Hope Warrior: Alyssa

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Hope Warrior-Colitis Ninja

I found Colitis Ninja on Twitter when I was looking for support/trying to find anyone to relate to what I was going through when I was in and out of the hospital in May. Her mission is incredible, the sole purpose is to support people suffering from IBD, and not just the patients but also the caregivers (so important!!). Her honesty on her blog is so refreshing and she’s just a great friend to have and an important part of the IBD community.  Plus she’s quick to respond to any question and checks in to see how you are doing! It’s continues to impress me the love and support I get from strangers and other people I have never met before.

I’m so thankful for what Colitis Ninja has created, and for the hope that she brings for anyone suffering with a disease. The disease sucks. It’s not just a poop disease. It’s real, it hurts, and it’s scary. When you can find strangers to support you in your fight for a cure, or for remission, or for recovery from surgery, or just to make it through the day, it brings a light into your life that might have been dimmed out a little bit.It’s encouraging, it’s empowering, and it helps me continue to kick this disease in the tushe (yea, tushe). So thanks for sharing that light, Colitis Ninja. You are so appreciated.

 

If you are suffering from IBD, or know someone that is, or just want to learn more about the disease, Colitis Ninja is an incredible resource and so, so supportive. Give her a shout on Twitter, or watch some of her YouTube videos and reach out on FaceBook. And don’t forget to subscribe to the blog. I was lucky enough to get her to answer some questions for me about her experience with IBD. Look into participating in her #showmethemummy awareness campaign (Look for my post soon!)

TWITTER: @ColitisNinja
ShowMe1
What is the number one thing you’ve learned about yourself since your diagnosis?

This is a hard one. I have learned that I am stubborn (in both good and bad ways). I am also very prideful, and I’ve learned that sometimes I just need to let things go. 

When were you diagnosed?
Valentine’s Day 2011. I was blessed to get a quick diagnosis. I had only been suffering for a month and a half.

What are your current medications/what lifestyle changes have you made to treat your IBD?
I now have a j-pouch. I had the ileal pouch anal anastomosis surgery… in short, I had my colon removed. Right now, thankfully, I am not on any medications.
I tried multiple medications/diet changes and in the end, I had to have surgery.

How do you keep your mental health intact while dealing with the symptoms/changes of the disease?
For me, prayer–and lots of it!!! But not just that, being able to talk with others about it has been very helpful. Knowing I’m not alone in my suffering. Support is SOOO much more important that most people realize. A lot of people suffer unnecessarily alone and in silence. 

What do you struggle with most? What are you doing to overcome it?
I guess the thing that has hurt me the most (aside from the physical pain) is that I feel as though I was “robbed” of my black belt. Some people may think that is silly, but I fell in love with karate long before I started practicing it. I was 6 months away from my black belt when UC hit. I couldn’t go to my classes because I was glued to the toilet and anemic. Then there’s the whole Prednisone issue. It made my joints stiff and very achy. Not good when you’re in difficult stances. I have taken a step back and realized that just because UC came at the wrong time, it doesn’t mean I’ll never reach my goal. I am feeling much better since my surgery and I’m hoping that I can get back into it around the beginning of the year. Maybe even compete. The only thing is, I’ve moved 3 hours away from my dojo and finding a new (and suitable) one has proven to be another obstacle.

Any advice for newly diagnosed? 
My first thought when I was diagnosed was, “Good! All I have to do is take my meds every day and I’ll be alright!!!” Then it became the biggest and most frustrating battle of my life. I would tell someone in the same situation that this battle is neither fun nor easy. I would tell them don’t let it get you down! Find support. Don’t be afraid to try different treatments or diets! There are many people out there who claim to have been successful on alternative remedies. Never lose your passions. Never let this disease knock you down. You will have downs, but you will also have ups. You are stronger than you think you are.

Rules to live by?
Never lose sight of who you are and what you want to accomplish in life. 

