Growing up, I endured periods of painful stomach aches (the ones that you have a bad feeling about). My parents and I emigrated from Russia to the United States in 1992 after the collapse of the USSR, so I always chalked the symptoms up to the stress of trying to assimilate and become American. Emotional suppression and downplaying pain were common themes in our household, and frankly, in Russian culture. “You’re OK, Katie. This will pass,” I repeatedly reassured my younger self. I was right; the pain and fatigue did go away, at least for two decades.
Fast forward to 2019, a year like no other. Let me share a few highlights with you:
May: Ater months of wedding planning, my husband, Chris, and I tie the knot with the support and presence of our friends and family.
June: We spend our honeymoon days at a finca in Mallorca (Majorca), the crown jewel of Spain’s Balearic Islands.
July: We visit two sets of close friends in Washington state.
August: I fly to San Diego to celebrate the union of two dear friends.
Newly married and adventuring frequently, I was on a high for months. And I wasn’t going to let anyone or anything take away my happiness.
In retrospect, the following set of events are life-changing moments for me. At the time, however, I would’ve classified them as “lowlights.”
August: The painful stomach aches that I remember from my childhood return but stronger as if there’s a barbed wire scraping the inside of my abdomen. You’re OK, Katie.
Early-September: In addition to the stomach aches, I have a low-grade fever. But I turn 30 in a few days and my husband planned a long birthday weekend at the mountains. Endure, endure.
Mid-September: I make it to the mountains while enduring the same symptoms and now joint pain. I take Advil and call my general practitioner during my birthday dinner. He suspects I have appendicitis and schedules me for a CT scan. Happy 30th, Katie!
Late-September: After several uncomfortable tests (CT scans and stool tests are not fun, y’all), the results show major inflammation so I’m scheduled for a colonoscopy. But aren’t colonoscopies for folks age 50+? (Nope!)
Late-September: At this point, I’m taking Advil every day to aid the low-grade fever that hasn’t gone away. (Little did I know that Advil —ibuprofen—worsens inflammation.) And as I prep for my colonoscopy, I become fatigued and find a lot of blood in my stool. Am I dying?
Late-September: The day of my colonoscopy I can barely stand (from losing blood and the lack of nutrition). I faint in the bathroom to which my husband catches me in his arms. I wake up, regroup, and make my way to the car. I’m in such bad shape that I need to be wheelchaired to the GI center. The nurse checks my vitals and calls the paramedics instantly. Everything happened so fast: one minute I thought I’m getting a colonoscopy, the next minute I’m in an ambulance where I’m told I needed to be “resuscitated.” An ER doctor asks me if I have IBD to which I whisper, “I don’t know.” I spend days at the hospital, where I get my colonoscopy and ultimately, a life-long diagnosis without a cure.
It’s difficult to accept an incurable condition that will remain a part of you for life. Even though I’m in remission right now, the trauma hasn’t left. However, thanks to modern medicine and the support of my family, husband, friends, co-workers, and the incredible IBD community, I’m thriving and accomplishing goals while managing this disease.
Although the summer of 2019 was a challenging time, the diagnosis taught me that the more you resist feeling unwell, the worse you’ll feel. Emotional suppression and downplaying pain can lead to bigger issues down the road, so it’s vital to be honest with yourself and make space for grace. I wish I could tell you how easy that is to do, but I often struggle with taking that advice myself. Recognizing that it’s OK to not be OK is half the battle, so if I can continue to be honest with myself, I know I’m one step closer to improvement.
• About The Author
Born in Russia and raised in New York, Katie is a full-time technical writer, co-lead at her organization's disability employee resource group (ERG), and an IBD patient who now lives in Virginia. She was initially diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2019, then her diagnosis changed to Crohn's in 2020. Either way, living with IBD—no matter what "version"—taught her a lot. Most importantly, how to shift her mindset and believe in herself.
Her passions include documenting software, helping others, and building community wherever she goes. In her free time, Katie enjoys exercising (Orangetheory!), early-morning hikes, drinking matcha, and spending time with her home crew: Chris (her husband) and Oliver (her spunky pup).