When you think about life with inflammatory bowel disease, are you able to think beyond the pain and suffering? Are you able to pause and take time to reflect on how your illness has shaped you into who you are today? Are you willing to look at something that continually challenges you, scares you and leaves you drained; and think, you know what, I wouldn't have my life any other way?
It takes a lot of time and a lot of patience to come to this place of realization. Until recent years, I'm not sure I would have ever been able to say a positive word about what it's like to live with Crohn's disease. But now, more than 13 years later with this disease, I feel my vision has gone from black and white and changed to color. I have peripheral vision I never had before. I'm able to see how my past shaped me into who I am today. I'm able to recognize how the pain and hurt has altered my perspective and forced me to take the blinders off. I can see moments where I've risen above and shown courage and bravery. Some memories are painful, some make me feel sad, others make me feel proud.
There comes a time in a chronic illness patient journey that you stop thinking “why me" and instead “why not me." I don't like placing pity on myself. I don't prefer to fantasize about the days before I was diagnosed. Instead, I enjoy reflecting on how I've evolved through the years—despite the setbacks and the scares. Chronic illness, while physically, mentally and emotionally taxing, also has the ability to show us the beauty of the world around us and all that we're capable of. Instead of thinking how my Crohn's holds me back, I think about how I've lived despite its restraints.
As the years go by, and the diagnosis “anniversary celebrations" roll on, I continue to grow and feel a renewed sense of self within my illness and within myself. As you experience procedures, self-injections, surgeries and the unknown, you get desensitized, but you also gain strength. The day-to-day management of an invisible chronic illness is exhausting and can be overwhelming, but there comes a time when you feel a sense of harmony with your body. You know what it's trying to tell you. You know when you need to listen. You understand when you need to act.
My disease has helped me take on motherhood. It's made me soak in the feel-good moments, take mental snapshots of the happy days and celebrate the beauty of life. My disease has forced me to press pause when I'm doing too much; it's reminded me of the importance of self-care and taking time for me. It's shown me which people are meant to be in my life and which are meant to be in the backstory.
This year, I'm choosing to celebrate how Crohn's disease has guided me to the present. I'm beyond thankful for a husband who's my rock, a son who is healthy as can be and a daughter on the way in January. My body may not be “healthy," but it's still managed to create miracles.
It hasn't always been a fun ride; in fact it's been brutal at times. But it's my life and I wouldn't have it any other way. Please do yourself a favor and give yourself time to reflect on how your disease has shaped you into the person you are today. By showing gratitude about living with IBD, it's one of many moments where you can show your disease who is in the driver seat and continually rise above.
A version of this article originally appeared on Lights Camera Crohn's.