Living with Ulcerative colitis is a lot like trying not to disturb a bear- the consequences can and will be painful. I have lived with UC for almost twenty years and I have managed to build a life in spite of the disease. I was twenty-two years old and a senior in college when the symptoms first appeared.
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease which affects over 900,000 Americans of all genders and races.1 Ulcerative colitis is inflammation of the colon, which can cause the following symptoms:
-Diarrhea (with blood or pus in the stool)
-Anemia due to the loss of blood
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please seek medical treatment as soon as possible. If you are referred to a specialist, the specialist will want to perform a colonoscopy to confirm the diagnosis. As of now, there is no cure for Ulcerative colitis or any other inflammatory bowel disease, it can only be controlled through diet, medication, exercise, and managing stress levels.
UC is a lifelong diagnosis and a lifelong adversary, due to the flare-ups you may experience. In my particular situation, my UC went into remission for years, and I was able for a period of time not take any medication. However, my symptoms came back and I currently take two medications to control it- one a biologic I have to inject and new pills I am waiting to take effect. My last medication stopped working after three years.
Concerning the treatment of flare ups, your doctor will more than likely provide you with a steroid to help get the inflammation under control. Always make sure you study up on the medicine your prescribed, because all medicines have side effects, as do steroids.
Another way to help control the flares is to manage your diet. Test to see if certain foods trigger your symptoms- foods such as dairy products, caffeine, carbonated drinks, alcohol, high fiber foods, fried and fatty foods, breads, etc can affect UC.
Taking care of your mental health is also essential in dealing with UC. The constant sickness and pain can make you fatigued, which can lead to depression. The fear of having a flare up can cause anxiety about going out in public or even going to work. If you must, talk to a spiritual or mental health counselor concerning your situation.
UC has changed my life and it has changed the lives of my family. My UC recovery is also complicated by other autoimmune diseases such as hypothyroidism, Celiac disease, and osteopenia. However, in spite of these circumstances, I am determined to live my life to the fullest and to try and help others who are facing this problem. It is possible to live a satisfying life, even with UC.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million people over the age of 18.1
I am one of those 40 million people. As far back as I can remember, anxiety has dominated my life. Being anxious is part of the human condition- it’s the nerves before a presentation or a big game, a first date, or a job interview. However, anxiety becomes an issue when it hinders decision making and holds you back from living the life you want to live. I can’t tell you the number of times my anxiety has talked me out of potential opportunities because deep down, I didn’t feel worthy of said opportunities or the imagined potential disaster. As the saying goes, “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”
Anxiety is a bully, taunting and mocking you constantly. If anxiety brings along his buddy, depression, then you’re in for a really bad, no good, awful day. In my experience with anxiety, I for many years did not label it as anxiety. I and others thought of me as “quiet,” or “shy,” or my personal favorite, “socially awkward.” Though great strides have been made in the medical and psychiatric fields concerning the awareness, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health issues, there is still a stigma associated with mental illness. For those with anxiety, depression, or any other illness, having to fight our inner battle with the outside perceptions of others can delay our healing process as it did with mine. Mental illness is a serious issue, it should never be joked about or dismissed. Just because someone doesn’t “look sick” doesn’t mean their issues should be swept aside with flippant comments such as “What do you have to be depressed about?” “It’s all in your head.” “You need to do more of this (pray, give it to God, etc),or “Get over it.” If a friend or family member had cancer would you tell them, “Turn that frown upside down and suck it up”? I would hope not. People with mental illness are not weak or lazy, as they are some of the strongest people out there because they fight every day to get up and try to live a “normal” and highly functional life. Compound a mental illness with any number of autoimmune diseases, and life becomes even more difficult.
Since I have done my own research into my anxiety, I can truly see how much it has controlled my life. When my anxiety was triggered, physical symptoms would follow: deep breathing, shaking hands, a racing heartbeat, the “fight or flight” response, becoming agitated, stuttering and stammering over my words, all of which made want to dig a hole and hide. These attacks would come on during social situations such as job interviews, leaving the house to go to work, or simply going to family gatherings. However, people often comment about how calm I am and never appear to be rattled, which in all honesty is my learned ability not to show the outside world what’s going on inside of my mind. The next time you watch ducks swimming on a lake or pond, just remember those calm, peaceful birds are peddling their legs in the water as fast as they can; I believe that is a fitting analogy for how I have managed to hide my anxiety.