Quote you turn to when you need to be uplifted:
“Now this is what the LORD says–the One who created you, O Jacob, and the one who formed you, Israel–‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. I will be with you when you pass through the waters, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire, and the flame will not burn you. (…) Because you are precious in My sight, and honored, and I love you, I will give people in exchange for you and nations instead of your life. Do not fear, for I am with you…”
–Isaiah 43:1-2 & 4-5a

Music/Song: 
So many. First, anything by Owl City. I dare anyone to listen to his songs and contain themselves. Such upbeat and encouraging stuff. My favorites include (but are not limited to) “When Can I See You Again?,” “Galaxies,” and “Dreams and Disasters.” Also, I adore Jon McLaughlin. That man has talent!!!

Go to Snack when flaring
Chocolate. Potatoes. Macaroni.

Activity that lifts your spirits:
Karate. Drawing. Blogging.

Your philosophy/mantra that you’d like others to know about you. 
I am a Christian. I am far from perfect. Without Christ, I would have given up on life a long time ago. I’ve had many battles (a lot of them UC related, but not all), and without the strength and grace He has given me I would be a wreck right now. I’ve had many nights and angry words with Him, but He always has my best interests at heart and He has NEVER given up on me even though I’ve given Him several reasons to.

What would you do with a million dollars?
Firstly, I’ll be honest, I would pay off the student loan debt I’ve acquired. I would invest some of it in Colitis Ninja to raise awareness and probably donate some to some of my friends who cannot pay their medical bills because of IBD. 

Who do you admire?
My husband, Dave, for his wisdom. Don Byington, my karate instructor. Multiple IBD fighters (too many to name!!!).

What is your mission?
I am VERY passionate about raising awareness and helping other people through their suffering. I want others to know that they are not alone. I want others to see that although these times are hard, there is also a beauty in the suffering. That’s been my experience anyway. I want to make others laugh. We do enough crying and mourning over our diseases, sometimes we just need some joy in our lives.

 

Hope and Guilt

Guilt. A bad feeling caused by knowing you did or thinking that you have done something wrong, according to Webster.

With this disease, I’ve been struggling with feelings of guilt. Guilt about taking medications, being in pain, being unable to attend events, eating, sleeping, and many other things. Mostly though, I feel my guiltiest when I feel like I’m being lazy, or at the thought of being viewed as lazy.  I often find myself pushing to get through an entire to do list of errands and tasks. And for what? To prove that I have what it takes to run errands and feel accomplished? To show I’m a functioning member of society? To show that I’m capable? These are all noble attributes and nothing worth scolding myself for. So I can knock tasks off my list without a single nap. What am I trying to prove?

I feel like I’m fighting my disease in this manner. I want to do it all. I want to be that friend, that girlfriend, that daughter, that advocate, that yogi, that writer, that inspiration. I don’t want to have this disease impose limits on me or give it control over my life. But, I’m learning, there’s a difference between succumbing to my disease and letting it defeat me: or accepting the disease as part of me and learning to live WITH it.

Yesterday, I was exhausted. And I felt so guilty about sleeping in and laying around for a couple hours watching Netflix and then reading out on the porch. It was Saturday, and I was down on myself for going easy. Granted, I slept less than 5-6 hours a night this week. I was released from the hospital a month ago. I returned to work full time 2 weeks ago. I’ve moved houses, started remicade infusion and now my body has been hijacked by steroid side effects. I’m wringing my eye mask out and stripping out of drenched clothes in the middle of the night from sweating. My face is swollen, my joints ache, and I swing from happy to sad to wanting to throw things every ten minutes. And I’m feeling guilty about wanting to do nothing for a few hours on a Saturday morning.

I don’t want to make excuses. I grew up with a mom who struggled with depression disorders and always needed naps before doing the dishes or couldn’t make it to events or clean or remember commitments because she was too tired. I understand more about her illness now and don’t judge her for needing that time. I know now that this is just part of her, and she does what she can. But I hate when I need it for myself. I have the ambition and I want to feel accomplished. I don’t want to be viewed as lazy or unable.

But I am limited right now.

I’m still healing. And this disease does not have a cure. This disease does not have a cure. When is this going to sink in? Even though I’m nearing remission, I’m still going to be battling this and dealing with symptoms for the rest of my life. This is an autoimmune disease. My body attacks itself. And I’m fueling the fire with guilt about it. So how do I go from battling and fighting to acceptance and building a life around it?

I need a plan.

