Bring on the cake – today is my diagnosis anniversary!
What do you remember about your 18th birthday?
Was there a party? Maybe a sweet gift? Did you go out and buy lottery tickets and cigarettes because, you know, you can do that now, which probably means you should see what all the fuss is about?
I don't associate my 18th birthday with my entrance into adulthood. I don't really remember how I celebrated. What I do remember is the cosmically twisted gift I got from the universe that year: my Crohn's diagnosis.
I turned the big 1-8 on February 7th, 2010. A few short days later, on February 12th, I received my official diagnosis of IBD. I'd been sick for a while, but now my pain had a form and a name and no expiration date. There's no way to fully explain to you how warped it is to be told, 5 days into your "adult" life, that you're now going to be sick forever.
I am now eight years into that "forever." If I could talk to the 18-year old version of me on that fateful day in 2010, all I could think to say to her is this: you have no idea what's in store. The past eight years have included some of my highest highs and lowest lows because of this disease, and there really isn't a proper how-to guide on how to deal with it.
I'd want to tell her that you'll get sicker than you can imagine. That you'll lose a year of your life to a flare, sitting in your bed rubbing icy hot on your joints and crying about how unfair it all is. I'd want to tell her that you should manage your finances well, because the healthcare system isn't as fair and equitable as you'd hope it would be. I'd want to tell her to keep working hard and doing the things you love, because having an identity outside your illness is important.
I'd want to tell her that the outlook isn't totally bleak. You'll get a lot of moderately healthy years. You'll get to have a pretty normal college experience, getting drunk with your friends and puking in your hands on Chicago's illustrious Blue Line train. You'll make big moves and you won't let your illness scare you. You'll write for major national publications. You'll get vulnerable and tell jokes to a crowd. You'll date, and you'll get promotions, and you'll care for living, breathing animals, and you'll become a semi-bonafide adult.
More than that, this diagnosis will provide you with some surreal experiences that you wouldn't change for the world. You will meet other patients who will totally and completely understand you without having to say much at all. You will help kids cope with their own diagnoses, and the process will change you and make you better in every possible way. You will feel so, so loved by the people in your life, who keep showing up when you need them. You will find a way to write about all of this, and it will connect you to strangers all over the world.
So while I could sit here on this February 12th, my anniversary with Crohn's, and wish things were different, I'm choosing to reflect on my relationship with this disease. I'm choosing to reflect on the experiences it has given me and the empathy it has instilled in me. How it has made me grateful for things that other people take for granted. How it has made me tough. How far I've come from the 18-year old who thought she could ignore this thing until it went away. And how, if this was the shitty card the universe has dealt me, and least I'm in the game and playing for all it's worth.