Updated: Jun 25, 2020
| This is the 495th story of Our Life Logs |
My parents got married in the ‘70s. Twenty years later, I guess they figured it was about time to have a child. That’s where I came, their first and only daughter, born in Cincinnati in 1995.
I grew up happy and healthy. My pediatrician once marveled to my mother about how thin my file was. Too bad that only lasted until I was 12. I’m not sure what sparked the change. Maybe it was always there just lying dormant until then or maybe puberty brought it on—whatever it was, by age 12 I had developed anxiety. On top of that, I began experiencing periods of deep depression, and I had no idea where either problem came from. But once they came, they were there to stay.
• • •
I became a ball of anxiety that wound tighter and tighter with each passing year of my teens. Think of the tried-and-true analogy of the angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. But instead of telling you to run a red light or to steal your coworker’s cake out of the break room fridge, the devil tells you that you look stupid, that you’re going to get fired if you would ever even think to be confrontational at work or disagree with your boss, that your friends all just tolerate you, that your cat is going to get sick. The angel tries its best to tell you that you’re being ridiculous, that there is no evidence—there’s actually strong evidence to the contrary. But the devil is loud, bombastic, and insistent—the angel can’t get a word in edgewise. In the end, you conclude that the devil makes a compelling argument, and your heart sinks and your stomach churns. This is what it’s like to live with anxiety. Throw in frequent panic attacks, and you’ve got yourself a doozy of a life.
At its best it is obnoxious, and at its worst it is all-consuming. Growing up, I stood by as several friends jerked me around and took advantage of my forgiving nature. I put my own problems aside to listen to others when they had problems and pretended everything was okay on my front. I thought I was just being nice and supportive, but I was being a doormat.
When it came to adulthood and a job, I was a productive, Type-A, on-the-go person, but if I had a concern at work or a conflict with a coworker, I would put up and shut up, fearing that if I brought it to a manager’s attention I’d be blamed or deemed “difficult.”
Life continued with bated breath until early 2019. Within the span of 14 months (2017-2019), I’d come out of an extremely toxic friendship only after mourning the loss of my grandmother, uncle, and the cat I’d had since I was a child. It was all so much. Occasional anxiety attacks became an everyday occurrence. By the time I finally got out of that situation, I was one or two altercations away from self-harm.
I was so used to feeling irregular after an attack that, when I started experiencing strange gastrointestinal symptoms in February 2019, I attributed it to the nervous breakdown I was having and nothing more. I thought that my anxiety had fried my digestive system. It felt like my life was going nowhere, or at least nowhere good.
But then, I started experiencing cramps painful enough to knock me to my knees. By late March, I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I didn’t have diarrhea. I thought it was odd but I chalked it up to the result of daily anxiety attacks. Still dealing with the toxic friendship drama, I didn’t have much time to think about it. I assumed that when my life and mental health got better, so would my physical health. But that’s not what happened.
By May, I was sicker than I ever thought possible. I still had constant diarrhea, sometimes running to the bathroom three times an hour. I spent every spare moment sleeping yet I was still exhausted. A once-motivated go-getter, I was now getting through the most basic tasks by the skin of my teeth.
This is when I realized that my illness probably wasn’t stress-related.
• • •
What they say about WebMD is true: Peruse it and you will convince yourself you’re dying. When I searched my symptoms, potential causes ranged from bacteria in the gut to IBS to cancer. Of course, my anxiety convinced me it was cancer. I imagined myself getting sicker and sicker until I was bedridden, until my mother had to become my full-time caregiver, and my father had to postpone retirement. I wondered if they would have to bury their only child. With this happening mere months after my uncle died, I was furious at the prospect of my father having to go through this so soon after losing his brother. It was crazy to me that just a few months ago at the height of my breakdown, I was suicidal, but now I wanted more than anything to live.
To do that, I needed answers, and I needed treatment.
