Ten years ago, when I first became seriously ill but didn't know what was wrong with me I felt that if I could just "find out" what I had then I could do whatever was necessary to cure myself.
After a few months of different doctors and different testing the day I'd been waiting for came, I was given a diagnosis of colitis. However, as most of you reading this probably know, my hope of being told the magical cure to make all my symptoms and my disease go away wasn't to be.
As I sat in my doctor's office and heard his diagnosis I was at first elated. "Yipee! Yahhoo!" I thought for a second, "We have an answer!" But my happiness was short lived as I remembered that my dad has colitis and wasn't ever cured. My doctor confirmed that for me. He told me that there were medicines I could take, diet changes I could make, and that even though they didn't have a cure for IBD yet, there was a better understanding of the illness than when my dad was first diagnosed. "Big woop," I thought deflated, "What good was a better understanding going to do me?"
Being told that you have a chronic illness is not an easy thing to hear, let alone cope with. I left my doctor's office that day with a new prescription, a video about IBD, as well as information about the illness and particular things that I should or shouldn't do to help me feel better. I'd already figured out on my own, months ago most of what this information told me.
Over the next months I went through the 5 Stages of Grief to deal with my new diagnosis. Keep in mind that while I was emotionally feeling down and depressed I was also still feeling physically terrible - 20-30 diarrhea bowel movements per day, fatigue, abdominal cramps, and a lack of appetite that was contributing to my weight loss. (You can read my whole story in my book, Living with IBD & IBS: A Personal Journey of Success - www.ibdandibs.com). At the time I didn't realize I was working through my feelings as if one part of me had died and been replaced by another new me, but years later, in hindsight it became clear that that's what I'd been doing.
The 5 Stages of Grief are comprised of: Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, and Acceptance. My understanding from studying these in a Catholic high school class called "Death and Dying" is that you don't necessarily have to work through each stage in order. Nor do you necessarily move from one stage to the next to the next until you hit acceptance. Some people might start with anger, then move onto depression, go back to anger, then to denial, back to anger, skip over bargaining, and then get to acceptance. That's kind of the route I took. I started out with disbelief which quickly morphed into anger, then depression, then I think I lumped together denial and bargaining, then I know I went back to anger a few times before the depression really hit and I thought that the only answer was to die (i.e. kill myself). It was during one of these depressed episodes when I voiced this "want" to my husband. It scared me straight! I didn't want to die, and I surely didn't want to kill myself over a pooping problem. That was not who I was! It took me a few months to get to this point of. . . I can't say acceptance of the fact that my life would never be the same, that I would never be the same, but more acceptance that I was going to need some help to set me on the path to accepting my diagnosis and helping me to regain my health. Which is what I did. . . I started with a psychologist, then I moved onto a few New Age-types, and then I moved onto realizing that by changing my mind, my attitude, my diet, and my stress levels I could positively affect my health.
I truly believe that when you are given a health diagnosis like IBD that could possibly affect the rest of your life it's normal and necessary to work through your feelings. Because really, these types of diagnoses are like a death - a death of the old new and in time, a rebirth of a new you.
Ten years ago I never would have guessed that today I would be a stronger person because of my IBD diagnosis. But I am. I appreciate my life with the good days and the bad ones, too. And I now know that I'm a lot stronger than I once thought I was and that I can prevail even when challenging and stressful situations come my way.
Published On: July 16, 2008