It all started in 2013. I began to have vomiting spells, at all times of the day and night, and I couldn’t seem to pinpoint the reason why. I had been diagnosed with acid reflux years earlier, so I thought that maybe that was the cause of my new stomach issues too.
I went to see my primary care doctor to try to figure out what was going on, and they referred me to a gastroenterologist. At the end of that year, I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). So with what I thought were answers and a good plan of action, I took new medications, changed my diet, and all was well for the next three years.
But then the vomiting started again. It was April 2016. Along with throwing up, I was experiencing severe abdominal pain. So back I went to see my gastroenterologist.
I was scheduled for a colonoscopy in June, but the night before my procedure, I began to have another attack of severe vomiting and abdominal pain. I was admitted to the hospital the next day for the very first time in my life, other than when I had my children. I stayed there for four days.
It was there that I found out that the diagnosis of acid reflux I had been given years earlier was incorrect. It wasn’t acid reflux that I had—it was Crohn’s disease. And it had left my digestive system damaged: I had severe scar tissue, and part of my small intestine (the ileum) had narrowed in a stricture, causing more issues.
My life has changed dramatically in the past six months. I was relieved to finally uncover the real cause of my pain and stomach problems, but I was frustrated that I had lived three years under the impression that it was something else, allowing the Crohn’s flare-ups to cause more damage to my body, from the scarring to the stricture.
I’ve been on even more medications, received more treatments, and been to the emergency room and hospitalized more times in the last six months than in my entire 37 years of life. I’ve had to take time off work, spend days confined to my bed, and miss out on time with my family and friends because of the abdominal pain and nausea I’ve experienced. My mother moved in with me and my two kids, who are 17 and 10 years old, to help us through these rough times.
My most recent visit to the ER was in September, and I was in the hospital for six days to have surgery to remove my ileum. I was nervous before the surgery. And on top of everything else, I had just started a new job the week before at a business office, and I had to take the entire next month off to recover. Crohn’s continues to bring obstacles into my life.
The biggest challenge of living with this disease is having to explain to family, friends, coworkers, and employers that even though I don’t look sick in the traditional sense, my condition is real and so is the toll it takes on me. Even if I’m smiling through the pain, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing wrong with me. I live with constant pain, but I still do my best to lead a great life, and as normal of a life as I can.
I’ve still accomplished so much despite the hardships I’ve dealt with because of my condition. My greatest achievement was getting my master’s degree last year. Being in graduate school while dealing with Crohn’s disease was incredibly challenging, especially when stress is the number one trigger of my symptoms. There were many nights when I had to push through the pain just to finish assignments or to take a quiz or a test.
I’ve learned many lessons from having Crohn’s disease. If I were to give advice to someone dealing with Crohn’s, I would say, first of all, to always keep your doctor’s appointments and keep up with any treatments. Second, call your doctor as soon as possible when you feel your symptoms changing. And finally, take advantage of those days when your pain is absent or less severe, and get out and live your life to the fullest.
On my best days, I invest my time in my passions—I make videos for my YouTube channel, where among other things I talk about my experience with Crohn’s. Or I work on my blog, discussing fashion, budgeting and my Crohn’s experiences. And of course, I love to read and spend time with my kids. On my best days, I do whatever I can to live a full, happy life.