Oprah Winfrey once said, “To love yourself is a never-ending journey.” I’ve spent a lot of time this past year putting in the work to learn how to love myself as a sick person. The past ten years have been a journey just learning how to live my life with Crohn’s disease. The past year has just been a struggle. I feel like I’ve lost so much of what was meaningful in my life. Being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and having to figure out what that meant for my life was already difficult, but I was able to keep up with my running and triathlon competitions, so it was easy to just suppress my feelings around changing my career and lifestyle to accommodate my disease. As a matter of fact, it was too easy. I wish I had known just how much work I would have to put into addressing my anxiety and mourning my loss after 10 years of ignoring those issues. The real difficulty though has been learning to love myself as the person I’ve become after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, spending a year fighting a ruthless flare that severely impacted my life, fighting to get my health and fitness back then losing it again to a reaction to my Humira that left me with permanent damage, and being forced to navigate a life that has left me with chronic upper respiratory issues, inability to exercise, and daily pain. Who am I now that I can’t compete and have to start over again in my 40s? The biggest mistake I’ve made is thinking that I could work through my depression then just resume life. This isn’t a one-time fix. This is a daily exercise in loving myself as I am and using the techniques I’ve learned over the past year to deal with depression, anxiety, and self-doubt. Positing the question I ask every guest on my podcast, what do I wish I knew when I was first diagnosed?
First, I wish I knew that it’s important to mourn. I should have taken time to mourn the loss of my career, my loss of the life I once knew, and the health I once took for granted. Second, I wish I had been more deliberate with planning my life going forward after my diagnosis. Like many chronic illness patients, I did not achieve remission with the first medications we tried for Crohn’s disease. I was having difficulty working and no one could give me any real direction, so I started reacting to my situation. How do I continue earning a living while sick? Start a business, go! In hindsight, I should have slowed myself down and even taken time off. This was unfathomable to me back then. I could not even imagine taking time off work, but it was probably the best thing I could have done. I blazed through my problems, and it has made the emotional part of my recovery more difficult. I’m now trying to work through the emotional toll of fibromyalgia, Long Covid, and drug induced lupus as well as the Crohn’s disease and it’s a monumental effort to say the least. Finally, I. wish I knew that having a chronic illness does not make me a less worthy person. This is what has been so difficult to wrap my head around. There are many days I don’t feel worthy. There are days that I feel optimistic and ready to take on anything that comes my way. There are also days that I feel my disability is larger than myself and I can’t stand up to the day. I’ve experienced more than a few of these days this year because in addition to my Crohn’s & fibromyalgia, I’ve been dealing with a worse than usual Spring. I’ve been cycling through sinus infections and bronchitis all year and it’s hard to identify as anything other than a sick person when that happens. I’ve been told many times by my doctors that I need to find something that brings me joy in my life that isn’t exercising. I’m trying to work towards a career that is fulfilling because working has brought me so much joy over the years. More importantly, I’m working to find joy within myself and that’s something that hasn’t been there for quite a while. What would I tell someone who is first diagnoses? Loving yourself is a never-ending journey. Wake up each day with a plan to use techniques to conquer your anxiety and fear. You are not just a sick person and remind yourself of that every morning. The work doesn’t end after therapy. You will be learning to love yourself and embrace your life post-diagnosis for many years to come. Just don’t give up. You’re worth it.