The new year and new decade have almost everyone reflecting on the last 10 years of their life, looking back at then and now, and anxiously excited to see what the next 10 years will bring. Framing life into decades is interesting, especially when it comes to chronic illness. I wasn’t diagnosed with Crohn’s until age 21, so I can’t speak to what it’s like to live with IBD as a child or a teen. What I can speak to is what it’s like to live with a chronic illness in your 20s and in your 30s and how your lifestyle, your expectations for yourself and for others, shifts as you age.
In my opinion, each decade with IBD presents its own unique set of challenges. Of course, each and everyone of us has a different looking “timeline” as our lives play out, but for the most part, certain aspects of “coming to age” happen at one time or another, depending on what’s important to you. Here’s what my 20s and 30s has looked like:
Said goodbye to being a child and truly became an adult.
Fulfilled education goals, navigated professional life, followed career aspirations.
Dated and found love.
Enjoyed a fun social life with friends.
Moved out at age 22 and lived on my own in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois.
Adopted my dog, Hamilton.
Got into a groove professionally, felt more confident in my skills and what I’m meant to do.
Moved to Missouri to follow love and got married.
Got pregnant and had two babies.
Fewer social hang outs and more family time.
This may just look like a list, but when you live with IBD these life changing milestones and moments have different meaning and carry different weight. When I was diagnosed at age 21, it was before I landed my first TV job. I had just graduated college and spent years interning for free, worked four nights a week on the college TV station…for free, only to be blindsided with a disease that made me wonder if all my hard work was for nothing. At 21 I wasn’t sure if I would ever find a man willing to stick by my side through the ups and downs of chronic illness or if I was worthy of a long-term relationship. At 21, I moved eight hours away from all friends and family, three months after being diagnosed, while on 22 pills a day, to follow my dream of being a journalist. There was great responsibility in living on my own, taking my medications and being a compliant patient, while the rest of my peers’ greatest worry was what going out shirt they were going to wear to the bar that night.
During my 20s I put more emphasis on what others thought of me and just wanted to fit in. I didn’t want my disease to hold me back in any way.
Now that I’m 36, and can look back on what it was like to live with Crohn’s throughout my 20’s and now well into my 30s, I must say…while life with this disease is never “easy”, it becomes a lot easier to live with as you get older. Here’s why.
I followed my dreams of being a journalist and worked successfully full-time for more than a decade in TV stations and PR agencies, despite my diagnosis.
I found a man who loves me for me and didn’t think twice of being my partner even though I had Crohn’s. I met Bobby one month before turning 30. Dating him, marrying him, and building a family with him has brought a great sense of comfort and stability into my life. When I flare or I’m having a rough day, I rely heavily on him to be my rock and lift my spirits.
Fatigue from motherhood when you have a chronic illness can be mind-numbing and debilitating, but seeing your body create a life and then bring a baby into this world makes you feel a renewed sense of love for a body that you’ve been at odds with for years. IBD and motherhood has it’s worries and challenges, but at the end of the day, your children will be the greatest light in your life, and the most magical motivators of strength. There’s almost too much going on to worry about your own well-being, which is both a blessing and a curse!
Gone are the days of going out at 11 pm, now I rarely go out and when I do, I’m usually home before 10. There’s no pressure to stay out until bar close or take a shot. My friends are all grown women, many of them are moms, our priorities have shifted. Adult conversation over brunch or a glass of wine and some sushi or tapas is refreshing and rejuvenating. I openly communicate about my disease when asked and don’t shy away from the conversation like I once did.
If you’re reading this and you’re newly diagnosed, a teenager, a 20-something, trust me when I say that balancing life—all your obligations, your network of support, your job and what you’re meant to do with your life will find it’s way. Don’t beat yourself up by creating a timeline or a vision board that sets you up for failure. Don’t try and keep up with the Jones’. Don’t compare where you are in life to your peers. Because there is no comparison. When you have IBD you are being unfair to yourself if you try and be just like everyone else, because you’re not. And that’s ok. Use your experience as a patient to give you patience within yourself. Everyone faces struggles, everyone faces setbacks, but someday I promise you’ll look back and those very same struggles will be the reason you are strong, focused, driven, empathetic, and living the life you were meant to live.