Coping | IBD
The New Year can be both an exciting and daunting time for people. After the total mess of the last few years (and for a lot of us, several of the ones before that), it’s an opportunity to reflect on how the old year went and what we might like to change or, in fact, do exactly the same in the next one!
As with most other aspects of our lives, chronic illness has a way of throwing a giant, unpredictable spanner in the works of those brave new plans and goals that we’ve so lovingly set ourselves for the new year. I know when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s in January of 2016, I didn’t see broad horizons; I felt my world getting smaller and smaller, with everything from food to hobbies being restricted.
But thankfully, it didn’t stay that way. After several surgeries, trials of different medications and the love and support of my family and friends, I started to re-imagine what my life could be like in the future and how I could still fit the things on my bucket list around my illness.
I’d tossed my list in the bottom drawer in frustration months before, but I took it out, smoothed out the wrinkles and had a good look. All the dreams were still there: wanting to be a published writer, to travel all over the world, to find love and to try as many different activities as I could. All of those things seemed impossibly out of reach and much too big to ever achieve, but I thought back to a tip I got at uni: when an assignment seems overwhelming, break it down into manageable chunks.
I also wanted to add a few new items to my list now that I had a diagnosis. It became suddenly very important to be able to advocate for myself and for others, to spread awareness and to prove that Crohn’s wouldn’t stop me. It might stand in my way occasionally or mean that things get done a little slower than I’d like, but I’d never again come to a complete stop and give up. I refused to go back to that place mentally.
So taking it one step at a time, I learned about Crohn’s. I joined groups (like Girls With Guts) and wrote about my experiences. That gave me the confidence to shake off a bit of the anxiety I’d carried around with me for as long as I could remember, and stand up for myself with doctors and specialists when a medication wasn’t working or I wasn’t treated with the respect and kindness I deserved. I ended up being an ambassador for Crohn’s and Colitis Australia in their awareness campaigns. One by one, I ticked off my Crohn’s-related goals.
Turning back to my original list, there were little things I could put in motion to help with those too. I joined writing groups online, went to workshops with authors I admired, submitted pieces to competitions (no matter how terrible I thought they were) and just kept trying. Eventually, my goal of being published was realised when I had a piece accepted by the Centre for Stories.
I joined a new boxing and muay thai gym, tried pole dancing and burlesque, went back to uni and gave honours a go. I didn’t finish it, but I met my fiancé in the process so that was definitely still a win! Opening myself up to trying new things (even if I was bad at it or didn’t stick with it) meant I liked the person I was becoming a lot more. This new version of myself was brave and fun and willing to learn and fail spectacularly. She was lovable, even with Crohn’s – and that was something that took me a long time to realise.
With a supportive, amazing partner by my side, I did travel; going to Japan and experiencing things I never would have imagined. By taking things slowly, the goals I’d set for myself actually came within reach. They may have shifted since my diagnosis, but I’m very proud to say I’ve achieved a lot of them. Nowadays, the New Year is a time to get together with my family and friends and appreciate all of the things I did in the year before, even if that was just surviving it! Goal setting at this time of year can be daunting, especially when dealing with chronic illness, but it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It does take some adjustments and sometimes it can feel like I’m playing Tetris and I’ve been thrown a curveball-shaped piece I have no idea where to put. But I just keep playing; moving things around until my life starts to make sense again.
Goals can be as big or small as you like. Sometimes, I make tiny ones just so I can get the satisfaction of marking it as done. They can be about things you want to do or work on. But never forget how far you’ve come and what you’ve already achieved. Living with IBD and its complications already makes you super tough and adaptable. Use some of those skills you’ve had to learn out of necessity and put them towards doing things you actually want to do. You’re still in charge here. Make your life what you want to. I’m so proud of you already.