This week, I turn 36-years-old. Birthdays are a time of reflection, celebration, and excitement. Last month marked 14 years since I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. A chronic illness that has shaped my adult years and my identity.
I recently saw a post on Instagram about imagining life prior to illness. Prior to the challenges and the hurt that coincide with having a disease that you expect to have until your dying day. It’s heavy and can be overwhelming. There’s no cure for IBD and once you are told you have it, your world and your life is forever altered.
When I see childhood photos of myself and think back on my wonderful memories with family and friends through my college years, that girl often feels foreign to me. There are a few things I wish I could whisper in her ear:
“Stop taking your health for granted.”
“Soak in this feeling of invincibility.”
“Make the most of every single day.”
“Enjoy how carefree it feels to never have to worry about what the next day will bring.”
“Soak in the comfort of never needing medication or going through painful pokes and prods.”
“Have more empathy for those around you who aren’t as lucky.”
…the list goes on. Hindsight is 20/20. I can’t fault myself for floating through life the first 21 years. I’m glad I had no idea of what was to come. At the same time, I wouldn’t trade what the last 14 years have given me:
They’ve brought me debilitating pain that built my strength.
They’ve brought me sorrow that’s made the sunshine feel extra bright on my shoulders.
They’ve brought me fear that’s been replaced with resolve.
They’ve brought me lonely moments that are now filled with the laughter of my little ones.
They’ve brought me years of feeling unlovable, but then finding magic with a man who never once shied away from my illness.
They’ve brought me extreme vulnerability that’s now coupled with gratitude.
They’ve brought me scars internally and externally that I now see as battle wounds.
They’ve brought me years of embarrassment, that’s transformed to a scarlet letter that I wear with pride.
They’ve brought me feelings of worry that have been washed away by clarity and perspective.
On this birthday and moving forward, rather than mourn the loss of who I was up until age 21, I choose to celebrate who I’ve become the last 14 years. While this illness has tried time and time again to rob me of my joy, it’s provided me with evidence of my resilience. Since my diagnosis, I’ve worked full-time as a TV news anchor, reporter, and producer, I’ve gotten married, I’ve had two children in 21 months, and I’ve become a steadfast patient advocate. Crohn’s has shown me that just because I get knocked down with a flare, doesn’t mean I can’t bounce back and be better. With Crohn’s, life often feels like you’re in the passenger seat and your fate is out of your hands. Rather than sit back passively, I choose to grab the wheel. Cheers to 36!