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5 Life Lessons I Learned from My Invisible Illness

After years of symptoms, a very unproductive hospital visit, and one too many “Maybe she’s just gluten intolerant,” I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. Simply put, Crohn’s is an ‘invisible’ chronic illness with no known cause or cure (although a possible breakthrough was just announced!) that causes painful scarring and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.

The journey to finally being diagnosed was an annoyingly long one, and often I felt like I had more questions than answers. Looking back at how far I’ve come, though, I can smile at the lessons I’ve learned. If I may, I’d like to spare you the trouble and share these little revelations with you. Don’t worry, there will be gifs! 

1. Being able to adapt is key!

I remember going to my “very unproductive hospital visit” that I mentioned earlier. Boy, did I cry a lot. On the surface, I was afraid of all the blood tests and poking and prodding, but deep down I was just worried that I would have to change my normal M.O. to fit this new thing I had going on. After realizing that I was stuck with this disease, I decided I had to just fake it till I made it. Everything–testing new treatments, getting poked with needles all the dang time, and dealing with uncertainty in general was scary to me, but I put on a brave face and slowly, I learned to adapt to my situation. I had to re-adjust my focus from constantly wondering “What’s next? What’s next month going to look like?” to existing in the present and being grateful for the progress I did make. In college especially this has been a valuable lesson and has kept me from falling into the trap of Davidson’s infamous culture of stress. In short, sometimes life throws you into a situation you can’t change or get out of–use it to your advantage and learn something from it! 

2. Listen to your body–it’s smarter than you sometimes.

Now, this may come easier for some. I mean, my stomach literally talks to me all day with it’s weird and often ill-timed murmurs and gurgles–it’s a Crohn’s thing. It’s sometimes easier to just turn a blind (ear?) to whatever’s going on in your body, but trust me, it’s worth it to pay attention. Your body knows when something’s wrong and will likely signal you. Be aware and take action when these signals pop up, and it could literally save your life. I still struggle with this; I’d rather pretend that everything is fine, even when it’s not, but I’ve learned I can’t stay silent, especially with an illness like mine. 

3. Doctors can be boring, but nurses ​know what’s up.

I absolutely adore all the nurses I’ve gotten to know–whether they’re the ones I see every month for treatment or those I see less often. My advice: make friends with your nurses, even if you only visit the clinic for check-ups. Nurses see and hear a lot, and most of them love to share their stories and experiences; it makes their oftentimes difficult job more gratifying! Plus, they also know where to get the best food at the hospital…just saying. 

4. You’re never alone. 

One of my biggest fears in the beginning was thinking I was alone and that no one understood what I was going through. I’ve since learned this is never true. No matter what you’re dealing with, you are not the first or the last to experience it. Also, don’t take the power of empathy for granted. Your friends and family may not know what it’s like to truly be you, but they can try to understand, and that’s just as, if not more, important. Accept their efforts, and take comfort in knowing how much they love and care about you.  

5. Your circumstances may shape you, but they won’t define you.

With an illness especially, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish yourself from your affliction. Sometimes I think, “Well I have Crohn’s, so I might not be able to do this…or I can’t be that,” etc. This way of thinking is not helpful and only imposes unnecessary limits on yourself. Break free from whatever you have going on, and find a way to reach your goals regardless. Whether it’s a breakup, family issues, or whatever crisis, don’t let it shape you negatively and become an inhibitor. Accept whatever challenge it takes, and do what you want to do with your life! 

If you’d like to learn more about Crohn’s Disease, visit the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s website.  

If you are interested in writing an article for Her Campus Davidson, contact us at davidson@hercampus.com or come to our weekly meeting Tuesday at 8pm in the Morcott Room.

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Claire Biggerstaff is a senior at Davidson College where she's pursuing a major in English. Since her sophomore year, she's been heavily involved with Her Campus and has written for her school's chapter, interned with Her Campus Media, and eventually became the Editor in Chief of her home chapter. Her work as also appeared on publications like Babe.net and The Odyssey. When she's not researching news stories or holding editing workshops with her writers, you can find her enjoying an episode of The X-Files and thinking about how much she loves autumn.
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