Chronically Ill in University: Crohn’s Disease Awareness

I’ve tried to write this post many times, but the words just don’t look right together. I’ve already missed crohn’s disease awereness day two years in a row, so that says something about my qualms about writing this. But I think I’ve figured out what I want to say, or at least some of it.

Right now, today, my disease should be under control. You can live a normal life with crohn’s disease, they say. I was relieved when I got the diagnosis, because it only put words to something my body had been going through for so many years, so much time spent searching. And yet now, today, I am about to fail two out of five exams this semester. I am in the likely best university in my country studying physics, in my first year. And since before corona started I have been so ill, in various shapes, but of course I couldn’t figure out what was going on because everything shut down because of corona. (I also wasn’t allowed to get an actual corona test.)

Yet, going through so many years with people telling me that my pain, my disease, wasn’t real – that’s what I fall back on. That’s what’s in my head, trying to shame me into pushing through even though I know that’s not true. I know that now, I knew that then. Yet crohn’s is an often invisible illness, I’ve often looked my “best” right before collapsing or having to be admitted to the hospital or spending months bedridden in pain. I was complimented on how I’d lost weight, even as it was harder and harder to keep up in taekwondo class because spinning made me feel like I would faint and as I laid down on my stomach on the floor after push-ups, huge symmetrical blue and purple bruises would blossom on my hips and I had no idea why. I’ve made so many coping tactics, some good, some maybe not so, but I hate it when people critic them as if they know where I’m coming from.

I’ve made so much progress. And it more often than not feels like I regress again, every time I get sick with something new, or my crohn’s gets worse, but that’s not the right words to use. I don’t regress, because I’m not in control of it. And yet, it’s me that have to pick myself up again every time I lose muscle, everytime I have spent a month nearly dying, everytime I watch my brother go through the same fucking illness as me. And up ’til this point, there’s been little help to get compared to the criticism I’ve had to fight through.

Maybe I didn’t manage to figure out what was wrong and fix it in time for these last two exams. I did manage to pull myself together and focus enough that I completed the first three. It’s been a hell of a couple months. The only reason I’m hurting about ‘failing’ right now is that I’ve been in more pain before and still pulled through, but I now realize that I shouldn’t have had to. And with that ounce of compassion for myself I’m going to let that shame go, and not see this as a sign that I will never be able to do this. I will pull myself up again alone, this time as well. Eventually.

Say fuck you to everyone who expects you to have a completely normal life with this disease. ‘You can live a normal life with crohn’s disease’ does not mean you have to live up to that, it’s to not exclude possibilities when you feel most hopeless. And I will fight in any way I can again anyone else feeling as hopeless as I’ve been made to feel about my chronic illnesses.

I made this embroidery staying up too many nights trying to keep sane before my painkillers set in and the stomach pain withdrew enough to let me sleep. Here’s to hoping for a better and more energic summer than spring.

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