I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 11 years old. For those who don’t know what Crohn’s disease is, it is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea and even malnutrition. Crohn’s disease can be both painful and debilitating, and sometimes may lead to life-threatening complications. For some Crohn’s can be identified by severe abdominal pain, anorexic behavior, low immune system and it often can cause mood swings and depression. Consult your doctor if…sorry, couldn’t refuse!
By the time I was 14 it was clear I was going to need surgery. I already had a feeding tube in my stomach and had gone through multiple drugs, none of which was working. By the time I was taken to the emergency room, I was dying. I was 4’9″, 35 pounds (dripping wet) and had thrown up all night leaving me dangerously dehydrated. Long story short they removed fifteen inches of my small intestine and eventually I went into remission. You can never get rid of Crohn’s, but through proper diet, exercise, etc., you can go into remission. I use to think that meant I would have no attacks. I later found out that really just meant the attacks weren’t as frequent or severe. I have been in remission for 20 years now.
But I still have pretty good attacks. I just had one the other night in fact. When I was younger, I would eat what I wanted and do what I wanted and if I had an attack I was up and running the next day. This is not the case at the age of 34. As I have gotten older the attacks have been harder to manage. I now have an attack and it takes me a good 3 to 4 days to recover. Not great for work production and for a guy who is very driven in what I do. I also have a wife and two little children who need me and want my attention. Being out that many days is hard on everyone, not just me. My life becomes a stewardship to take care of.
But as I am getting older and hopefully a little wiser, I am learning a few things about my life with Crohn’s:
First, I am not invincible anymore. Not that I ever was, but now I really recognize it.
Another thing I have learned is to listen to my body. My body tells me when certain foods don’t work for me or when I need to rest because I am overdoing it. In the past I would have ignored some of these, but now listening is the best thing I can do. Keeping track of what foods set off my attacks and which don’t (it can be different for everyone). I also try to take notice of times when I feel overly tired. These are usually signs for me that I am about to have an attack if I’m not careful.
I have also learned that exercise is one of the best things I can do. I have found that the better shape I am in, and the more consistent I work out, the less likely I am to have an attack. I carry all my weight in my belly, pretty much no where else. So extra weight on my stomach and intestines can cause my attacks as well. Also, by staying in shape my immune system stays stronger and I am able to fight off things better.
Another lesson, you have to remain positive. Crohn’s has a way of depressing you and making you feel helpless. But by remaining positive about your situation it can help you overcome. I have overcome so many obstacles in my life and done so many amazing things because I either remained positive or someone around me helped me be positive. Which is also a good point, make sure you surround yourself with positive people who can encourage and help you.
But one of the most important things I am learning about having Crohn’s is the importance of my dependency on God. There is nothing that will send you to your knees in prayer (and throwing up) faster than having a long, painful attack. Prayer helps me get through my attacks. Knowing that God is right there with me, helps me overcome.
This disease in many ways is my “thorn in the flesh.” Many times I have asked God to remove it. But I am learning that in my weakness I and others see His strength.
Crohn’s disease does not define me, but it is a huge part of who I am. And the more I embrace it and manage it, the stronger I become.
Maybe your thorn in the flesh isn’t Crohn’s, but whatever it is I pray you depend on God in the hard times and learn to overcome. I pray that you don’t let whatever it is define you, but instead find your worth and satisfaction in God alone.