misunderstood. I had been sick very often for years not knowing what it could be. I am already marginalized by many different things..being a woman, being black, questioning my sexuality, being the daughter of an immigrant, having anxiety and depression, etc. So, I know what it’s like to feel very much like a different person and fear what people will think of you.
When I was 12, I started noticing my own body feeling very weary and weak at times. My iron levels were dropping. I would frequently get nauseous. I would be super tired. I felt sick to the point where I had to miss school for 2 months and get a tutor so I could keep up. I didn’t know what was going on for years! Later on in my high school years, I felt even more different. Closer to graduation was really challenging for me. In the spring of 2018, I started feeling even worse. I felt like my own body was fighting me. In July 2018, at the age of 20, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. I felt scared for my life and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I dreaded the sleepless nights and constantly getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I didn’t want to eat and I was almost afraid to because of pain. I was also afraid to eat because sometimes I threw up afterwards. It was very embarrassing for me to talk about because I thought “what if they think I’m weird or gross?”
Thankfully, I have my 24 year old sister that I have a close relationship with who also has IBD, specifically Ulcerative Colitis. After I was diagnosed, we talked about it because I felt really scared to know what this condition meant for me and my life. I also started researching Facebook groups for people with IBD and found many more people I can relate to. I also thought “how do I explain this to my friends and other people?” Having IBD messed with my body image really badly, too. I was thinking to myself “your body doesn’t look good enough..it’s not what people like.” Being a black woman, an ideal body image that I have is of having bigger breasts, bigger butt, and a smaller waist. I never felt confident with my body at all. Now, I had that smaller waistline, but my chest and butt shrunk to a much smaller size. I was thinking “I don’t know what to do with myself”. I felt that way for months! I also thought I would not be able to have fun with my family or friends and that I would not be able to achieve academically and post- graduation because the sickness would hold me back. I had to take time off of college because the sickness was so bad and I had to go to treatments.
Even on vacations I felt like I couldn’t have fun. When I was in Aruba in September 2018, the Crohn’s held me back from having fun more than half the time I was there. I felt so sick that I didn’t even have the energy to go out and do fun things. When I started Remicade, I truly felt scared. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what I was gonna feel like afterwards. Treatment days are very tiring for me. At the end of March, I went to a conference about IBD and that’s when I felt like I wasn’t alone in this fight. I truly felt like I belonged! Seeing others in the room with me during the Remicade treatments also helped me realize that. It helped me to realize that sometimes you have to take a little time for yourself. I have truly learned a lot and gotten stronger from going through this experience. So, to all my fellow Crohnies, you’re not alone in this. You are strong. You are brave. You’re a fighter! I wish you all well!
Marli Francis is 21 years old and from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in July 2018 at the age of 20. She found Girls With Guts while looking through support groups on Instagram and was drawn to it. She could see that it was a wonderful support group for women with IBD and wanted to connect with others who had the same disease. Marli loves to write, draw, paint, travel, and listen to music.