National Health Blog Post Month Part 1, 2 & 3

I just learned that it’s evidently ‘National Health Blog Post Month‘, according to wegohealth.com, anyway. Now, obviously I am not from the US, nor based there, but I figure that I’ll just treat it like NaNoWriMo – National though the name be, there’s no reason why it can’t stretch out internationally! Since it’s the third of November now, I have a little bit of catching up to do, but I think it’ll still manage to toddle along nicely. So, without further ado, I bring you days 1, 2 & 3 of the ‘challenge’, as it were.

Nov. 1
Favorite Fridays
Tell us what your favorite health apps are and how people can find them.

To be honest, the only health related app that I have ever used is GI Monitor, which was quite useful when I remembered to use it, but that’s a big case of when. I don’t typically have my phone on my person when I’m at work, let alone have it with me when I’m going to the bathroom, so accurately filling in my BMs wasn’t so easy. That being said, now that I’m ostomied up, that’s somewhat irrelevant – though that being said, I probably should be trying to regulate things a little more, but that’s another quest for another day.

I do, however, recommend that anyone with IBD has a few mindless apps on their phone for entertainment while in the bathroom and in possession of one’s phone – Candy Crush Sarga would be great, I imagine, although I personally only got hooked on it while I was in hospital post-surgery. That, or just do a lot of Redditing and Facebooking….

Nov. 2
Little Engine Post
Write 3 lines that start with “I think I can…”
Then write 3 lines that start with “I know I can…”

I think I can succeed in the publishing/writing world, if I continue to put my mind to it.
I think I can get healthier than I ever have been before (including fitness and weight) now that I am determined and making progress.
I think I can be amazing.

I know I can rediscover the healthy, intellectual creature that I was before all of this started tearing my life apart. My academic life hasn’t been destroyed, it has just taken a much needed break.I know I can be happy, regardless of whether or not this ends up being Crohn’s, and how long I end up having my ostomy.
I know I can continue to be a badass example to other IBDers, other people with chronic illnesses, or just other people in general. I may not be exactly where I thought I would be at this point in my life, but despite everything that has driven me down, I still have a degree, a decent job, a partner and a future plan that isn’t so dissimilar from what I thought I would have when I was a bright and shiny high school graduate with all the potential in the world.

Nov. 3
My Mascot!

Give your condition, community, or self a mascot. Who is it? What do they represent? What is their battle cry?

Well, the use of the word battle cry reminds me of a nerdy connection the classicist in me has always liked – Ileum vs. Ilium. Now, my IBD/CD/UC/whatever the hell it decides to be may be colon-specific at this point in time, but a lot of IBDers have their disease in the ileum (the last section of the small intestine. Ilium (with two I’s) is one of the Latin names for the city of Troy. And since we’re constantly doing battle with our insides, much like the constant conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans over the decade or so of war over Helen… I do rather like the idea of being associated with an ancient figure of some description. Since Pallas Athene was the key patron goddess of Troy, let’s go with her. She’s badass, she is, among other things, the goddess of war, wisdom and strength, she frequently has an owl companion… let’s roll with this.

IBD vs IBS – let’s talk it out

It’s a serious misconception out there among some people that the similarity in acronyms and the word ‘bowel’ across both must mean that IBD and IBS are fairly similar.

It drives me crazy.

Irritable bowel syndrome can be an unpleasant thing to experience for some people. I’d wager in some cases it can even be quite nasty. But when people flippantly refer to IBD as ‘irritable bowel disease’, rather than ‘inflammatory bowel disease’, it does nobody any favours. It furthers the notion that somehow IBS is comparable to Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. That if people with IBD could just manage their stress and eat some more fibre, all of their problems would go away. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me if I’ve tried adapting my diet. If I’ve tried cutting out gluten.

My internal monologue at these moments tends to run along the lines of ‘I’ve just told you I’m having surgery to remove part of my intestines, don’t you think I’d have maybe given diet a shot before getting to this point?’ Externally, of course, I tend to smile tightly and nod.

Yes. I’ve bloody tried cutting out gluten.

