How to Set Personal Goals for Ulcerative Colitis This Year

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I always kind of dread the start of a new year. Many of my friends make a list of lofty health goals, like doing the Whole30 program, practicing at a new gym, or preparing for a half marathon — which is fine, but I always feel like I'm missing out because I can't participate in those things. My goals should be tailored to me, and being-thin goals and eating-all-the-fiber goals just don't work for people with ulcerative colitis (UC). So I thought I'd let you in on some of my UC-friendly goals for 2018.

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Learn to cope with UC in a new way

This is a big one for me. Sometimes, when my UC is acting up, I don't necessarily know the best way to be myself. If I'm with my boyfriend, friends, or family, I try to hide my symptoms and act like everything's OK. Then, when I'm alone, I may let down my guard and cry or get really angry when I'm experiencing symptoms. So this year, I want to find a more healthy way to cope with my UC when it's active.

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Talk more with my therapist

I plan to talk to my therapist to see if she can help me put together some good coping strategies. I also want to explore meditation and deep belly breathing. By mid-February, the goal is to put a new coping mechanism into practice.

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Get creative at home

I like to be as active and productive as I can be, but there are definitely times when the energy just isn't there. And that can be really frustrating. So I've decided to add the goal of getting creative from the comfort of my own home. This means writing blog posts and maybe some crafting. For you, it could mean coloring or painting a single wall in your home. We can each do something on our own terms that feels worthwhile, with a tangible result at the end of the day.

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Learn how to love my guts

Have you ever found yourself yelling at your guts? Like literally cursing at those stupid things inside your belly? Those little buggers frustrate me, and sometimes I really can't stand having UC and the cramping and urgency that comes along with it. I want to learn how to love my guts. Sure, they're awful to me sometimes, and they keep me from doing things that I would otherwise, almost always, rather be doing. But, they've given me so much, too!

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Appreciate what my guts have given me

Remembering all the good things I've found from living with UC, and potentially seeing what else these defective guts could offer (think community, friends, perhaps participating in a research study), is a totally worthy goal. I think it'll be most helpful for me to start journaling about the positives that come along with my guts, and giving myself a pat on the back for good reports from my doctor.

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Talk to my GI doctor more often

I typically only reach out to my gastroenterologist (GI) when I'm experiencing a flare or an odd symptom, or I'm due for my colonoscopy. Otherwise, I pretty much avoid her like the plague. But, as I'm getting older, and potentially wiser, I realize that my GI doctor should play an integral part in my care plan. My goal is to reach out to her at least once a month with an update on my symptoms, food, and any other questions I might have so we can tackle the challenges of UC together.

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Talk to my friends about my UC more often

I'm not the greatest at talking to my friends about my UC. While I advocate for the inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) community in general, it can be difficult to talk to my friends about it. This has actually caused issues with some of my friends when I have to bail on plans. I haven't done a great job of explaining my disease and its symptoms. So, in order to maintain the incredible, close friendships I have, I've made it a goal to invite my friends into the UC conversation. I probably won't go showing them the pictures of my latest scope, but I can be more transparent about what I'm going through.

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Read more IBD research

While it may not be the most appealing goal, I feel like keeping up with IBD research is really important. I want to know what the latest and greatest treatments are, what doctors are seeing, and how patients are responding to these new research initiatives. This way, I can add to my other goal of speaking with my GI doctor more often, and see if any of these new treatments would be suitable for me.

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Read an entire book series

I added this to my goal list because I love to read, and exercising my brain is important to me. Try reading a few books by a favorite author. Maybe you want to read through a comic book series, or take out a magazine subscription and read every issue for six months. I've always found reading to provide a great escape from the stress of UC.

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Write more letters to friends and family

This goal was inspired by Girls With Guts' Pen Pal Program. This year, when I filled out my holiday cards, for some people I wrote a more personal message, and I got a wonderful card back with a personal message, too. I was so touched. So when I'm trapped in the bathroom, or on the couch, I can write a letter, and I don't have to worry about how I look, or what smells are escaping me. There's something about that personal, handwritten connection that makes me feel better, especially when it's friends and family I don't get to see that often. If sending a postcard, or a trinket is a better route for you, go that way!

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Walk at least a mile a day, if I can

The important thing about this goal is that I know it will work for me. Notice that it's not to deadlift 250 lbs, or to run six marathons in two months. I like getting my steps in, and I give myself the room to miss the goal every once in a while. I feel like adding the phrase "if I can" to a goal is an important thing to remember if you have a chronic illness. There will be days where you absolutely cannot. This doesn't diminish your success in any way. You make it fit for you.

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Remember to celebrate the little victories

The more I've learned about my UC and the effects it has on me, the more I feel so fortunate that I've kept myself mostly healthy and able to lead a somewhat normal life. And that is no small feat. Even when I have my really low, bad days, I achieve some pretty awesome things, but I've never taken a moment to give myself credit for those kinds of achievements. We have to remember that with UC, or IBD in general, some days are going to be taxing mentally and physically. And you can't judge your accomplishments based on the accomplishments of other people who are healthy.

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Don't forget to reward yourself for success

If I write two letters, I'm going to celebrate by having my favorite snack. If I finish that entire book series, I'm going to celebrate by splurging on a new nail polish. That's what success looks like to me. It might, and probably will, look completely different for you. But don't skip the opportunity to give yourself a high five when you crush your goals.