IBD and chronic illness of any kind is a tricky beast to live with. I’ve found that every time I think I’m safe, it changes on me, throwing a new challenge my way – or in some cases, an old one I thought was long gone. From 2016 to 2018, I had five surgeries to drain abscesses that had built up inside fistula tracts. The first four were all in the same year and it was a huge shock to my system. I battled through the placement of seton drains, long, painful recoveries and all the mental health issues that came along with that. In June of 2021, the echo of an awfully similar pain from three years earlier crept in while my guard was down. I knew immediately it was another abscess, but I couldn’t quite believe it. It was like I’d missed a step and stacked it on the stairs. I felt the remission I’d worked so hard for slipping out from underneath me.

Within hours, I was in the emergency department, prepping for my sixth surgery. When I woke up afterwards with a seton drain back under my skin, something in me collapsed. Usually, having done something before makes it easier the next time around, but in this case, knowing how awful it had been in the past made it so much harder. The salt bath came out of the cupboard and was placed at the foot of the shower. In the days that followed, blood and hope mingled with the water I sat in and disappeared down the drain. The knot of the seton kept rotating and getting stuck under my skin. I spent many nights on the bathroom floor, trying to dig it back out and shaking at the sight of my own flesh beneath my fingernails. The darkness was intense, and I tried everything I could think of to shake it. I went to the gym and grunted my way through strength workouts; I finally got that tattoo I’d be planning for years; I saw the psych and tried to explain why this tiny orange band was causing me such grief.  None of it worked.

In the end, as corny as it sounds, it was love that saved me: the incredible love of the man with whom I am fortunate to be engaged.Nick could see I was struggling, but he patiently waited for me to open up about just how much so he could help me in the way only he knows how. There were many tough conversations and a lot of tears on my part. Sometimes, as much as I like to think I can, I just can’t handle things on my own. I need someone to hold my hand, help me out of my salt bath and remind me of how much beauty and promise is still in the world.

Image of the blog author (a pregnant woman with red hair and glasses) in a green dress.

It often takes someone else to make you realise that it’s okay to feel things intensely; you just have to make sure there’s someone there to catch you when you work your way through it.  It’s okay to be afraid when things don’t stay the same; when chronic illness plays tricks on me, and I fall back on my face. It’s okay because I’m loved. There’s nothing more powerful than that. And it doesn’t have to be the love of a partner. It can be the reassurance of friends, the hugs of family, the encouragement of a gym buddy or colleague. And, as I discovered through the post, the gift of perfect strangers who will send cards full of love across thousands of kilometres to reach me. Thank you, Girls With Guts, for the strength you shared and sent to me.

In the year since Nick and I have been engaged, our love has grown stronger and adapted to shield us both from the chaos that is the world right now. We lean on each other, encourage each other and trust wholeheartedly that we’ve made the exact right choice in the other person. He’s my safe place, the honey to my chicken and my best friend. He can find me when I’m lost and proves to me over and over again that life can still surprise me and bring me joy. No matter how hard it can be, there’s always the promise of something better coming just around the corner.

I don’t think there’s any greater representation of that than when I found out I was pregnant in November; the most unexpected and wonderful gift I could ever imagine. Our love will now shift again, stretching to include a third person and connecting us even further as parents. With Nick by my side, I’m capable of anything. I’m so grateful for everything that he is and does. I honestly never thought I’d be this lucky, but as Frank Turner sings, “The one thing I never accounted for was love”.

• About The Author
Alyssa is a writer, puzzle enthusiast and volunteering wizard from Perth, Western Australia. She was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2016 and ever since has wanted to raise awareness for IBD and help to create support networks for the warriors who live with it. She has a degree in Archaeology and Italian, spends her weekends doing boxing and muay thai, and lives with her fiance Nick.
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