How Crohn’s Saved Me

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This weekend, my oldest stepson totaled his truck. Yes, the accident is technically his fault for following too close, something we have warned him about. But it’s quite the hefty life lesson. His baby, that he saved up for, spent months researching, and finally paid for with cash, is near dead (we are still hopeful!). Watching him having to learn the hard way really sucks. I know how he feels. No, I never cared so much about a vehicle, but I know what it’s like to be young, make mistakes, and pay for them. Some mistakes cost more than others. But, I do know, without Crohn’s my life would be different, and I honestly believe it would be for the worst.

Yes, it’s quite the odd sentiment, seeing as Crohn’s has almost killed me on several occasions. I spend a large portion of my life in pain, bloated, skipping meals, cutting out the foods I love, waking up in the middle of the night to run to the bathroom for hours on end, and giving up time with people I care about due to fatigue. Most of the time I hate it. I mean who wouldn’t? But some days I wouldn’t trade this part of me for anything, because it has shaped me in ways I don’t see otherwise possible. The parts of me that grew from the scars Crohn’s gave I can’t see living without.

Rewind to age seventeen, geared and ready to take on adulthood with gusto. The world was my oyster. What would I do with it? Why, attend a college not too far from home, going to my parent’s sister church every Sunday, and falling for a Muslim guy in the process. Oh right, and failing miserably at my college track career because, well, I was sick with Crohn’s and didn’t know it yet. The Muslim first love and my religion butted heads, resulting in me being a stubborn teenager and paying for my own school.

So there I was, sophomore year, working, in school, sick as a dog, on the outs with my family, dating a guy who didn’t give me the time of day, and oh right, no longer on the track team (by choice), and it was one too many life lessons at once. No, I couldn’t handle the pressure. As much as I wanted to be that responsible, put together adult I envisioned in my head, I instead skipped classes to hang out in my bathroom while binge watching Grey’s Anatomy (until the show went downhill of course), worked just enough to pay the rent, but definitely not anything else, failed some courses, got fired from a job, pretty much did all the things I never thought I would do. Me? Fail? Me? Get fired? Me? Be an absolute train wreck of a person?

So I crashed. I did get the diagnosis that year. And the medications didn’t work. The doctor chalked it up to him assuming I hadn’t taken them. Had I? Oh that’s right, when he prescribed the new meds, he didn’t specify he wanted me to continue the old meds as well. Even my mother thought he meant we were SWITCHING, not adding onto the list. Yeah, all the gray heads in the waiting room should have been my first clue Crohn’s wasn’t his specialty.

I got depressed. Yes, me, depressed. I can’t relate to someone who suffers from clinical depression, as this was directly related to my health. Fatigue is a sneaky, formidable enemy, sucking away at the corners of you while you are left wondering what is your problem? Why can’t you do anything? Why are you such a waste of a person?

Then one day I woke up. ENOUGH! No one is going to get me better except me. I changed doctors. I demanded better treatment. Suddenly I was a researching fiend, gaining all the knowledge possible on my disease. No more would I play the victim. Uh uh. Not me. I was attacking this head on, and life better watch out.

I switched majors to something I actually enjoyed. The new course of treatment made me feel halfway human again, and I started attending classes. I stopped the issue of attendance before it began by talking with professors the first day of class, making them aware of my condition, and to back it up I made sure I was put on the school disability list. My proactive attitude didn’t happen all at once, more like baby steps, but it still happened.

I wonder, if it weren’t for Crohn’s, who would I be? Yes, some of my trainwreck-ism came from being sick, young, and immature, but what would have caused me to pull my head out of my rear end and get it together? What would have made me the driven, ever curious, adventurous soul I am now? How would I be able to appreciate each pain free, joyous moment on this planet?

I wanted to teach in bilingual education. I didn’t think, at the time, my French was good enough. Or that I was good enough to even get hired by this forward thinking school district. But I worked on my French, put a smile on my face, walked into all five interviews (yes five! I didn’t get hired after the first four, but I was determined, and three years later I DID get hired), and finally got my dream job. I get to speak French all day long with six year olds. Yes, that is awesome to me! I wanted it, and I got it, and I’m loving it.

When I want something, I go for it. I may not always get it, but at least I’ve tried. Because my good days are limited, and who knows what life I have left to live, I want to enjoy it all as fully as I can. Whatever interests me, I will try. Hydroponics? Doing it! Computer languages? Trying to learn. Longboarding? As long as I don’t get speed wobble and take a tumble like I did the first time, all is well. Short hair? Rocked it. Red hair? Can’t see myself in any other color now. Teenage stepkids? Yup, just don’t confuse me for a teenager, too.

And that brings me full circle to my most crucial point here. If it weren’t for Crohn’s, I would have never, EVER dreamed of being a stepmom. Nor would I have ever been successful at it. Crohn’s taught me responsibility, wisdom, and to appreciate life in a way nothing else could have. And because of it, I am honored to be involved with these four kids. Yes, I get mistaken for their sister. Sometimes people think I am Matt’s girlfriend. Ew, weird. Trust me, I suffer from these misunderstandings almost daily. I recently got carded trying to buy a rated R movie at Walmart, and my kids were with me. The lady thought I was 17. I’M ALMOST 29!!! Compliments aside, I’m proud to be their stepmom, and that they’ve let me into their lives so willingly.

So thank you, Crohn’s, for choosing me and not someone else in my family. Thank you, genetics, immune system, bacteria, and whatever else went into play for striking me with this illness, because without it I would never have four amazing stepkids. And that’s the biggest gift life could offer me.

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