Let’s clear it up. Once and for all. IBS is irritable bowel syndrome. According to some figures, it affects 10-20% of all adults. By contrast, IBD, or inflammatory bowel disease (including both Crohn’s and UC) affects only 0.001- 0.003% of the adult population. But it’s not just about being some kind of exclusive club that talks way more about bathroom habits than the average medical gathering. Inflammatory is the key word. People with IBS don’t have inflammation of the intestines (or any other part of the GI tract, for that matter). They may have some abdominal pain, some bathroom related inconvenience, but they don’t have structural changes in the layers of their intestinal wall. They don’t bleed, seep or otherwise ooze. They don’t run the risk of absesses or fistulae forming between bowel and skin – or bowel and other non-digestive organs.

Again with the according to some figures, 70% of IBS patients either don’t need to or choose not to seek healthcare. Virtually all people with IBD will have ongoing healthcare provider contact, given that virtually all people with IBD need some serious meds at some point in their journey, if not constantly. IBS doesn’t need surgery; IBD often will – you’ve heard enough about my ostomy by now, and it sure didn’t just appear one day. Surgery and symptoms them selves can have significant enough complications that it’s not unheard of for IBD patients to die of related causes. Not common, but it is a risk. IBS – not so much.

We IBDers also run the risk of symptoms beyond the gut. Lucky us, eh? Complications can arise in the skin, joints, even the eyes. IBD is autoimmune, and therefore can have some similarities in symptoms with the likes of rheumatoid arthritis. We even share some of our more serious meds with them. When you’re 23 and your knee is playing up, that’s a bit of a health-related wake-up call. We also can run fevers and become severely anaemic and/or malnourished. Not to mention, all of the mentioned symptoms are just the disease-related ones – not even the extra fun that can be in store for those of us on certain medications.

Don’t get me wrong. I know some people who have some thoroughly unpleasant cases of IBS to deal with. It sucks. I wouldn’t wish ill digestive health on anyone. But to equate the two is to be at best uninformed or at worst, downright inconsiderate. It’s like equating a sprained ankle with a compound fracture. One, you can walk off. The other requires a hell of a lot more attention. Unlike an ankle injury of that nature, though, both IBS and IBD are chronic, and that sucks. I’m happy to share in the pain of IBS sufferers – but if they start to try to tell me they know how I feel, that’s where the civility will end.

So if you’re reading this and knew the basics already, arm yourself with the details for your next encounter. If you’ve just been enlightened, educate others if the topic should ever arise. If you have IBS, know that we know it’s horrible to have a busted gut. But know too that you are damn lucky to have an inflammation-free GI tract, for so many reasons.

(figures primarily from badgut.org, the Canadian Society for Intestinal Research. It was the first website that had decent details on it, but other websites like CCFA etc have similar information)

how to handle stomal surprises like a pro

Or, more accurately, how not to handle stomal surprises. Like a pro, or like any kind of sane person.

Forewarning that this post is a little more stoma/ostomy centric than others, and if you don’t have the experience of an ostomy – or at least IBD yourself, it may be a little much for you to handle.

Continue reading how to handle stomal surprises like a pro

staring down the barrel of re-diagnosis

I had my follow-up appointment with my surgeon yesterday.

It wasn’t great.

I was going into the appointment thinking everything’s going fine, I’m back at work, I’m healing up, the stoma’s looking mostly fine except for the hypergranulation around the outside. I’ll have ‘replumbing’ surgery ASAP, we’ll say a fond farewell to Buffy the Stoma and the rest of my colon and welcome the new, yet to be named j-pouch.

The best laid plans…

See, I had a Hartmann’s procedure (basically a colonic resection/partial colectomy) because my surgeon wanted to be sure that it wasn’t Crohn’s before yanking the whole thing out – and my inflammed section was limited to the sigmoid colon and rectum, basically, but it was just perpetually super bad in that area. I had an MRI a couple of weeks before the surgery, though, and was told that my small bowel was completely clear, and was therefore under the impression that yes, it was ‘just’ UC, but the plan to stick with the Hartmann’s for now remained.

Thing is, when they take out part of your intestines, they can look at it a whole lot more thoroughly than they can when it’s just a colonoscopy biopsy. And it turns out that the degree/depth on inflammation found ‘favours’ Crohn’s. The surgeon is getting a second histological opinion before anything too intensive is done, but basically, she doesn’t want to try reconnection until at least the new year, which would theoretically put paid to starting any new academic plans, since the postgrad diploma I want to do starts in February, and I need to allow fairly substantial recovery time.

