Don’t let the title mislead you, I would give up having Crohn’s disease in a heartbeat. But, there’s a silver lining to having Crohn’s. It’s given me fresh perspectives I wouldn’t have otherwise, and it’s changed the way I think about and do many things.

I’m more considerate. Everybody is fighting an invisible battle. More than before I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. That seemingly angry and unapproachable person on the subway might be someone who’s in a lot of pain and needing to get home.

I take better care of myself. I pay attention to everything I do and how it impacts my situation. I eat better, exercise more, try to sleep well and avoid unnecessary stress. As nuts as this sounds, all my efforts to battle Crohn’s have left me overall healthier than I was pre-Crohn’s. This isn’t as exhausting as it sounds. Occasionally I choose to do things bad for my health, but when I do, I’m in control.

I don’t overindulge. There was a time when having a bite or two of something I was craving would feel like a tease. But, now I’m satisfied with just a taste. I save treats for the end of a meal when I’m already full. Then I enjoy a few bites without losing control. Overeating makes me feel sick, and it’s not worth it.

I value my health more than ever. Living with Crohn’s disease forces me to focus on the big picture. I think about my health over the next 30 years versus the next three months. I want to live a long and mostly symptom-free life full of activity and adventure with friends and family. With this in mind, I can navigate the short-term setbacks.

I’m better at controlling stress. Like others with IBD, high-stress situations worsen my symptoms. I feel them in my gut almost immediately. Living with Crohn’s has taught me how to control my emotions instead of surrendering to knee-jerk reactions. When a stressful situation presents itself I look for signs that my stress level is increasing. Is my heart rate up? Am I angry or frustrated suddenly? Identifying these responses keeps them in check. Then I follow up with slow, measured deep breaths. Being able to control how I react to these situations has benefited my health and relationships.

I’ve had a preview of old age. Thanks to Crohn’s disease, I’ve felt much older than my age. I’ve had my back go out. I can’t always sleep through the night without having to get up to use the bathroom. I’ve fallen asleep mid-conversation. I can’t finish a movie without dozing off. I’ve needed help to put my luggage in an overhead bin. I’ve had more colonoscopies than I can count. I could go on and on.

To me, old age isn’t a number, it’s the inability to take part in activities because of one’s health.

With apologies to our older crowd, these aren’t things I wanted to face in my 20s or 30s. But, experiencing them has motivated me to do whatever I can to feel young in mind and body for as long as possible. I tell myself I’ve been “old” once, and unless I want to feel that way for a good percentage of my life, I need to be proactive now.

Conclusion

For me, Crohn’s disease forced change in my life. I suspect that’s true for everyone with this disease. I needed to make these changes work for me. So, I used having Crohn’s as an opportunity to assess what’s really important to me and to drop the bad habits working against my better interests.

Crohn’s disease taught me to look for the silver lining. Most bad situations have one. I find looking for them to be helpful. Here’s one of mine:

Bad situation: Because of my Crohn’s I can no longer eat wherever or whatever I want.
Silver lining: I eat more nutritious foods and save a heck of a lot of money not eating out.

I’d love to hear from you! What’s one of your major frustrations living with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis? And, what’s the silver lining?

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