I often see memes on the internet about living with chronic illness and one of the most common things that I see is “I won’t let (insert health condition) define me”. I understand the message behind this meme but I actually have taken a completely different path. In fact, because of IBD - who I am as a person has changed and you could say that IBD has defined me. I think that there is something really empowering about saying “I am more than my illness” but also being open to acknowledging that these disease do change us. For me, it changed everything I knew about life and about myself. And I am so thankful that it did.
I let IBD define me and this is who I am.
I have learned to become compassionate to so many more people than I ever would have before I got sick. I think people tend to have compassion for children and maybe the elderly but when you’re in the middle of your life, there is very little compassion for anything. IBD taught me that you cannot judge anyone by how they look or where they are in their lives. When I don’t know what to do in a situation, I try to offer compassion. When there are no words, I offer compassion. When things just don’t make sense - compassion. There are so many times when we simply cannot understand what another person is going through and in those times we can still give compassion and make a difference in someone’s life.
IBD took me the darkest depths that I have ever experienced. I have fought to be where I am today in regards to my health, my job, and relationships. While IBD showed me how terrible life can be, it has also given me the reason to fight to live. At my worst, I was fighting for my life and I’m still fighting but now I fight for other people. I fight for awareness and understanding. I don’t give up because I know what I am capable of.
I have taken so many risk because of IBD. It started with the medications I was prescribed and their potential risks. It then turned into surgeries that has uncertain outcomes. And now it has manifested into taking risk with my life but on my terms. I took a huge risk in late 2015 to quit my job and work for a non-profit that I started called, Girls With Guts. I take risks every time I strap on skates and play roller derby and I am no longer afraid of negative outcomes. Sure, failure isn’t desired by anyone but failure means you tried something. I fail at something every single day but that is because I try new things all the time.
Before I was diagnosed with IBD I was what you could call a bit of a messy person. I was unorganized in my life and my home. I didn’t follow a schedule and often felt out of control. After I was diagnosed, I had to be organized because I had doctors appointments to attend and medications to take. This eventually carried over into my personal life by using a calendar to schedule myself, notebooks to remind myself of important things, and lots of lists. While I still have trouble keeping my house clean (some things never change) my life as a whole is very organized. I am more efficient with my time and I am so much better because of it.
In my pre-IBD days I was pretty unaware of other people and their struggles in life. Before I was an advocate, I didn’t realize there was anything I was really missing. But now? Now, I see that there is a whole community of chronically ill people all working together for awareness and to fight stigmas. Even though there are tons of of chronic illnesses, we all have the same goals. I have met some of the most amazing and inspirational people in the chronic illness community who have changed my life and made me much more aware on a global level.
I really believe that all of us have a purpose in this life and it takes effort and work to find it. IBD gave me a purpose—I’m an advocate for other patients and I raise awareness. I truly believe with all of my being that is my current purpose on this earth. My purpose may change someday, but right now this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing.
I could have made a list filled with adjectives like “scared”, “nervous” and “skeptical” but we all know that life is about your perspective. Yes, IBD has also defined me in some ways that I’m not happy about but the positive things that I have taken away from IBD are so much more powerful than the negative. The gifts of IBD are those eye opening moments when you see something you never noticed before, it’s the relationships that we forge with other patients and its the power of our own spirit. You can choose not to let IBD define you, but if you let it, IBD can make some great contributions to your life.
How has IBD defined you?
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Jackie Zimmerman is a multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis patient and the founder and executive director of Girls With Guts. Since diagnosis, she has blogged her IBD journey at Blood, Poop, and Tears. Jackie has worked hard to become a strong voice in the patient advocacy community and pays it forward as Social Ambassador of the IBDHealthCentral Facebook page. In her free time (what free time?!) she spends time with her two rescue pups and plays roller derby. She’s online @JackieZimm.