So it looks as though I’ll be postponing any kind of surgery until the end of next year. Which means that me and Buffy are going to be hanging out together for a hell of a lot longer than planned. I am relieved, however, that they did go for the partial surgery, because my surgeon is pretty much now of the opinion that my inflammation goes so low that a j-pouch probably wouldn’t take – and preemptive total colectomy could have therefore meant permanent ostomy. The way it is currently, I would just get what remains of my colon reattached, and hopefully the still inflammed rectum would have settled down enough by then – with the help of maintenance drugs, something else I’d not really banked on. I’m currently completely off meds, apart from painkillers on occasion, but if the decision is made that it’s Crohn’s, I’ll be back onto azathioprine at least, if not getting back on inflixi or Humira. Hopefully something can manage maintenance, since I’m symptom-free at the moment… but I don’t exactly have the best track record for meds working.

So it’s really super fun in health-world for Briar right now – I hope that you’re all in a better place than me!

NEWS!

Hello, fine folks who read these pages! I’ve been doing some tinkering over the last few days, as a result of thinking about what directions I want this blog to go in – but at the same time, how I want to pursue my online presence overall. So… I’ve created a new blog/website explicitly for the health related topics that I’ve blogged about so very much here – IBD and its affiliated psychological issues, like depression and anxiety. It’s (hopefully) going to become a place for more people than just me to share their stories – but to make that happen, I need to get people reading and submitting. So, if you are at all interested in following my intestinal journeys, come and join the party over at wamblecropt (the name is explained on the blog!). And if you’re someone with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease yourself – or if you know someone who is – please get yourself or your someone joining in the discussion, because awareness and outreach needs voices to spread.

So that’s the new website – but don’t despair, I’m still going to be keeping on keeping on here. The 365 pieces project obviously has a ways to go yet – and I’m also planning on upping my reviewing came (if you haven’t already seen it, check out the review of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries that I posted earlier today. And if you’ve got any recommendations for things that you think would be worth my checking out and reviewing, let me know!

daily drug cocktails, the UC way

Originally posted on Raw Library in January this year.

It’s official – I have a love/hate relationship with prednisone.

Photo on 2013-01-27 at 15.15

I’ve been on it for nearly two months now, and it’s the only thing that’s had any kind of effect on my UC symptoms. But, as previously mentioned, I’ve been tapering it… and my insides have been starting to play up a bit again. So after a chat with Jacqui, the lovely IBD nurse at Middlemore – and after she consulted with the head of gastro, who’s one of the doctors on my case, as it were, I’m back up to my initial dose – that’s 20mg a day, which is actually a fairly small dose, still, but twice as much as I’ve been on for the past week.

And now that I’m on day two of taking it again, I’ve already had a freakout session. I had a few good ones soon after starting the pred, but after the first taper and then the second, I was feeling a little saner. But now – bam. It’s like I have to choose between intestinal and mental health – I can’t have both. I’m still at the stage where they can’t be sure whether or not my body and the infliximab are cooperating to make it work, so steroids are all that there is for now. In some ways, steroids are better than infliximab. Cheaper, for one thing. Pills, rather than infusions, which is a definite bonus.

But my mind is not okay with prednisone. Nor is my body, in other ways – I’m trying desperately to get healthier and fitter, and taking medication that can cause weight gain and puffy face and all that jazz is just making the mental breakdown all the worse. There’s no winning. Either I’m sick, and can’t do anything to make myself healthier in any way – or I’m ‘healthy’, colon-speaking, and I turn into an angry pufferfish.

It’s becoming very easy to just feel sorry for myself and melt into a sobbing mess. Lord knows it has happened before. I can yank myself out of the deepest pits of despair sometimes – doing the dishes while singing along to Avril Lavigne’s first album sort of helped, even if I did mostly just get angry at the kitchen. Frittering away time on Facebook and Reddit, even if it feels empty and pointless, it’s still better than lying facedown on the carpet, right?

But hey. Maybe it’s time to introduce you to ALL my drug friends. There’s more to life than prednisone, after all – even if none of it seems to do much, into my body it goes!

Therefore, let me present

BRIAR’S DAILY DRUG COCKTAIL.

look at how much fun we have together!

