This I Believe

Julie - Jacksonville, Illinois
Entered on July 11, 2006

Life Lessons

I believe a chronic illness is a teacher

My head rocked backward and gently tapped the wall. I was in pain. As my intestines rumbled, I feared I would have to race to the restroom again. I was experiencing another flare-up of my Crohn’s disease. My eyes closed. Christmas carols softly played through the P.A. system at the doctor’s office. I opened my eyes. They rested upon a glittery white dove nestled among red ribbon and pine ropping. A dove is the symbol of peace, but my insides were at WAR! Thankfully, the drugs my doctor prescribed that day would ease the symptoms. But, the illness and its life lessons never go away. Having a chronic illness for fifteen years has taught me many lessons. The lessons just keep repeating.

One of the mist important lessons I learned is to treasure good friends. These are the people who insist you watch Disney’s “Aladdin” together, because you are too sick to go out on a summer night. They give you amusing presents, such as baby wipes, because they know that you will have to endure the pre-colonoscopy bowel prep at Mayo Clinic. True friends offer to take off work, drive eighty miles, and sit with you through a two hour infusion disease-silencing drug. These people are not just any friends, but golden hearted, strong-shouldered, guide-you-through-the-rain friends.

Finding humor in the depths of a chronic illness helped me. How many childless thirty-one year olds appreciate receiving baby wipes as a gift? I cherish a friend’s list of ten reasons I should be happy to be hospitalized with Crohn’s (#7 “Your apartment building manager was going to have to raise your rent because you flushed to many times.”). I named my IV pump because I spent more time with it than my then-boyfriend. Remember the peaceful dove decoration at the doctor’s office while coping with a raging colon? It is amazing what can be funny!

Another lesson that I learned is that sometimes dreams get postponed with a chronic illness. As I watched a yellow school bus rumble down the country road, I cried. I knew I would not be teaching that fall. I had been too ill. The next summer, I happily agreed to teach second grade. I was nearing the end of my graduate school coursework, when I was hospitalized with Crohn’s. I had to drop a required class. My dream of a masters degree focusing on early childhood studies was realized a year and a half later. Then, I met Ted! We fell in love and wished to become engaged. Sick. Again! The following year we were married. I have learned that it is very important for people with chronic illnesses to have dreams and to keep pursuing them. Dreams give hope for living.

I have a quote by Dorothy Bernard pasted in a journal. It states, “Courage—fear that has said its prayers.” You have to have courage to LIVE with a chronic illness. To me this means courage to need friends to support you, courage to pursue delayed dreams and courage to find humor in a disease that is unpredictable and has no cure. I LIVE with Crohn’s. Though chronic illness has been a difficult teacher, I have learned from it.