Over time I learned how to live with my IBD rather than allowing myself to become IBD. For the first year, maybe two, I lived as my disease. I let my colitis define me. I was no longer Elizabeth with a vibrant love of life and travel and writing and exploration, I was simply Elizabeth who had colitis. I pooped, I thought about poop, I feared poop. I was poop.
Through the elimination diet I'd done and no longer eating the foods that caused my problems I began to gain more control over my body and my symptoms. But I also gained the desire to break free of my illness, the disease that defined who I was, what I did, and how I lived. I started by taking baby steps. I ventured out of my house more and more, and usually I did it successfully. There was an incident at the grocery store where I left with my jacket tied around my waist to hide the mess I had made of my pants. And while it took me weeks before I entered that store again, I did go back and I went back successfully. Once I got past the humiliation of that incident I used it as a learning experience and I put together what I came to call my "IBD Emergency Kit." My kit was basically my purse (so, this might be easier for women to pull off than men) and in my kit I had one change of underpants, one change of pants (yoga style that could be easily rolled up and put into the bottom of my bag), a travel pack of baby wipes, and Imodium. I never had to use any of these items after putting my kit together, other than the Imodium, but simply having it in my possession gave me the boost of confidence I needed to keep putting myself out into society. See what items in your own emergency kit would make you feel confident and figure out a way to keep it close at hand - in your car's glove compartment, your briefcase or backpack, a desk drawer at the office, where ever works best for you.
I also began to see a psychologist once a week for about three months. She was a person who I liked immediately and found easy to trust and open up to. In talking to her I realized that fear was mainly what had and still could take over my life. Fear of leaving my home, fear of an accident, fear of offending people by not eating their food, fear of eating something and getting sick, fear, fear, fear. Fear was swirling around me and it was what made me feel claustrophobic some times. In about our third week together, the psychologist gave me an assignment to do at home that week: Write down my top five fears. Then, write down what would happen if those fears came true. I found this a daunting and scary task but I did it. And what I found was that even though it might be terrible if my fears were to become reality they wouldn't kill me. Case in point was messing my pants at the grocery store - it had been terrible, embarrassing, and nothing I wanted to repeat, but the world had not crumbled around me, people hadn't pointed and laughed, and I was alive and well and okay. Actually, it was a freeing exercise. It taught me not to only look at a fear but to imagine the feared situation happens and what the outcome would be. Even today, nearly eight years later I sometimes look at that fear list and realize that nothing is really as bad in reality as it seems in our heads.
I had quit my office job long before and as I felt stronger and better I hankered to get back to work. But, I knew that working in public relations was no longer an option for me - the stress, the long and unpredictable hours, and the frequent travel were no longer viable. Thankfully I had a friend who knew about my problem and wasn't scared to take me on. She was a very successful real estate agent who needed office help and I wanted and needed a job. She started me out working at her home office where I had three bathrooms at my disposal. After a few months I gained enough confidence to work at her off-site office. It was risky with nearly 20 female agents working in a building with only one ladies' room but I learned to cope, even if that meant occasionally using the men's room.
Published On: November 14, 2007