It is 21 years since I was on a school concert tour in Dublin as a 15 year old being not very well. A few weeks later I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
Now that the London marathon is only 11 days away, my blog is approaching a natural end (save a race report), so I thought it would be an appropriate time to look back over the last 21 years. What has life been like with a chronic illness? Have I answered the questions “why me?” and “what if?”?
I will start with the positives! After a thoroughly enjoyable week skiing in the French Alps, I am reminded that in very many ways I have much to be thankful for.
I had a comfortable upbringing in a very loving and supportive family. Until the age of 15 when my Crohn’s disease reared its head, I had no worries and enjoyed everything there was to enjoy. Since then, even though I lived through fifteen years of suffering (I don’t like to use this word, but objectively it was) from the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, my life has still been privileged in a number of ways. Among many other aspects of my life, I have been lucky to do well academically, to pursue a thoroughly interesting and rewarding career, and to meet Claire and to start a family together. I have very few regrets.
Now to the negatives. Yes, there were times, prolonged times, when it was bad, very bad. But I have always been determined to continue with things as normal as much as possible and to continue to succeed in the things I do. There are some things in life that you can control, there are many things that you cannot. Crohn’s disease is one of those latter things I have always accepted it as such. This, I think, has allowed me to make the best of the things that I can control. Even though things have been difficult at times, I am proud of what I have achieved.
Therefore, with the great support I have had from friends and family, and no particular worries other than my Crohn’s disease, I have never felt it necessary to ask “why me?” or “what if?” with regard to my Crohn’s disease. In this way, I didn’t need to contemplate these questions (which in themselves are futile and never provide any satisfactory answers) because I had accepted that sometimes Crohn’s disease was going to make my life horrible but that I was going to get on with things as best as possible and not let my Crohn’s disease affect my life.
Was this attitude of just accepting my Crohn’s disease and trying to carry mean that I was more reluctant to seek treatment and eventually surgery? Did I feel that I had to fight the disease, with it being almost a badge of honour in suffering and still succeeding in life despite my illness? I’m not sure. What I do know is that at any particular time I tried to carry on with things as best as I possibly could and never gave up. However, I did only consider surgery to be an option when I could no longer continue as before and felt my Crohn’s disease was taking over my life. But fortunately my surgery has been successful and I hopefully never have to go through the trauma of being ill with Crohn’s disease again.
However, back to those questions, just as a thought experiment…
Why me: what did I do to deserve to suffer from Crohn’s disease? I simply believe it was a combination of genetics and environmental conditions. Neither I, nor my parents while bringing me up, did anything to cause it, and I didn’t contract it from anywhere. It was just one of those things that developed, like many diseases. Again, there was nothing I could have done about it, so I just needed to deal with it as best as I could.
What if: what might my life have been like if I hadn’t have had Crohn’s disease during my late teens and twenties? I think it is likely that I would have got into marathon running and triathlons sooner, and that I would have done more climbing and mountaineering. However it is likely that many aspects of my life would have been the same. I therefore have no regrets that I might have lost out on some things in years gone by. This is because, again, there is little point in considering how things may have been different because there is absolutely nothing I can do to change the past and to have any regrets would only be negative. What I am able to do is to make the most of my good health now.
To wrap things up, even though there is no question that I would clearly rather not have Crohn’s disease, there are some good things to have come from it (or you could say that I have made of it), which are more than small mercies. Having a chronic illness makes you appreciate being well which is an incredible affirmation of life. Now that I am in good health, and will hopefully remain so for many years to come, I am very grateful of this and how it enables me to do many of the things I love. Even small things, like not having to worry about what I eat and being able to have a pint of beer or a glass of wine, are sometimes quite special. In addition, my stoma is a daily reminder of the bad times and how I would never want to return to those days.
Although I have a stoma and lack my colon, I do not think of myself as disabled, though some may. However, I will use disabled toilets if I need space to change my bag! Similarly, I have never wanted or asked for sympathy but I am very thankful for all those people who have supported me over the years.
I hope (though this is for others to judge), that I am now a more compassionate person and understanding of those who have similar conditions. There are always people who are worse off and there are many people with hidden illnesses and problems. Even so, I have little time for hypochondriacs!
Training diary: it’s been a couple of weeks since my last blog post but my training has been tapering and we’ve been skiing (where I got in a cheeky bit of altitude training!). For the first week, four runs and a total distance of 62.7 km.
Monday: 13.5 km in 61 minutes
Wednesday: 14.3 km in 64 minutes
Friday: 27.1 km in 2 hours
Sunday: 7.7 km in 40 minutes
For the second week, three runs and a total distance of 44.9 km.
Wednesday: 11.7 km in 58 minutes
Saturday: 14.6 km in 65 minutes
Sunday: 18.5 km in 90 minutes