Living With A Chronic Illness: My Story

Every morning, I wake up, same as everyone else. I shower, pick out my outfit, put makeup on, and start preparing for the long day ahead. But I also have to incorporate time to take my pills, wait an appropriate amount of time before eating breakfast, and using the bathroom. You see, I live with a chronic illness that is most frequently known as IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I’m not going to go into specifics about what it entails. Just imagine having the worst stomach pain imaginable; a gnawing pressure in your body that threatens to attack at any moment. That is how I feel on a good day; one where I can be active in society and function just like any other human being. A bad day is so much worse. But I don’t write this to receive pity. I don’t want the sorrowful glances every time I have to cancel on a plan or hold up the evening by whisking away to the bathroom. What I really want is for people to understand that everyone has their own private battleground, and they go to war every day. Sometimes I win, and I can go out and have a great day, filled with no pain. These days make it easy to forget that my illness is chronic, meaning it doesn’t go away. There isn’t a magical drug that makes the pain disappear.

Then there are the bad days.

These are the days I plaster on a smile, decide what absolutely needs to be done that day and only what I can. The rest of the time I am lying in bed. Not because I’m lazy, but because my body is fighting a war so hard on the inside that my outside is almost catatonic. I am there, but not present. I am doing the best I can to make it out without too many lasting scars. I wish I could lie and say that these days are few and far between, but unfortunately my biggest IBS trigger is anxiety. When I become stressed and anxious, I get sick, and then being sick makes me even more panicked. It is a never-ending cycle that I have to endure, day in and day out.

I am both blessed and cursed to have this illness. On one hand, it robs me of my ability to go about my day like any other healthy person. But on the other hand, it gives me the opportunity to really thrive in the good days. Because of the immense pain that my flare-ups induce, I am able to see beauty in the ordinary; the absence of that pain. The good days are incredible days, even when the actions within them are completely mundane. This is a feeling of true happiness, when my illness is a part of me, but it does not define me. This happens when I have friends who know my illness, and love me regardless. When I have a strong, supportive family, who can tell when I am feeling under the weather and get me to a more comfortable and safe environment. I am so lucky to have people in my life who acknowledge that I have an illness, but also understand that it is not the sole thing that defines me.

I will not let my story die. I will tell it with strength, and hope, and even some sadness. But I do not resent my illness anymore, as I used to. I do not fight against it. Instead, I resolve to work with it, and try to understand it even more, so my good days might be able to become my only days. My first step is a hard one, and it means to stop compressing my body. As of today, I will have thrown away my shapewear. I wore it for years, not only to stop the bloating that my illness causes, but because I thought it made me prettier. In taking the leap and sharing my story, I also understand that I have to stop hiding. I have to dig my way out of the oppression of chronic illness; let other people see the real me, without the shapewear.

I am beautiful. My illness does not stop me from living the life I dream for myself, so it also should not have the power to shield me from the world. I vow to never stop sharing my story, and never stop fighting, because all over the world, there could be girls just like me who are too scared to ever speak up, and instead spend their entire lives hiding an integral part of who they are. My illness is a part of me, and will always be there to remind me of my utter lack of control. But it does not define me, and I refuse to let it become my darkest secret.