The day starts with the aforementioned prednisone. Four little white tablets, knocked back at once, because I’m cool like that. Along with my first four Asacol of the day. Asacol is mesalazine – which, according to Wikipedia is ‘a bowel-specific drug that acts locally in the gut and has its predominant actions there, thereby having few systemic side effects.’

more like asaCOOL, amirite?

So there you go. I’ve been on Asacol for about two years now, ever since I said to the doctor that the relationship between myself and the Pentasa enemas he prescribed was not going anywhere anytime fast. Nor were my symptoms. They didn’t really go anywhere with the Asacol either, but, as I’ve said before, and I’ll say again (likewise my doctors), if I wasn’t taking it, who knows how much worse I might be? The prednisone needs to be with food, and the Asacol is twice a day, so they get scarfed down with whatever I can stomach for breakfast.

Then, some mornings – though mercifully not all mornings at the moment, I pop my bff, TRAMADOL. Some mornings I’ll attempt paracetamol first… I do have a box as tall as my head of the stuff, after all…

SO MANY DRUGS

…but realistically, the kind of pain that paracetamol can handle is just my daily business, so if I feel like I need pain relief, it just doesn’t cut it. So that’s where my tramz come in to play!

tramadolololololololol...

Seriously. Until prednisone started doing stuff, getting the tramadol prescription was the only thing that ever seriously helped me out pain-wise. It’s courtesy of these bad boys here that I’ve managed to get through the past 5-6 months without any pre-arranged sick days at work. AMAZEBALLS.

Then, the day progresses. If I remember, I’ll take a multivitamin and a Executive Stress B vitamin with my lunch, especially since I’m still working on managing to tolerate most fruits and vegetables. Then work finally finishes, we all cheer, and I come home and collapse for the evening. But before rolling into the sweet embrace of sleep, there’s….

please sir, may i have some more?

MORE ASACOL! FOUR MORE! FOUR FOR YOU GLEN COCO, YOU GO GLEN COCO.

And a tablet and a half of azathioprine, also known as Imuran or Imuprine. I pre-cut them and keep a bunch in a gladware container. Cunning! Azathioprine, again, quoting everyone’s favourite research site, Wikipedia, is ‘an immunosuppressive drug used in organ transplantation and autoimmune diseases and belongs to the chemical class of purine analogues. Synthesized originally as a cancer drug and a pro-drug for mercaptopurine in 1957, it has been widely used as a immunosuppressant for more than 50 years.’ GOODNESS ME. The more you know.

om nom nom

And that’s the lot. So, at the moment, a relatively pain-free day will consist of thirteen and a half tummy-related tablets, plus painkillers if necessary. Gosh.

Tune in next week, for our latest installment of Tales of Ward 32 – Infliximab Infusion Live-Blogging! What a thrilling time to be alive.

THINGS TO DO WHILE STUCK IN THE BATHROOM.

Originally posted on Raw Library

Reading the backs of shampoo bottles can only get you so far when you’re on intimate terms with the bathroom. Here’s a handy list of ways to wile away the agonising hours (if you add up colitis bathroom time, it gets a little scary!) in the loo.

  • do your nails. Only applicable when you’re not in writhing pain.
  • put on moisturizer. Nothing like a bit of tearing up to help it soak in!
  • listen to music. Especially good if you’re worried about unseemly noises, just bring along a iPod dock and crank it. Although, let’s be honest, if you’re at the point where you’ve been diagnosed with an IBD, noises are probably the least of your concerns. But you can choose music to suit your pain/movement mood! O Fortuna is best reserved for special occasions.
  • wail in pain. Because sometimes it’s all you can really do.
  • sing. Not just for the shower anymore! Serenade your flatmates with your musical prowess!
  • cry.
  • read. A Kobo or Kindle is your best friend. Best thing is trashy teen novels that you secretly want to read, but don’t want the perceived shame of carrying around the book itself. Plus they are generally fairly straightforward when it comes to reading comprehension, so you’re unlikely to miss anything crucial is your eyes glaze over during particularly bad waves of pain.
  • internet. Whip out the old smartphone. Read up on the news, or check out a colitis/Crohn’s forum or support group. I’m a particular fan of IHaveUC.com and both the CrohnsDisease and IBD subreddits on everyone’s favourite Front Page of the Internet.
  • text people. I’m terrible at remembering to contact people, so the bathroom is sometimes my go-to for responsible daughter text messages to my mother.
  • ponder. Eg. when will the drugs work / should I just get surgery / should I just get surgery NOW by myself with a kitchen knife / was the cheesecake worth it
  • philosophise/theorise. If Archimedes could make scientific discoveries in the bath, why can’t you do it on the loo?
  • or just think about how delectable those painkillers are going to be when they start kicking in.