In June, I saw a gastroenterologist who told me that I needed a colonoscopy. That sure wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but I underwent the procedure on June 24 anyway. In case it wasn’t obvious, it was not fun. I’ve had fun before, and this was not it.
By the end of the day, I had an answer for all my suffering: Crohn’s Disease. Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease that messes with your organs. I learned that my immune system mistook my colon for an intruder and pummeled the life out of it, causing inflammation. At first, I was thrilled I wasn’t going to die and that it wasn’t cancer, but as I began treating it, it hit me that my life was never going to be the same.
I wondered what friendships and relationships would be like after this. I worried constantly about people not taking me seriously. Would my significant other think I was gross or high-maintenance for having this disease, even after I got it somewhat under control? Would friends not want to go out with me because of how often I’d have to run to the bathroom? Would I ever be able to travel the world? Would I ever be able to live independently? Could I even see a movie in theaters without having to shuffle up and down the aisle every 30 minutes?
I had started a job shortly after developing symptoms, so my new coworkers and supervisors didn’t know what I was like before. They knew I was running to the bathroom several times a shift, staying in there for extended periods of time, and not always properly notifying whoever I was working with because of the urgency. I worried that they would think I was being irresponsible. I had so much anxiety over all the what-ifs that it took me two weeks to even bring it up.
I don’t believe in “toxic positivity,” or statements such as “Good vibes only” or “Choose happiness.” In my experience, sentiments only encourage you to bottle up your feelings until they become a Molotov cocktail. Instead of denying my anger and sadness, I allowed myself to grieve for the life I had so I could move forward. Like the loss of a loved one, the grief was crushing at times, but it had to be done. Readjusting my life wasn’t easy, but I decided that I refused to let Crohn’s Disease prevent me from living a happy life. I may have been taken down a few pegs, but I was still standing, and I needed to remember that.
Over time, I learned to manage my energy on the medication and my physical symptoms eased significantly. But the emotional ramifications didn’t. But one day, I woke up frustrated once more, and I knew I couldn’t keep living like this. I knew I had two choices: enlist myself to a life of misery or fight back. I realized that while my life was still filled with uncertainty, I was definitely not going to get anywhere by giving up.
Since I changed my mindset, I’ve begun to advocate for myself. Instead of not wanting to rock the boat, I do what’s best for me, whether that be asking for accommodations at work, demanding timely doctor appointments, or refusing to let people treat me differently. The last one has been the hardest since I have always been a very non-confrontational person, but it is necessary to help me grow. I’ve realized how much I can accomplish through the power of pure stubbornness.
Oh! One last thing. One of the greatest joys through this journey was when I went to see Rocketman in theaters. This once-simple task was a huge milestone for me. My new favorite of Elton John’s many great songs is “I’m Still Standing,” and it’s become my theme song. Despite the havoc Crohn’s Disease has wreaked upon my life and all the times it almost destroyed me, I’m still standing.
This is the story of Caroline Beckman
Caroline Beckman’s health was good—until it wasn’t. At 24, her life changed when sudden and mysterious symptoms led to a diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease. This caused her to become depressed. But Caroline, a remarkably stubborn individual, refused to let Crohn’s Disease prevent her from living a good life. Her next step is figuring out what that means after such a life-changing event. Though her journey from Crohn’s has just started, she has already learned to advocate for herself, take nothing for granted, and to appreciate her own strength and stubbornness. Caroline is a graduate of Miami University, Oxford. She has been making up stories in some form since she could talk, and for as long as she can remember has dreamed of being a writer. Writing has gotten her through dark times and personal tragedies and is her way of making sense of the world. Her dream is to be a famous and well-respected novelist and screenwriter. When she is not writing, Caroline can be found watching Forensic Files or doting on her cat and dog, the most wonderful animals on earth.
This story first touched our hearts on December 6, 2019.
| Writer: Caroline Beckman | Editor: Colleen Walker |