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 in order 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 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.
About This Blog
In the spring of 2014, I began blogging about the health lessons I was learning through colitis. At the time, though, I was too self-conscious to go public with my blog–it was just for me, unadvertised to my friends or to anyone else. I wonder now if that was partly my rejection of colitis as a new and permanent part of me. Maybe I was still in the denial phase of grief.
I stopped blogging entirely in fall 2014, distracted by our move to Portland. When I emerged from my 2016 hospital stay, I looked back over my old blog and realized I was ready to write again, and what’s more, to write publicly. To go public with my disease. Although I haven’t yet solved the riddle of my health, by now I feel like I have some valuable things to say.
This blog is also the potential rough draft of a book. I’m a memoirist and want to write a book about my experiences with colitis, but I also want to share these experiences with people sooner rather than later. And I don’t have the time and energy to write both a book and a blog. So I’ve decided to dribble my potential book out in little pieces. Hopefully these posts will one day add up to something cohesive.
That’s why my blogging method is a bit unconventional. Some entries will take place in the present day, like they would in a normal blog. But many entries take place in the past–they’re entries I wrote in my first colitis blog, or pieces from my journal or family emails I wrote along the way. I’m dating all the entries more or less when they happened, which means the blog software will place them into the order of the dates, not necessarily the order in which I’m writing the posts. Sorry if that’s confusing.
Regardless, I hope you enjoy and gain insight from my story. Thanks so much for reading it.