14 WAYS TO HAVE A RAD TIME, EVEN IF YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER IS THE PORCELAIN THRONE.

Originally posted on Raw Library

[Section 1 – at home! since, you know, if you’re sick, home is often where the heart, and the head, and the whole body are]

1. Bubble bath. Perks include – it can calm you down (and stress can be a factor for some people with bowel problems), you can douse yourself in all kinds of sparkly delicious smells to disguise any (probably imaginary, but no less disturbing!) lingering odours that you may be inflicted with, AND, most conveniently, more often than not, it’s the same room as your toilet. SUPER WIN.

2. Bring your world to the bathroom. I’m talking iPod docks, books, laptops/tablets/phones, you name it, it will enhance the bathroom experience.

3. Dance party. If you’re up to it, shaking your groove thing can be very cathartic.

4. Cooking something fabulous. Since nobody knows your own specific colon/digestive system idiosyncrasies better than you do, cook some amazing feast that caters to your specific dietary requirements. Alternatively, junk food that fits your needs is good too. Sometimes, eating ‘healthy’ can be hard for a low-residue dieting IBDer, but hey, if you want an excuse to gorge on something ‘bad’ under the guise of ‘it’s the only thing I can digest except poached chicken!’ I say MORE POWER TO YOU.

5. Redecorating. Having a room/home that you actually like to be in seriously enhances the experience of being at home, and if you’re stuck at home because your colon is telling you that that’s the only thing doing right now, then between voyages to the loo, contemplate how your room could be more badass, and make it happen.

6. Movie/TV show marathoning. Before I ‘knew’ I was sick – but was symptomatic, and depressed, and therefore basically never leaving the house if I could help it, I got through a hell of a lot of Gilmore Girls and Buffy. My life is better for having those shows in my life. Good can come of being a brain-addled, pipe-twisted couch potato!

7. WRITE! Case in point. To be honest, though, when I was at my worst, I was also not really in the right mindset for writing. These last few months have played host to my largest writing output, both blogging and creative writing, in year. But capture what moments you can. You never know how good it might be to look back and see how far you’ve come.

[section 2 – AWAY from home! scary! but possible!]

8. Go to the beach. So, this may sound wacky on several levels, especially for those of you reading this from wintery northern hemisphere climes, but with a little forethought, beach-tripping can be totally doable, even if you’re not at your best. I think the trick is to find a moderately-frequented beach – one that’s popular enough to have more than one public toilet, ideally one that’s actually occasionally cleaned, but not so popular as to mean you’re going to be queuing for ages and risking major bikini-bottom trauma. Let’s be honest – it’s a possibility. Swimming’s not even essential, nor is lying in the sun – just find a shady tree (pohutukawas are best for it, if you’re lucky enough to live in my part of the world) and listen to the waves. Build a sand castle – hell, build a sand-toilet-idol. LIVE THE SUMMER DREAM.

9. Catch a ferry somewhere. Sticking to the seaside theme, if you live somewhere with a harbour, hop on a ferry – they have bathrooms! – and go somewhere new. Or somewhere old. Or anywhere, really. Enjoy being out on the ocean. It’s a damn fine thing.

10. Movies. Your friends will love you for being the one who ‘takes one for the team’ when you offer to take the seat at the end of the row. Little do they know (or maybe they do) it’s just smart planning. Keep your ticket on you. Avoid popcorn, unless a) your intestines don’t have an aversion to it, in which case yay! lucky you or b) you know you’ll have a delayed reaction and that buttery goodness is worth the repercussions. I feel ya. I’ve been there. It’s bittersweet.

