The first weekend in November was the Girls with Guts annual retreat near Deckers Colorado. After taking a year off, the retreat was back and better than ever! I can’t say enough good things about the Girls with Guts retreats. One of the few positive things about living with this disease is finding this group of amazing women. It really is a sisterhood. I have never felt as welcomed and loved as I do when we gather each year. This a group of people who really understand what it’s like to live with IBD. They. Get. It.
In other parts of our lives we tend to classify ourselves as the sick one, the one with Crohn’s or UC, or the one who is at the doctor all the time. But during these weekends that’s not what makes your special, everyone has varying levels of this disease. You have to find a new way to define yourself. Who are you outside of this part of your life? How do you see yourself when your illness isn’t on the table? These weekends help me refocus on the things I want to do and accomplish that have nothing to do with my Crohn’s. Plus seeing all the different things these ladies accomplish while battling IBD is inspiring to say the least.
One of my favorite parts of these retreats is meeting people from all over the United States and Canada. I love hearing their stories and learning about their lives. I find the differences in life across this continent just fascinating. And while we may joke around about our differing accents and what we call things, we connect through our shared journeys. I can now say I have friends from coast to coast! I just love how we can all come together and have such a great time with very little drama.
I also enjoy finding people who have the same weird symptoms or who have had the same surgery and discuss the small details that other people don’t understand, even within the IBD community. It’s a big difference to be able to talk with somebody one on one, in person, rather than just online. There is a level of intimacy that you just can’t get through a computer or phone.
It is also helpful to hear about what different doctors are saying and learning how this disease can be managed in different ways. This is a confusing disease even for the smartest doctor, so getting more sources for information is always good. The speakers also always provide interesting information. I thought this year’s presentation on pelvic floor dysfunction was particularly informative. Definitely something to bring up with my doctors back home. I learn something new every year.
For me, another big part of going to the retreat is pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Not only making my introverted self talk to new people, but being open to new experiences and just trying things I normally would shy away from. This year’s challenge for me was the rope bridge to the zipline. I don’t have great balance, so this was a bit uncomfortable to say the least. But I put one foot in front of the other and made it across. Knowing these ladies have your back, makes you a little more brave. I’m rejuvenated and inspired by these women and I carry those feelings back home with me.
This group is really special, there is just so much love and support. When I attended my first retreat in 2016, I didn’t know anyone. I had only ever met one other person with Crohn’s. But after only a few days at the retreat, I made long lasting friendships and I know I can call or message any one of these ladies and they would be there for me in a heartbeat.
I want to give a shout out the board members (plus all the other volunteers), past and present, who created this group and who continue to do the work to keep us all going. You’ve really made something so wonderful and we are all so grateful! I look forward to the retreat all year long and can’t thank you all enough for making it happen. Can’t wait to see you again in 2020!
After growing up in South Dakota and getting her degree in art education, Katie Wahlen worked for several years as a jack of all trades in the media industry. In 2010, she started getting sick and was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2013. Then, later that year, her husband was also diagnosed with Crohn’s, which gives her a unique perspective as both patient and caregiver.