Coping | IBD | Ostomy
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.
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.