Hi! My name is Lauren, I’m 27 years old and I have Crohn’s disease, which is a life-long condition with currently no cure. I was diagnosed in 2018 after being misdiagnosed with IBS for three years. What followed has been five years of hospital admissions, medications, pain, and uncertainty. But there have also been some wonderful silver linings to come from everything I’ve been through, which I want to talk to you about too!
Crohn’s disease has affected my identity in many ways. I think this shows in the way that I introduced myself up top– “My name is Lauren and I have Crohn’s Disease”, rather than “my name is Lauren and I am doing my Doctorate training to be a Clinical Psychologist, I love my dog, I’m getting married” etc. It takes up so much space in who I am and how I identify myself because it creeps into every aspect of my existence.
I’m resentful that the amount of time I have spent in hospitals has potentially pushed me back in my career, impacted my relationships, and made it impossible for me to plan for the future without a hint of concern. I’m the only person in my friend group, that I know of, that has to worry in real time about when their next hospital admission will be, or their next surgery. I worry about feeling poorly on my wedding day or needing to go to hospital when I go on holiday, which when you are just trying to have fun can be really draining and also just a bit of a buzzkill!
The constant worry and the comparison I make between myself and other people without this condition impact my mental health. I have had various diagnoses of mental health conditions throughout my life, even prior to Crohn’s disease, which I think does make me more susceptible to struggling with the condition. As you may be able to tell I’m super career-driven, so when I have to take time off work to manage pain or be in hospital this can make me feel really hopeless for the future. The condition itself can feel really isolating too– no one talks about poop! So finding other people who are struggling with the same thing can sometimes be difficult, especially if you don’t have the right channels for accessing this. I also think that in general there is a lack of understanding from the outside world about the impact of this illness, “it’s just a pooping disease”, but actually this illness can be incredibly severe, change your life, and even put your life at risk sometimes, as it did with me. I don’t think many people realize its severity because it’s not something you can visibly see on the outside. This lack of understanding adds to feelings of isolation and loneliness, speaking from my experience. I think this is where my idea to talk about it so openly came from.
I’m really outgoing and certainly not a shy person, so I created an Instagram account to help spread awareness and put poop on the agenda! Afterward, I really feel like I discovered what the term “post-traumatic growth” really means. Despite looking different from everyone else around me, I felt more confident and proud of myself than I had ever felt before. I studied and learned about Crohn’s disease, about Stomas and I became my own advocate and tried to advocate for others too. I found a passion in sharing my story and spreading awareness which I still feel so strongly about two years later! I also had a new appreciation for my body that transcended what size I am and how I look. Now it is more about the ability of the human body to survive and keep me alive and that it deserves love and acceptance, not diets and punishment.
Since then, I have had so many amazing opportunities that I value so much, and I hope that they make other people feel less alone. I have written articles like this one, done photoshoots, been invited to be on TV, and even spoke in UK parliament about national policy for Crohn’s and Colitis care in the UK. I am honestly writing this part with the biggest smile on my face.
I will never, ever, be thankful for Crohn’s disease coming into my life and the pain this causes but I am thankful for the person that Crohn’s disease has turned me into.
I see everyone who lives with Crohn’s or Colitis as a true warrior and often people don’t see their own strength, but it’s there. I want people with Crohn’s and Colitis to know they are not alone and that I stand with you, that it’s okay to talk about poop and you deserve to project your inner strength that it takes to live with this condition out into the world for others to see. You will always have a shared experience with me and the millions of other people around the world who try to navigate life with this condition. I think it’s important to share what this illness takes away from people and the strength it takes to get through that each and every day.