I’m thirty-eight years old and live in Portland, Oregon with my husband Ron. I’m an environmental scientist, writer, and world traveler–Ron and I met in the Peace Corps in Tanzania. We recently lived in Madison, Wisconsin for eight years, but I missed Portland, my hometown. In 2014 I persuaded Ron to move back here with me.
That was also the year I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease of unknown cause that I had barely heard of before. After a lifetime of excellent health, my symptoms began at age 35–just as we were ready to start trying for a baby. I spent the whole spring frantically trying to get my health back so we could move on with our lives. We didn’t yet realize that instead of moving on, I needed to move forward in this new reality.
My Path With Colitis
The diagnosis was shocking and devastating at first. Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic disease–I would have it for the rest of my life. I struggled with grief over the health I had lost, and with the social isolation created by my symptoms: severe diarrhea, pain, and fatigue. My doctors could offer only partial answers, not get me into full remission. It soon became clear that along with modern “Western” medicine, I’d need to explore alternative practices, diet, and lifestyle changes to get my health back. I was determined to do everything I could. I missed running, eating without worry, and, especially, feeling normal. I felt like my life had been hijacked. In my more-optimistic moments, though, I tried to see this disease as an opportunity to learn, and possibly even to become healthier than I would have been otherwise.
It has been a path of many ups and downs. After two successful remissions, in the summer of 2016 a severe flare-up landed me in the hospital for the first time. My state continued to worsen before it improved–I lost 34 lbs, became so weak that I could barely walk, and was told that I may not survive surgery if and when I needed it. I spent a month in the hospital and emerged shaken and weak. As I nursed myself back to health after that terrifying summer, recovery felt like a second chance at life. It was time, at last, to make some deeper-down changes that I still hadn’t tackled despite all my other health efforts. I now believe that ultimately, to heal my colitis I need to do even more than change my diet and lifestyle. I need to look deep inside myself.
As of fall 2016, I am doing just that. I feel that I have emerged from a dark tunnel. For the first time since diagnosis two-and-a-half years ago, I am filled with gratitude for my life, for what health I do have, and even, to my astonishment, for my colitis. This whole process has been humbling and enlightening. I wouldn’t have chosen colitis as my path toward better health and spirituality, but apparently it is one of many paths! I have not yet found a balance that gives me control over my health, but I think and hope that I’m getting closer.