Those of us with Crohn’s disease are often told that because our condition is incurable, we need to “accept it as a part of life” and “just live with it”. On the other hand, we are also told that we can’t let our disease define us, or “win”. Separated, these phrases are valuable pieces of advice and can inspire us to find happiness even when we feel sick. I mean, who doesn’t feel a burst of inspiration when they’re told “be a fighter!”? However, when read one after the other, these “words of wisdom” completely contradict each other. How are we supposed to accept Crohn’s as part of our lives but not let it “beat” us? The answer is surprisingly simple; it’s only one word. It starts with an E, and sounds like shoelace. Yep, you guessed it; it’s embrace :). As much as we would like to just ignore IBD and shove it into a closet, as hard as we try, it won’t work; it’s still going to be there. This gives us two options: we can embrace it, or let it define us.
So what’s the difference between embracing and defining anyway? And why is it better to embrace IBD than let it define you? Let’s start with the basics. What do these words even mean?
Embrace: Dictionary definition 1: To hold (someone) closely in one’s arms, especially as a sign of affection. As in a hug. Okayyyy… so you should give your stomach a big hug? That sounds painful. Dictionary definition 2: To accept or support (a belief, theory, or change) willingly and enthusiastically. As in welcome. “Hey, Crohn’s! Welcome to my body! I’m so glad to have you here! Just make yourself at home attacking my intestines!”. Wow. Sounds great… don’t you agree? Just remember the word welcome, okay? It’s important.
Define: Dictionary definition 1: To state or describe exactly the nature, scope, or meaning of. As in explain. Alright; I see no connections whatsoever, so I’m not even gonna try. Dictionary definition 2: To mark out the boundary or limits of. As in decide. Remember the word decide, too. It’s also important.
So, we have two words to replace the original embrace and define. They are welcome, and decide. Now, we must interpret. (Trust me, it’s not as scary as it sounds.)
If embrace means to welcome, if we choose to embrace our disease, we are going to be accepting it willingly. That means that you, yourself, (yes, I’m talking to you there, with the face), must choose to let your Crohn’s enter your life. I don’t care that it will anyway. You need to make that choice that you, the person reading this right now, is going to willingly let IBD into your world. It sounds like a pretty bad choice, right? Well, then check this out: there’s another option. You can also pick the word define. Here’s the catch: If define means to place limits and decide, this means that you are not only letting Crohn’s into your life, but you are also letting it decide things for you. Now which word do you wanna pick?
If I were you, I’d pick embrace. Why? Because by choosing to embrace your IBD, you are accepting that it’s there and becoming “friendly” with it, just as you would a guest who you welcome into you home. This enables you to have a sense of control. However, by choosing to let IBD define you, you are not only letting it in your life, but you are also letting it decide things for you and set limits. This allows your Crohn’s to rule your life, making it a much bigger challenge than it needs to be. Either way, you’re going to have to let Crohn’s in. But if you embrace it, you don’t have to let it control you, and you face obstacles with a much more optimistic outlook.
Okay…but how do I do that?
While you may realize that it’s best to embrace your IBD, it may be hard to do so without acting like a cheesy salesperson trying to sell your disease. When you embrace your condition, you are accepting it into your life and using it as a helpful tool. By willingly and consciously supporting your IBD, as silly as it sounds, you end up realizing that it does have some “perks”. (Check out my about me page for examples).
Now, that being said, you don’t have to be some heroic poster child who raises millions of dollars for Crohn’s research. In fact, you don’t have to raise any awareness at all if you don’t want to. All you have to do to truly embrace your IBD is support yourself and your needs without trying to hide them. Let’s use the birthday party example:
Say your best friend has a party at a restaurant that you love, but you know the food will make you sick. You can choose to ignore you disease, embrace it, or let it define you:
Ignore: Eat the food anyway, but feel guilty about your decisions. Sit there for the rest of the time feeling awful. Even if you get away with ignoring it this time, you can’t hide it forever. So, this shouldn’t really even be an option.
Embrace: Eat before the party, or bring your own food. If someone asks you why you aren’t eating the party food, just say something like “I have a stomach problem, but my food’s pretty good”, and strike up a conversation about something else. You are supporting your needs but also not over-submerging yourself in IBD land. Good job! This is the happy medium.
Define: Don’t even bother going, or bring your own food to the party but be miserable thinking about everything you can’t eat. Blame Crohn’s for your unhappiness. If someone asks why you’re not eating, just say “not hungry”. While this may seem like the easy way out, you end up feeling bad about yourself and your condition, especially in social situations. You let IBD embarrass you, and limit the places you go/with whom you go with. This is not the way to go if you are trying to accept your disease, because one day, you’re going to have to stop hiding it, and it only gets harder the longer you wait.
When you embrace Crohn’s, you are still able to do everything you love doing because you are in control. Sometimes, you just have to change a few things, but that’s okay. Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to go to every party or sports game even when you don’t feel well. By embracing your IBD, you can say “no” without feeling embarrassed. You can eat special food without feeling weird. You can take complicated medicine without feeling strange. All you have to do it make the choice. Choose to embrace Crohn’s, choose to welcome it, choose to be supportive of it, and you will find that you are still you, with or without IBD.
Even if you take all your medicine and eat all the right food and still feel sick, realize that you haven’t lost control. You still have a choice; you can embrace your Crohn’s by supporting your needs and having hope for the future, or you can let it define you. The choice is yours.