"Why does it feel so good to get rid of things? To unload? To let go? Maybe because when we see how little we actually need to survive, it makes us realize how powerful we actually are. To strip down to only what we need. To hang on to only what we can't do without. Not just to survive, but to thrive." - Meredith Grey
I think we’ve all been there. You’ve got a piece of gossip or a secret you just can’t hold in and the feeling of finally telling someone is just such a sigh of relief. But usually we get so caught up in the sense of telling the secret we forget the impact that it will have on the person you told, the person it was about and most of all you.
What I want to talk about is when you have a secret that doesn’t concern someone else but you and your health. For a very long time, my Crohn's disease was my little secret. That unspoken thing which I would keep to myself out of shear fear of embarrassment of what people would think if I told them.
I really can’t explain the sense of relief I felt telling my friends about my diagnosis and up until that point I never really understood how it felt to have ‘the weight of the world off your shoulders’.
I know for some of you reading this may think 'what is the big deal'?
I’ve always been a private person in my life and when diagnosed with Crohn’s no one knew apart from my family. I would go out of my way to change the subject of conversation whenever my health was brought up from the simple “you look tired, you OK?” to the “you look really different…like sick”. I’d simply brush off these comments with your usually “I didn’t sleep much last night I’m fine just tired” swiftly making a joke changing the subject completely.
It wasn’t until my second year of university (about 2010) when I finally felt comfortable enough to tell some of my closest friends as to what was really going on with me. I wish I did it sooner because it felt like I was letting go of all this unnecessary emotional baggage I was carrying at the time. It finally gave me an outlet to confide how I was feeling to people outside of my family who in reality may not understand what I am going through but would be there nonetheless to share the journey with me.
Telling someone something personal about yourself is never easy, especially if you have a condition which you yourself feel embarrassed by. But the decision to tell someone, should be yours and yours only to be done in your own time.
What I want to share with you is the benefits that can come from confiding in people which I found to help me with my Crohn's.
As mentioned in my previous post, when you’re diagnosed with a chronic illness it can be like your life is spinning out of control. This is what I felt as post-diagnosis my life was filled with hospital appointments, blood tests and follow-up investigations which made me feel like my illness was dictating my life. I was also embarrassed of my condition, as it's not the most glamorous thing to talk about and so I felt I couldn’t tell anyone out of fear of being ridiculed. But the moment I did tell people outside my family, it really did feel like I was able to slowly gain control of my life and not the other way around. I admit, gaining back control didn't happen overnight but it was through the small things such as didn't have to make an excuse or fake a phone call to cover the fact I was constantly making trips to the loo.
I know everyone goes through some form of stress, with or without a medical condition, and the last thing anyone wants is to add more stress. It also certainly doesn’t help going through the stresses of life and having to deal with the stress of waiting for hospital appointments or procedure results, while trying to navigate your way through university life with academic, social and co-curricular commitments in between. Many may not feel comfortable enough or trust others enough to tell someone about their chronic illness but all I can say from experience that if you have a few good friends that care about you, then telling them can be a huge stress relief in managing your emotional and mental health, as it was with me. I didn't have to worry anymore if I was to cancel plans that were made with my friends on the day as they knew how unpredictable my condition was. Especially during the early years of university where I was going on and off different treatments that didn't exactly leave me feeling great.
By telling friends about your situation will not only help them be aware of what has been going on with you but you can help them understand what you are going through. This can help them be more understanding as to why you may be late to things or may be unable to attend events or cancel plans at the last minute without you feeling guilty as mentioned before this can help with your stress levels. Most people don't like to open up because they see it as a sign of weakness and they don't like the feeling of vulnerability. But this in itself is a chance to grow as a person by showing that you are capable of letting your guard down and that you are human. It's hard to put up a front 24/7 showing that there is nothing wrong with you, but this refusal to acknowledge that your illness makes you unique and an interesting person can be the one thing that is holding you back from beating it.
Holding back and keeping everything inside can make you feel alone which in itself is an unhealthy battle to keep bottled up inside. This can make you feel isolated to the point where you only feel safe in your comfort zone which is at home. Staying at home isn't a bad thing but I went through a phase where I wouldn't attend social events or meet up with friends because I would never know what my Crohn's had in store for me on that day. This just resulted in me scrolling through social media looking at pictures from the events I didn't go to and it made me feel so alone and isolated. It was so easy to just stay at home and hide and the more and more you do so the more you lose touch with the outside world. Having a great support system made up of friends can help you get out of the house becoming more active and most certainly will help improve your mood and outlook on life.
I suppose the take home message here, is yes having a chronic illness can suck sometimes, but it is no reason to let it get the better of you. Life is there to be lived. Go live it. Enjoy every moment and relish the opportunities to experience something new.