Living With a Chronic Illness: 10 Years Later
April 21, 2021
A ten-year anniversary is called the tin anniversary. On April 5, 2021, I reached my tin anniversary of being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. As a seven-year-old, you really have no concerns, but this changed everything in my life.
Crohn’s Disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that can affect your entire digestive tract. It can often lead to abdominal pain, chronic fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition in those affected by it. There is currently no cure for Crohn’s Disease, only treatments to manage symptoms. Many medications can cause periods of remission, but flare-ups still occur. Not only is there no cure for Crohn’s, but there is also no known cause for why the disease develops. Crohn’s can cause many other complications and illnesses to occur, such as bowel obstruction, ulcers, anemia, skin disorders, osteoporosis, and arthritis. A good resource to learn more about Crohn’s Disease and help those who have it is the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.
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Though I was diagnosed with Crohn’s at age seven, I have lived with a chronic illness for as long as I can remember. I was also diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at two-years-old. When I was younger, I had no way to explain to others what was wrong with me, since I never understood it. Having never been a “healthy” child, I saw the world differently from others to protect myself from my reality.
“Students learn resiliency and determination when trying to manage many facets of life with a disability,” said Learning Resource Specialist Julie Griess.
I often found myself saying that my situation could be worse; it could always be worse. This was not because I did not understand the severity of my problems, but because I needed to find a more positive view. I was attempting to keep myself from losing hope again and again as I had done before.
I would always set mini-goals, usually concerning weight, so I would have something to work towards. After working for months or even years, I would sometimes achieve my goal, and sometimes I would not. It was discouraging knowing that after all the work I had done, I had not made it. As children, we are taught that if we work towards our goals that we can achieve them, but that is not always true for a chronic illness. There is a point where you do not have control over the outcome after all the work that was done.
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I would reach a breaking point where I thought that it would always be hopeless. I could not see a positive outcome to my situation at the time. No matter how hard you try, you reach these points, but you can only go up once you hit the bottom.
“Some of my perspectives on the world changed, they had to, but I really tried to not to let it ever weigh me down. Having a victim mentality is really damaging and was something I was passionate about not adopting. To keep myself motivated I pursue things that I love. I focus on issues I can contribute the most to and never let a disability define me. Although a disability creates enormous barriers, it has been extremely important for me to not let those hurdles get in my way,” said Clare Grammig (‘21).
Through all the pain and suffering, I had many positive things happen. I had to mature quickly to manage my upkeep, but now it does not seem as difficult. I have gotten used to paying attention to my symptoms, and I can recognize problems before they come. I had a higher sense of responsibility before many kids my age, and I handled more challenging situations. I have reached a weight and height that no one thought I could get to after so many years. I still have more work to do, but I continue working step-by-step to reach my goal.
“I relied on my family a lot to help keep me motivated, but I would also remember that having diabetes was a chance for me to become stronger, and every day that I had a positive attitude about it was another day that I conquered my disease,” said Bryn Hall (‘21).
Overall, I feel more confident when I talk about my struggles. It would be very difficult for me to talk about my struggles when I was younger because I did not understand them, and they were still recent. I now use my past experiences to remind myself of how my health has improved due to my hard work.
Looking from the outside does not reveal what a person is dealing with, especially with a chronic illness. Be a supportive person in their lives to help them pursue their goals and know that they are not alone.
“A message for others without illnesses is to educate themselves and ask questions to gain more knowledge about what others go through every day,” said Hall (‘21).
Even though you can not feel what they feel, just serving as a simple distraction during a painful period of time can make their day better. Instead of trying to relate an experience you have had, ask how you can help them and help them talk through their experience.
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It is especially important to be supportive in school, because it can be difficult to manage your illness and along with your workload. Stress can often trigger flare-ups in chronic illness and can cause the person to struggle more than usual.
“Living with a chronic illness presents many life challenges. Most often these diagnoses are unnoticed by a student’s peers or teacher, so it may be difficult to continually communicate feeling unwell when it’s not easily recognized like having a fever or cough,” said Griess.
Tin is characterized as a weak metal and is not the correct metal to describe my ten years with Crohn’s. Though tin is considered a weak metal it is associated with embodying wisdom, maturity, education, and a philosophical view of life. It shows an attitude that people with chronic illness slowly build as they learn more about themselves and their illness. I have many more years to come with Crohn’s challenges, but they are challenges I have overcome before, and I can do it again. After all my suffering and progress, this should be my diamond anniversary to show how strong I have become.