I tried different techniques over the years to deal with my anxiety and depression. The first is that sheer will power “put your nose to the grindstone” mentality. That only wore me out and wore down my nose. I came to faith in Jesus Christ back in 1999, which I hoped my faith, studying the Bible, praying, and “Let go and let God” would free me from this darkness. After all, Jesus said not to worry (Matthew 6:25) and the Apostle Paul said, “Be anxious for nothing,”(Philippians 4:6), plus there are 365 verses in the entire Bible that tell us to “fear not,” so why be anxious? However, I began to learn that my depression and anxiety were not going to go away by saying prayers or shouting out Scripture. I came to the rational, logical, conclusion that my battle was not with demons or doubt, nor was it because a talking snake convinced two people in a garden to eat a piece of fruit, but there was something wrong with me mentally, biologically, and chemically, which could be treated.
I tried to deal first with the depression and made the decision in 2008 to talk to my family doctor and he prescribed me Prozac, which I took until 2010, when I felt good enough to try to conquer depression on my own. Things were good for a couple of years, then life began to pile up on me: my health declined, my wife had problems with her health, grief and loss, family issues, infertility, a crisis of faith, and being laid off from my middle management job and starting over at the bottom, to changing careers at mid-life. I could not cope and went back on the Prozac from 2016 until mid-2018, when the Prozac stopped being effective. My doctor then prescribed me Celexa, which is also used to treat anxiety. I do feel better mentally, though I am not completely free from depression and anxiety, I do have more good days than bad ones.
Though my faith is not what it used to be, I have found comfort in relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, listening to classical/instrumental music, and trying to implement Stoic philosophy into my life. Stoicism is a practical philosophy, which in a nutshell is managing your responses to what happens to you and determining if the event is within or without of your control. Stoicism is incidentally one of the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Though I know that my war with anxiety and depression are far from over, I have won many recent battles and that gives me hope. My hope for you is that if you are struggling with your mental health, please seek treatment and determine what is best for you. You don’t have to live life as a prisoner of your mind. The keys are within reach, grab them and work on freeing yourself. Stay encouraged, there is hope, there is healing. You can’t erase what has been written,but you can change the narrative. Be the hero of your own story.
Life can be a series of hardships and obstacles. These difficult times can take their toll on us physically, mentally, and spiritually, especially if they drag on for a long time. We can either respond with despair, giving up on life or we can battle back with faith and determination, for ultimately our perceptions of said events are not based on the events themselves, but our responses to them. Our responses in turn, help determine how we face hardships and difficulties.
The Gospel of John records a story of Jesus being in Jerusalem for a festival when He encountered a man at the Pool of Bethesda. The Pool of Bethesda served as a gathering place for people who were sick with all manner of afflictions and diseases. The sick people believed that the pool had healing powers.
“In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.” (John 5:3-4, NKJV).
The Bible tells us that Jesus encountered a man at the pool who had been sick for thirty-eight years. The Bible does not tells us the man’s condition or how he came to be in that condition. Jesus being the great teacher that He was and is, asked the man a question which put the onus of the sick man and cut to the heart of the issue.
“When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time. He said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’” (John 5:6, NKJV).
I believe for anyone who has struggled with a problem for thirty-eight years and God in the flesh walks up to you and asks, “Do you want to get better?” the answer would be an emphatic “Yes.” However, there are people who allow their condition or circumstances to define who they are. In essence, they are not known by their name or identity in Christ, but by sickness, addiction, depression, poverty, etc. When we allow our condition or circumstances to define us, we have a hard time visualizing ourselves being anything other than our situation. Think of how the Israelites complained of the wilderness and claimed they had it better as slaves in Egypt. We do the same thing and make excuses as the man at the pool does.
“The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.’” (John 5:7, NKJV).
Though the man had spent thirty-eight years in his condition and developed excuses as to why he was not well, he was in the right place at the right time. In Hebrew, Bethesda means “House of Mercy.” This man was in the House of Mercy and received mercy from God, despite his condition, despite the excuses.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk.’ And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.” (John 5:8-9, NKJV).
Since it was the Sabbath, this man carrying his bed was accused by the religious authorities of violating the Sabbath and was questioned as to who healed him. The man did not know it was Jesus until he encountered Jesus a second time.
“Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.’” (John 5:14, NKJV).
I do not believe that Jesus told the man his condition was brought on by sin nor does the text indicate the man’s condition was a direct result of a sin he committed. I believe that Jesus is speaking to the man’s need to have his sins forgiven. I believe the “worse thing” Jesus spoke of was an eternity in hell, separated from God because the man did not accept Christ as Savior.
How much of our lives have we wasted not coming to the “House of Mercy” or coming to the “Throne of Grace” and not being made whole? Is there something within our God-given power and responsibility we can do to better ourselves? If we are sick, can we take better care of our bodies by eating right, exercising, or seeking medical treatment? If we are heavily in debt, are there ways to cut our expenses? If we are depressed about what we do not have, can we find joy in what we do have? Even if we are stuck in the middle of the wilderness, remember it is much better than going back into the sin and slavery from which Christ has delivered us. There is a way out and Christ is knocking on the door, waiting for us to open it. God bless you all.