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The normality of life I had grown accustomed to would eventually change when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Up until I was 17, I'd say that I had a pretty normal life, where I just went with the flow of things. I was happy, healthy, and didn't have Crohn's!
It wasn't actually until after my 17th birthday that I was able to get an official diagnosis after spending a majority of the previous year being told all my symptoms were due to exam stress and the lack of fibre in my diet. For a very long time now, in fact just over 10 yearsm I have kept the fact that I have Crohn's to myself and have only told a few close friends that I have it.
To some of my other friends who are just finding this out now by reading... surprise!!
I understand that some of you reading may not have a clue of what Crohn's disease is or what IBD is so I will take a moment and explain it as simply as possible.
Before you read on, VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED. If you don't like talk about bodily function or anything like that then fast forward this bit!!
Basically within the body we have the digestive system, which is made up of the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, and intestines (small and large intestines). The intestines help us digest and absorb nutrients from our food and basically anything that can't be digested is removed from the body... yep, that's right... as poo!!
Crohn's disease can affect any part of the digestive system, particularly the intestines, causing inflammation.
Symptoms of Crohn's include: Abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloody stools (poo), tiredness and fatigue (heavy blood loss can cause you to be anaemic (low on iron) and abdominal pain from a "flare up" can cause sleepless nights), feeling unwell, and the most noticeable is weight loss due to a loss of appetite.
Diagnosing Crohn's can be done by having blood and stool samples taken to look for certain inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein (in blood samples) which can give an indication if there is any inflammation occurring. Having an endoscopy (a long camera that is put down your mouth to see your insides) or a colonoscopy (a camera that is put through your rectum to also see your insides) can be done to show if there is any inflammation or other tell tale signs of Crohn's.
Other non-invasive methods of diagnosing the disease is by having barium studies, CT and MRI scans. As I am currently about to qualify as a radiographer (someone who takes x-rays, CT, and MRI scans), I find this side of diagnosing the disease very interesting.
Treating the disease is very difficult, as what works for one person may not work for others. There are so many drugs that are used which include corticosteroids and immunosuppressants that (in my experience as a patient) you just have to go through a bit of trial and error to see what works for you. Surgery can be used to treat the disease as well.
I personally feel that diet or nutrition therapy has a role to play in the treatment or at least the management of Crohn's and as an aspiring researcher is one of my areas of interests.
Well, that's a brief introduction to what Crohn's is, so now back to my story.
I think the main reason for me feeling embarrassed about having inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is because at the time of diagnosis, I did not understand what it was, and if I couldn't understand it then how on earth was I expected to explain it to my friends? For at least three years, I kept quiet about having IBD which, looking back, was stupid because the moment I told some friends (the very first people to know outside of my family) it was as if the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. I know it sounds so "cliche" and some of you are probably thinking "well what's the big deal," but for me, someone who likes to keep some aspects of his life private, it was!!
I first started to experience symptoms at around 17-years-old, being told that they were due to exam stress and the lack of fibre in my diet. I knew something wasn't right as stomach pains would leave me unable to get out of bed, exhausted from the lack of sleep, weight and blood loss (TMI I know but hey it's part of the process)!!
I remember going to my doctor and saying that this can't be normal and after a blood test revealed I was anaemic and had raised CRP (C-reactive protein which is an inflammatory marker) I was referred for further investigations. Now here came the earliest exposure to my future career. Small bowel barium meals and enemas, MRI scans, colonoscopies... you name it, I've most likely had it done.
I feel my Crohn's has influenced my career choices because at this point I was pretty much used to the hospital environment and having different tests and examinations done. I felt that a career in healthcare was the way to go. Training to be a diagnostic radiographer I've gotten to experience both sides of the diagnosis process. Having undergone most of the diagnostic scans and procedures available I can sympathise with the patients I meet who on occasions say "you have no idea what it's like." Believe I me, I do!!
So, what's the point of writing about my experiences?? Well, for starters I want to be able to raise awareness that more people than you think are living with IBD and you wouldn't know it. I mean they could be standing next to you, sitting across from you, or even walking by you as you read this.
I want to be able to share my experiences with other people who suffer with this disease and to let them know you are not alone and that there is NOTHING TO BE EMBARRASSED ABOUT!!
If anyone has any questions or just wants to reach out and say hi, then please feel free to message me on social media (I spend most of my time on Instagram).
If you want to know more about Crohn's again message me or visit the Crohn's & Colitis website.