First of all, time to stop the negative self talk. So, I’m tired. That does not make me a miserable excuse for a human being. It makes me human. A human with a chronic illness. Is it possible to be tired and happy at the same time? What a novel idea.

Step one: If you’re tired, be tired.

But you don’t have to be upset about it. Just be tired, do what you can, and move on .

So you can’t get to all the items on your to do list of the day. Can some things get done tomorrow? Of course. What is really important? Is it even on that list?

Step two: Determine what is important to you

PS.. It should be what makes you feel good. Why have a list of things to do that make you feel worse? You already have a disease trying to do that, remember?

Now time to face the big guns. As much as I don’t want to admit it, there’s a part of me that does care what other people think. Luckily, I have an awesome support system that listens to my ramblings and tends to love me anyway. Other people outside of my circle don’t matter so much. But my inner circle, I don’t want to disappoint them. Sometimes it feels like they’re waiting for me to be “back to normal,” whatever the hell that is. And I don’t know that going back to who I was before is ever going to happen. I might always be a little bit limited. My endurance and strength may never be where they were before, at least physically. Mentally I could blow away the competition in those two categories. I know they’ll love and accept me anyway, but again, I don’t want to disappoint them. They’ve fought right along with me in prayer and hope and positive thinking and I don’t want them to let them down by not healing fully. I know it’s something that will take more understanding and acceptance what this disease really is. And I have to come to terms with this as well. I’m just not the same. And that’s not a bad thing.

Step 3:Talk to inner circle. Believe them when they say you are strong and it’s okay to rest.

They don’t think you’re lazy. They want you to be healthy and happy too. You aren’t letting them down by taking care of yourself. This is the part that you need to do in order to heal and make those prayers answerable.

 

So, these are the things I’m going to work on while embracing (wince) my inflammatory bowel disease. Dear colon, I hug you. Let’s be friends, okay? We’re in this together. Anyone else out there deal with the guilt? How do you manage?

WORLD IBD DAY- Hope in the Beatles

In honor of world IBD day and in honor of my 28th trip around the sun today, I’m reposting one of my favorite posts about my IBD story. I will never forget how this disease makes me feel. I will never stop being grateful, and letting others know they aren’t alone.

Been doing a lot of listening to the Beatles and anything on the Beatles Pandora station lately.

Here Comes the Sun always brings me to tears. Good tears. Something about the smiles returning to the faces, it seems like years since they’ve been here. I can feel that. And it’s such a good feeling.

Man, this last month has been…not describable in one word. Not really describable in one post either, which is why I haven’t been sitting and writing lately. Shame, shame, for I really wish I would have documented more. But I remember. I remember sleeping, or trying to sleep sitting propped up on my mom’s couch with a million blankets, only to throw them all off of me to sprint to the bathroom 6-7 times a night. Laying there with my hands hovering over my stomach, praying and pleading with God to make the cramping pain just stop so I could sleep. I remember feeling such loss and loneliness every time my boyfriend would go home after coming to visit me, just wanting so badly to feel better and be there with him, helping him with the purchase of our new home and packing and moving and just wanting my life back.

Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here

I remember the look of exasperation on my mom’s face when I wasn’t getting better, and the look of love as she made all of my meals to try and get some nutrition in me, and her talking to me about how important it is to have faith, and God would get me through this, He would answer our prayers. I remember her sitting in the car and praying with me for good news before we went in to my colonoscopy. Praying for answers, for results, for improvements. I remember her telling me that I will get better. That I’m an overcomer. And telling me it’s okay to cry. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength. I remember her packing my hospital bag, buying random items from the gift shop to make me smile, taking care of my dog and bringing me water or pedialyte or blankets whenever I needed it.

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right

I remember my dad sitting by my bedside in the atrociously uncomfortable hospital chairs. All day. Every day I was at the hospital that he could be there. Even when I was just sleeping. I remember how tired he looked. How he drove around aimlessly and prayed for answers, and pondered unanswerable questions with me. What causes this disease? Why do I have it? What are we going to do about it? When am I going to be better? How can we get other people to understand this? What’s the bigger meaning beyond this? I remember him going for walks with me down the hall, and joking with the nurses.