11. Art galleries/museums. Major galleries and museums will generally be pretty well kitted out for public facilities – and what’s more, often they’ll give you a handy dandy map when you go in, WHICH SHOWS YOU WHERE THEY ALL ARE. It’s like they’re made for us. Just make sure you check out the map before you go wandering into any old wings that may not be quite so well equipped, okay? Nothing like hobble-running through a voclano-exhibit to try to catch the train on time.

12. Visit your parents/grandparents/siblings/close-and-understanding friends. Especially the first two – always good to keep those that brought you into being happy. A way to leave the house and still have unfettered access to a bathroom? It’s possible! Plus depending on the parent/grandparent/sibling/close-and-understanding friend in question, who knows what kind of delicious baked goods they might unleash upon you?

13. Gigs. I’ll admit, I do still get a little anxious going out to concerts, and, realistically, going to the symphony may not be ideal for the colonly-challenged, but a gig at a regular ol’ bar or rock club? Totally doable. Stay away from major crush areas, towards the side or the back – or even a mezzanine, if there is one – and you’ll benefit in more health and safety related ways than just having an easy UC/Crohn’s escape route. I’d recommend scoping out where the bathrooms are beforehand, though, and maybe steer clear of venues you know have poor lavatory hygiene. Get wrapped up and absorbed in the music, and it’s amazing how, even for a couple of hours, intestines can miraculously settle down.

14. Bush walks. I guess you overseas folks would be more likely to call it hiking, but here, bush walking suits me just fine. This isn’t exactly recommended if you’re in the middle of a mega-flare, but if you’re in a bit of an in-between place like I am, it’s not impossible. No big quests, mind you, but take a drive out to somewhere gorgeous – where the drive is part of the fun – with a small loop track. If you’re in Auckland, check out the Hunua Falls – you can loop down to the falls and back (and by back, I mean the carpark with a Department of Conservation administered toilet block, chur, guys!) in ten minutes, if you need to. You can venture further up other tracks if you want, but even just that little track take you through old forests and up to the beautiful waterfall and the big waterhole thing it falls into. Glorious.

briar’s UC diagnosis story

Briar’s diagnosis story – originally posted on Raw Library.

I was eighteen when I first encountered blood in the toilet bowl. And it definitely wasn’t my period. My first inclination wasn’t to freak out and Google what it meant, and it certainly wasn’t to go to the doctor – eighteen-year-old girl talking to the family GP about bowel movements? Yeah, no thanks.

No, my approach was much less sensible – I ignored it. It happened again, every now and then, and I mentioned to my mum at one stage, and she said that it was probably worth going to the doctor if it happened again. I took her advice under consideration. By which I mean I didn’t, at all – so time went by.

I did a semester abroad, spent a couple of months living in Brooklyn, came back to New Zealand and crashed and burned academically. A couple of years beforehand, I’d been in the top echelon of one of the best schools in the country, getting scholarship payments, placing in national creative writing competitions. But now, dragging myself to class was almost impossible. I was, in hindsight, almost certainly extremely depressed, but I couldn’t admit that to myself. I couldn’t concentrate. My visits to the bathroom were increasing in frequency, bit by bit. There was still blood.

I still didn’t go to the doctor.

It wasn’t until I had to go to A&E because I could barely swallow – an unrelated issue, as it turned out – that I finally brought up my digestive ‘issues’, at my mother’s insistence – I had, a month or so before, admitted that this was still an issue, about two years after it first started. The doctor at the after hours clinic gave a me a prescription for some Losec for the swallowing pain, and told me to get my butt to my GP, because with upwards of eight bathroom trips a day, and blood involved on a regular basis, a referral to a gastroenterologist was almost certainly going to be needed.

The blood tests my GP ran came back negative for any parasites or such things, so it was off to gastroenterology. The public health system in New Zealand can sometimes mean it takes a little while to get seen, but as it turns out, when you’re 20 and full of bloody stool, your file gets stamped with ‘urgent’, and you get seen pretty damn quickly. I was also told, before getting referred, that I was extremely anaemic, which made sense, since, you know, I’d been losing blood for an awfully long time. I was told that this would have affected energy levels – check – and concentration – check. The waning trajectory of my academic performance was starting to make a little more sense. The low iron levels were also, in all likelihood, enhanced by my less than nutritionally-sound vegetarianism and obscene coffee/energy drink habit.

