Redefining Success with IBD
When I was a little girl, I wanted to go to the moon. I was maybe four years old and I thought for sure I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. Needless to say, that didn’t happen and I have yet to walk on the moon, but it’s not because I gave up on this dream, rather, I found that I had strengths and talents elsewhere, and worked hard to find a career at which I’m both successful and happy. From the time I was four until now, there have been lots of situations similar to this, both big and little. I didn’t always realize it, but I didn’t give up on my dreams and goals, I just re-defined what they were, and that’s okay.
In my journey with IBD, I had a defining moment nearly a year after I was diagnosed. My first year at college had just concluded, and I reconnected with my high school friends to go to our school’s spring track meet. We couldn’t wait to cheer for our former teammates, visit with our coaches, and be a part of a sport that had brought us all together and created four years of awesome memories. During that time, I could hardly run due to Colitis. Partly the depleted energy, and partly the uncomfortable motion, which would send me running straight to the nearest bathroom! Watching the track meet, and hearing my friends talk about their plans to run marathons and do triathlons was honestly one of the toughest parts of dealing with my disease, and also one that I have found hard to describe to others.
Living daily life with IBD comes with a lot of hardships and sacrifices. For some people, it means putting off school or not being able to hold a job. For others, it’s missing out on social occasions and losing friends because we can’t do “normal” activities. Sometimes it even means watching your peers achieve the successes that we once were after, if it weren’t for this stupid thing called IBD. And it’s tough, on top of all the physical pain, medical regimens, and side effects that we deal with, and wondering if and when we will ever find relief. It’s really, really tough.
With IBD or any chronic illness, it can seem like every day is a challenge, and just a little bit harder than someone who is “intestinally normal”. I could go into all the details here, but I’m sure most people are already familiar. The bottom line is- unlike a running race, with chronic illness, there is no finish line. You have to keep going, no matter how tired you become, both physically and mentally. There’s no coach strategizing for you, telling you when to take it easy and when to sprint to the finish. There’s no athletic trainers waiting at the end to treat your sore muscles and make you feel great again. You just keep going.
What does Accomplishment Mean To You?
Throughout my journey with IBD, and my efforts to become open and confident with sharing my story, I wanted to get across to people that IBD is a tough disease! Just because it’s not terminal, doesn’t mean it’s not life-changing. During my worst flares, I truly felt that every day that I got through was an accomplishment. Anyone who has ever stuck it out, recovered from surgery, came back from anemia, went to work sick, been a mom, dad, husband, or wife when they were too sick or tired to move…that is an accomplishment. Anyone who has kept on truckin and not used their disease as an excuse to quit, who did their best through school or work or whatever their goals may be…that is an accomplishment.
This made the most sense to me at the end of one of the GYGIG rides. One of my friends had volunteered that year, and although I love her dearly and am grateful that she came out to support me, she talked a lot about the Boston Marathon, for which she had just qualified. She had worked really hard and was excited, this was one of her major goals. (She did great, by the way)
Meanwhile, a rider with an ostomy was pedaling the long miles and rolling hills of the midwest course, having hours on the bike to think about how far he had come with his disease, and how he was in the process of riding his bike farther than he ever had before. When he finished, I saw a grown man cry. When he started the ride, he wasn’t sure he could do it. When he first got his ostomy, I’m sure it was the farthest thing from his mind! But he did it. Every mile. THAT is an accomplishment.
Not to diminish the success of anyone who has ran a marathon, especially Boston, but take an average athlete like that and give them IBD. Put them in a hospital, start them on some of the strongest drugs there are, don’t let them eat. Now take away their cheering section. Who’s tough now?
So, what’s your Boston Marathon?
We get caught up in not being able to accomplish the things we once wanted to. We get frustrated that the world doesn’t look at our accomplishments in the same way it does things like completing a marathon. It adds to the anger we hold about our diseases, and stalls us from staying positive and moving forward in our journeys. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t accomplish things every single day that we are living with IBD.
Sometimes you have to re-define what success means to you, even if others don’t understand. I didn’t realize it until recently, but I had been doing this all along. In college, I gave myself a personal goal to complete all my classwork and not drop any classes, even if I had to miss days and turn in work late. At work, my goal was to work as hard as my disease would let me, and never let myself use IBD as an excuse to get out of work or work less hard, because sometimes I knew it really would be a reason. Ten years ago, my goal was also to begin running marathons and qualify for Boston. But now my goals are to keep inspiring others with IBD to stay strong, to be an outlet for people to talk openly about their experiences and frustrations, and to help people with different IBD issues to connect with each other and help each other. And that is just fine with me.
Have you experienced this frustration with achieving your goals? Do you need to re-define your idea of success? What is your Boston Marathon? Don’t worry if it’s not something that’s going to be widely recognized, or earn you a medal. It’s okay, it really is. The truth is, we are successful, and we are some of the strongest people out there. We didn’t sign up for this, and we don’t have a finish line. Re-define your goals to something you are satisfied with, and I bet you can even find others who can relate within our IBD community.
Then take any of those marathoners, who deal with a few hours of pain, and pitt them against any of us who have learned to deal with lifetimes of pain and disease. Who do you think is tougher? I’d put my money on us, any day.