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here

I remember the nurses. The good ones mostly. But I also remember the one that blew up my vein when giving me a steroid infusion. And the one that said I was admitted for IBS. (IBS and IBD are two different ailments, one is a syndrome and one is a disease with no cure). I remember Jim, my favorite night nurse from  my first hospital stay at the beginning of the month, making jokes and giving advice on how to talk to the doctors to make sure I was heard. I remember on my second hospital stay, him coming to tell me hospital ghost stories and making jokes while I was getting emotional from the steroids and just not having any answers or improvement. I remember my favorite day nurse Jannell with her poufy hair and outspoken voice, telling me that I was one of the sickest patients she’s ever had, calling me Jack and telling me stories. I remember waking up to her Sunday morning telling me I needed blood asap and we were going to be doing a blood transfusion today. I remember being scared and sad and she told me everything was going to be okay, that she would be here the whole time and that I had choices. That it was going to be a good thing and she would be there the whole time.

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right

I remember the changes in the medications. The discharges. The parasite. The antibiotics. The stomach acid burning. The we’re going to do remicade. The no we can’t do remicade until you’re stable. The phone calls from my doctors cell phone that I needed to make myself available to be admitted to the hospital. The colonoscopy that was useless because I was too inflamed. The TB test that was incomplete because I didn’t have a baseline to compare it to my immune system was so shot. The chest x ray. The blood draws. The IV team being called because I have terrible veins. Baby needles. Poke after poke after poke after poke. The waking up to check vitals. Low blood pressure, high heart rate, danger of organ failure. Blood loss. Cramping. Tears. Weight loss. Worry. Treatment plan change. New doctor. Infectious disease specialist. Lifelong medications. Steroid infusions. Steroid pills. Night sweats. Sharing a bathroom with other patients. Not making it to the bathroom on time. IV poles. Unable to stand in the shower on my own. Passing out while buying dog food. Collapsing on the stairs into the house when my legs gave out from under me. Shaking. Scared.

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes

I remember the night my boyfriend came to visit me at my mom’s house in the evening. I remember when he looked me in the eye and told me “I need you to get better. Now. I miss you.” I remember his text messages telling me that he was always going to be here, that even though I am sick now, and not to undermine my illness, but this is part of life and we will get through it together. That he’s going to be there for me in the good times and the bad. That we’re a good team and when one of us needs the other one to be strong we balance each other out. I remember getting strength just from holding his hand. I remember just being held in his arms when I was able to move into our new home. Just being so grateful to have time together, to be able to have our new home, to relax and to heal and to make memories and be together. I remember sitting outside and crying just tears of joy at how lucky and blessed I am to be here and able to experience these moments of love and to just feel happiness.

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear

I remember the prayers. I remember my grandma coming to visit me at my mom’s house and crying on the couch with me. I remember her telling me that she does her walks in the basement and says her prayers. That she won’t stop, ever. I remember my aunts sending prayers and prayer chains and being on church lists. My grandma’s brother even did a whole sermon on me. I remember the novelas, my grandma praying every hour on the hour for my healing. Saying she won’t give up. I remember the prayers and visits and emails and texts from wonderful friends that I now consider family, bringing laughter and cheer and Golden Girls cards and books and magazines, and just checking in daily to see how I’m doing, sending pictures and memories past to bring smiles. I remember the encouragement from social networks, people I have never met before praying and sending kind thoughts and positive vibes. The power of prayers. And they were answered.

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
It’s all right, it’s all right

I remember getting discharged and my mom wheeling me out to the car to my waiting dog, and how he put his head right on my shoulder and just hugged me. I remember being weak and unable to walk through the grocery store, riding an amigo to get food. I remember sleeping and sleeping. I remember the first infusion. And the naps afterwards. And the feeling better the next day. Feeling stronger every single day. Doing a little more each day. I don’t want to forget it. I don’t want to lose sight of the beauty of this life. Because it is so beautiful. There is so much to be thankful for. I know that sick days can come again. I don’t have control over when this can happen. It’s not my plan, it’s His. But I do know that what I can do right now, is shine like the sun. And share love. And light. and hope with the rest of the world. Because it’s there. You just have to believe it.

Here comes the sun. It’s all right. 20140531_210240