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IBD took a lot from me. It stole my first ‘real’ job, my savings, my trust in my body, and two years of my life. I have cursed this disease and its pain too many times to count, and I would do anything to be fully cured. At the same time, I do not wish to forget about these experiences. Every night spent clenching my aching stomach in a hospital bed taught me to appreciate life’s small pleasures.

I will never forget the first meal I had in the hospital following my total proctocolectomy. My hands trembled as I brought a sliver of the mass-produced pancake to my mouth. The previous year taught me to associate food with pain. I put the piece in my mouth and chewed until it dissolved. I took a deep breath and waited. After a few minutes, I let out a long exhale and shed a few tears of joy. I was eating without pain and nausea! I relished in the long-missed sensations of tasting, chewing, and swallowing again. I laughed, joked, and cried with joy as I finished the most delicious meal of my life. The buttery, sweet treat satisfied all my cravings and soothed my anxiety.

A few days later, I left the hospital on a highly restricted diet and began gradually working my way back to normal. Every new food I successfully digested brought an overwhelming sense of control and gratitude. A few weeks ago, I took my final step. I ate a salad with raw peppers and onions. I greeted the fresh taste of the lettuce and the crunch of the peppers with giddy enthusiasm. When the small portion did not tear apart my insides, I leaped with childish glee. I had a pep in my step for the rest of the week. This fresh, natural food is a precious gift that no one should ever take for granted.

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I eat most foods without a problem now, but I eat slower than I did before getting sick. I take the time to recognize and appreciate different tastes and textures. While I try to eat as healthy as possible (too many veggies can still cause irritation), I do not obsess. I enjoy what I can while simultaneously avoiding excesses that could harm me. I eat apples, pizza, lettuce, and chips. I remind myself of how miraculous it is to eat without pain.

IBD did not merely change the way I view food; it transformed how I greet each day. Before developing IBD, I felt the compulsive need to be productive from the moment I woke up until the second my head hit the pillow. I spent my days editing papers I already finished, solving problems that never arose, pleasing people I barely knew and worrying about what the next hour would bring. This lifestyle came to a halt when I became stricken with 24-7 pain. Suddenly, taking a shower was an arduous task. I tried in vain to keep up with my previous lifestyle, but my body fought against me with every attempt I made.

I finally conceded. I learned to listen to my body. I took naps, read leisure books, and began meditation. These are practices I have continued in remission. I have finally found myself waking up with excitement and anticipation instead of the gut-wrenching anxiety and fear that plagued me since my teen years. I do not focus on what could go wrong at work or moan about waking up at 5 AM. Instead, I say, “I get to wake up and go to work!” The perfectionist in me still pushes me to do the best I can, but I pause for a deep breath when needed. I realize that a misplaced comma or an awkward social confrontation is not an emergency. I open my eyes to the world around me. I stare in awe at sunsets and observe the deer in my yard with fascination. I see the beauty in the autumn trees and summer rainstorms. I breathe mindfully, appreciating the relaxing and therapeutic nature of breath. I get lost in the adventures and dilemmas of others as I read leisure books. There is nothing quite like getting lost in a good book on a cold, rainy day. I go for walks with my family and chat with my friends on the phone. I do not take one breath, laugh, or sight for granted.  These are the simple things for which I have learned to live. IBD taught me this.

• About The Author
Kate Shannon holds an MA in American Studies and a BA in History and American Studies. She is currently working as a high school special education teaching assistant while taking classes towards an MS in Student Disability Services in Higher Education. When she is not working, Kate loves reading, visiting history museums, practicing the clarinet (a new hobby she picked up after her diagnosis), volunteering with children and animals, and doing yoga. Kate was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2018 and had her colon removed in 2019. She is a j-pouch patient who is extremely grateful for the new life her surgeries gave her.
A Lifetime of IBD A Letter of Gratitude

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