Greetings fellow Crohnnies and UC-ers, and summer travelers,
I love to travel, and left home when I was eighteen even to live in Europe by myself for a year. I settled in Vienna, Austria, and loved the culture and the people. The diet, however, was not the healthiest, and I gained twenty-five pounds by subsisting on Würst, and bread, and of course beer. I remember, when I came back from Europe, my father looked at me and said, “you’ve gained twice the Freshman 15, and you didn’t even go to college!” ha, ha ha.
Well, here I am, many years later—with college, marriage, and three wonderful children behind me, and I have to say that the one good thing that having Crohn’s disease has done is I don’t give a shit about my weight, and I just eat what I can and make no apologies to anyone! (Sorry to use a swear word, and be so blunt!). My weight has stayed at around 140, which my gastroenterologist says is “perfect,” because I eat healthy food all the time—hardly any sugar, no fried food, no fatty food, no wheat, very low-fat dairy, exercise daily, and maintain a low-stress lifestyle.
The reason I am writing this post today, is not to talk about our American culture’s OBSESSION with food and being thin as a sign of success; no, it is to talk abut the opposite—love your body and cherish your family and take responsibility for your own health and education.
I say this because for years, seriously, I wallowed in self-pitying behavior during my Crohn’s flares, which pretty much happened monthly, and had the nasty habit of joining with me having my period (good timing, eh?). I used to crawl into bed, and sometimes cry quietly, so as not to disturb my kids. After driving them to school (during one of these flares), I would frequently pull over to the side of the road in my car, and just put my head on the steering wheel and sob. It took me years to ask for help, and by the time I was finally diagnosed, my disease had basically devoured my terminal ileum, for it was beyond repair due to repeated flares leading to scarring.
So, having first had symptoms of ulcerative colitis (I have this, too!) after I returned from Vienna (remember my unhealthy lifestyle, horrible diet, and self-loathing attitude?), fast forward to 2006, to when I was admitted to the ER with a stomach the size of a basketball, and a severely impacted bowel that was about to rupture…I finally admitted that I was one sick person and I needed help.
That was my first step toward getting well.
Inside my head, I was constantly thinking about what I could or could not eat to stay thin, and be attractive—I smoked cigarettes to curb my appetite and utilized the diuretic aid that nicotine provides; I also worked all the time and exercised in fits and starts, and tried to diet, off and on, but always gained the weight back.
Having my kids and childbirth helped me let go of inhibitions (having my third baby stark naked in the OR and not caring one bit about my big belly or flabby legs 😉 was a great release for me—I always wanted to be trim and fit and “in control.”
One thing having Crohn’s has taught me is that sometimes when you lie on the cold and smelly bathroom floor with your arms wrapped around the toilet crying for your (not very nurturing) mother, you are clearly not in control!
Here is a link to a recent article about yoga and body image, and I was interviewed by the wonderful writer, Linda Sparrowe!
A disordered body image isn’t always about weight, of course. Dede C., a graphic designer from Vermont, remembers the time she was in a yoga class practicing handstand and her shirt came up, revealing a huge scar on her belly that she hated and felt ashamed of—a result of multiple surgeries. Her yoga teacher told her she was beautiful. “But my scar,” she said. “Your scar is beautiful, too,” he said. “It’s a part of who you are.”
So for my fellow Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis readers, and people who love you who may also be reading: let go, and by that I mean ask for help, but also study everything you can about your disease and admit you have a serious disease that can even lead to death. Don’t be polite at potluck dinner parties; at restaurants, ask for rice, well-steamed fresh local veggies (especially available in summer), and baked fish especially made for you if the menu doesn’t have easy-to-digest food (I just did this in Rhode Island on vacation last week, and I also politely sent back a dinner because something didn’t taste right and I trusted my gut—the fish was a bad piece, it turned out! And no way am I going to get food poisoning again…).
As I write this blog, I pledge not to offer “tips for this or that, digestive disease.” Instead, I offer up my interpretation of current medical research (remember, I follow gastroenterology papers, studies, and the like, with the zeal of a pre-medical student!), and personal stories that will, hopefully, help people cope and learn about their disease, and thrive!
I’ll post a few vacation photos (that’s me with my daughter and I wore a “tankiny” bathing suit that occasionally showed my scar and I did not even think about it!). I would love to hear how people are doing—travel with IBD is a challenge, so if you can’t take off this year, have a “home vacation,” with a week off from work and time away from computers! Get a hammock, read a great novel (Shadow of the Wind is my current favorite and it is set in post WWII Barcelona!), and watch movies….. Release stress daily, which is key to long-term health.