Within a month, I’d had my first colonoscopy, and a diagnosis. Ulcerative colitis – not that I’d ever heard of it before. I’d heard of Crohn’s disease, but had no idea what it entailed. Both are IBDs – inflammatory bowel diseases – which some people do confuse with IBS – irritable bowel syndrome – however they really need to be differentiated to understand the severity of IBD. Certainly IBS can be serious and distressing, but the difference between ‘inflammatory’ and ‘irritable’ is crucial. It drives me a little loopy when I read posts on forums, where someone will mention having Crohn’s or UC in a post, and then the comments are full of people saying ‘oh, I know what you mean, I have IBS!’ Crohn’s and UC are auto-immune diseases, that, save for very mild cases, will generally require some serious drugs to attain any level of control over the debilitating symptoms. There’s no single cure for any IBD, and no magic medicine that works for everyone. There’s no cure for IBS, either, but there’s also not the problems of bleeding and inflammation and general increased chance of bowel cancer, at the end of the road.

Over the next two years, I was to find out that I’m one of those ‘lucky’ folk for whom most medications won’t work. I was started on enemas, which was as much fun as it sounds, and they just wouldn’t take. I’ve been on various pills for a couple of years now, and none of them have really helped, until I finally caved and agreed to try predisone, a steroid with nasty side-effects. Since I already had a propensity towards a depressive mental state, taking a drug with relatively frequent incidences of psychological symptoms – not to mention the physical symptoms like weight gain and acne, which would hardly enhance my mood, I was loathe to try them, but given that I’ve run through basically all standard medications, plus a drug trial, it was really a case of ‘try the steroids, or that colon’s probably going to have to come out.’

Which is still might. Though everything’s somewhat under control now, and my days of taking painkillers just to get myself through the morning at work are mostly have mostly passed, there are still days when the only way that I’m going to be able to get to work without having an accident and excruciating pain are by popping some Tramadol. And I hate that. I hate that I have to go into the hospital every eight weeks to get hooked up to an IV for infusion treatment (which I’m still waiting to see whether or not it will work) – I want to be travelling, exploring, not worrying about the fact that I have to be here for a very much not portable treatment. Or that if I did go travelling, travel insurance would either be prohibitively expensive, or not cover me for any UC related problems – which could occur regardless of how careful I am. Just because I avoid eating foods which are particular triggers doesn’t mean that I won’t find myself bed-ridden. By the same token, ‘healthy’ foods for the masses are some of the worst triggers for my particular brand of UC. Raw veges, any kind of legume, whole grains – no no and definitely no. Any large amount of dairy is no go, anything soy based is dangerous… my vegetarian days are certainly a thing of the past.

I’m lucky, in some ways, though. I mentioned the public healthcare system earlier – my current infusion treatment, which costs thousands, possibly tens of thousands per year, is entirely funded. In a twisted way, I’m also ‘lucky’ that my case is fairly severe – it means that everything is taken very seriously, and I’ve got a couple of doctors and clinic/research nurses who are all very invested in my getting better. Even if, as I am now faced to admit, that may getting some pretty serious surgery in the not so distant future. If it means that my life is mine to live, and not controlled by this fun-filled disease, so be it.

I want to educate people as much as possible on IBD, and even IBS – since, realistically, us bowel-challenged folk ought to stick together, since it’s not something that people like to talk about – and possibly as a result of that, it’s not something about which people actually understand the severity of the issue. Sometimes when I mention that when I had an iron infusion (since my anaemia was so bad) I was on a ward with chemo patients, people start to grasp that, hey, there’s more to whatever this thing is than Briar having to go to the bathroom fifteen times a day.

I did manage to finish my degree, though certainly not to the high level I’d expected when I went in. Now that my symptoms and iron levels are the most controlled that they’ve been in years, I’m contemplating going back to study, to get back on track with life goals and plans that have laid by the wayside for far too long. I’m also working on a YA novel involving a main character with IBD, because hell, if I’d been diagnosed any younger, it would have been a major blessing to have encountered someone in the pages of a book who was dealing with the same issues as me. And writing what you know is always a good place to start.

It may have taken over my life, and changed it – but with a bit of luck, the continued developments of modern medicine, and a hell of a lot of determination, I’m working on changing it again – not change it back, but make it even better than before.