Crohn's
Image: Flickr - Boris Thaser

Invisible illness: What it’s like studying with Crohn’s

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From the outside I may appear to be a happy, healthy nineteen-year-old student; and that’s because that’s exactly what I am. My digestive system on the other hand, not so much. In 2009, aged 12, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a chronic form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) that currently affects 150,000 people in the United Kingdom.

Naturally, since then I have become a self-proclaimed expert on living with an invisible illness, but it was not until I came to university that I noticed the need to tackle the societal taboo surrounding our bowels, and also the need to bring attention to the loaded term that is ‘disease’. No, I am not contagious; yes, please do ask me about it.

I often liken Crohn’s to living next to a dormant volcano – you never know when it is going to erupt. The way to view Crohn’s is that my own immune system has stabbed me in the back. Instead of protecting me it attacks my intestines.

It was not until I came to university that I noticed the need to tackle the societal taboo surrounding our bowels

 

In consequence, when it is active, it results in severe stomach upset, cramps, and nausea. What’s more, having a traitor for an immune system brings with it less severe, but equally challenging symptoms: extreme fatigue and weak, achy joints to name two.

I’m not writing this article for sympathy – I don’t need it. I’m not writing it to give you a biology lesson – you don’t need it. I’m writing it because even though I have been in a lengthy remission, I know that there will be others with IBD or related illnesses that aren’t so lucky and have not yet reached the point where they can positively embrace it.

I’m not writing this article for sympathy – I don’t need it. I’m not writing it to give you a biology lesson – you don’t need it

 

Therefore, I see a need to raise consciousness of what it really means to have IBD and hopefully in doing so make steps to banish the senseless stigma surrounding anything to do with bowels.

Having Crohn’s has shaped who I have become. Literally. I can’t eat cheesy pizza or Ben and Jerry’s anymore and affects the waistline. Jokes aside, it has made me significantly stronger and it empowers me to know I can have a degree of control over such a volatile thing, and retain my optimistic outlook.

I see a need to raise consciousness of what it really means to have IBD and hopefully in doing so make steps to banish the senseless stigma

 

Yet, even from this pedestal of positivity, I felt embarrassed to tell new people that I had IBD when I arrived at university. This is because there exists a strong and immediate connotation between Crohn’s and insensitive toilet humour and a lack of grasp that it is a chronic, auto-immune disease that is particularly burdensome as a student. In addition to laundry, groceries and washing-up we are engaged in constant battle against our immune systems.

If anything, I hope that this article leads to some reconsideration of the stereotypes of all things bowel-related. I like to think that I am not at all defined by my Crohn’s, but rather by my optimism and drive to never let it stop me from living my life as I please.

I felt embarrassed to tell new people that I had IBD when I arrived at university

 

However, for those with IBD (IBS and Coeliac too) it is an integral part of everyday life; so, even if this piece only raises the understanding of ten readers, it will make a step towards tackling the alienating toilet-taboo – an issue that has come to be very close to my heart.

Finally, I cannot express enough how lucky I have been to have met wonderful, understanding and supportive friends at Warwick who fuel my positive energy and keep me going. But not everyone will have been as fortunate. In short, if you know someone at Warwick with an invisible illness, just ask them how they are doing. It will make more a difference than you know.

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Comments (1)

  • Wow, this article is awesome and clearly so is the bright young person Lucy that wrote it. My daughter is 10 and has crohn’s and this article is both inspiring and empowering in equal measure. So refreshing to read, what a fabulous role model you are. Keep the writing up!

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