As I approach the ripe old age of 30, (a little too rapidly for my liking), lately I've noticed a shift in my attitude towards my disease, and towards my body.
I've become much less hung up on how I look and how I appear to others. This preoccupation with my appearance was a running theme throughout my teens and my twenties, as it seems to be for most young women. It's one I'm certainly glad to be finally shaking off.
Most of my youth, up to the age of around 16, was spent looking like a tom-boy and wondering if I'd ever encounter those mythical things known as 'breasts' on my own body. I was both terrified and utterly desperate in equal measure. Thankfully the desperation didn't stretch to firing socks down my jumper or padding out my training bra with newspaper, instead I tried to wait patiently and resigned myself to the fact I'd be unappealing to the opposite sex until the day they arrived.
I didn't realise of course that I wasn't entirely unappealing to the opposite sex, I must've given them very little credit. I did have 'boyfriends' - which I seemed to take literally- and blossoming-men did take an interest in me because I was allegedly funny and smart, but I never at any point thought these interests were of the 'lets go behind the bike sheds' variety. I just assumed they wanted to hear me do funny voices or hilarious impressions of the teachers. Mr Clusker was my specialty, since you ask.
Anyway, time passed and I grew and grew.. And grew.. And all hell broke loose. I won't elaborate as my Dad might see this. Hi dad, love you xx
I became more paranoid about how I looked. I told myself I didn't care but I did. I was borderline obsessed with my stomach; it was always bloated and although I was stick thin I always felt 'fat'. Don't get me wrong, I thankfully by no means had any form of eating disorder, and never let these feelings get in the way of my day to day life. I ate, but again only little bits here and there. I'd be starving then only manage a few mouthfuls and was full. Not just satisfied but full to the point of feeling sick and bloated after every meal. This was my life though, I hadn't known anything else so why would I complain?
The bloated and sore feelings after eating were a chore in my youth, working and studying and doing funny voices all took their toll on my delicate stomach.
I felt fat and often thought, what's the point in making an effort to look good when I'm feeling like this? I looked milk-bottle white most of the time and was always icy cold.
Things escalated until eventually I was seriously ill.
Eventually, as you will no doubt know if you've read my blog before, I saw a few hundred doctors and nurses and was finally diagnosed with Crohn's Disease at the age of 26.
For the past few years I've been in and out of hospital. I've had surgery and multiple unpalatable treatments. I'll undoubtedly be on medication for the rest of my life and hospital stays will be a thing of my future. That's ok. It really is. But I mention it in the hope it serves to help people understand just quite how much the effects of illness, drugs, medical procedures and surgeries can have on your physical appearance. In turn, how these changes can affect the way you see yourself.
When I see photos of myself at my worst, (which are thankfully scarce), I feel saddened at how unwell I looked. I also feel frustrated at knowing this was something I had no control over. I know I don't want to be back in that position again, but I'm aware I don't really have any say in the matter. I was in agony, doubled up like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, pale, lifeless and so thin I was dangerously underweight.
Now, as I hurtle towards the exit of my twenties I am looking to the future with hope and a renewed sense of self. That sounds a little pretentious.. What I mean is that I like who I have become, disease or not. I know my limitations and I've accepted them. I know my body will never be conventionally 'perfect' (whatever that is). It's changeable, bloated, pale and scarred. But it's mine, and the only one i'll ever have. It's a tough piece of kit and I'm proud of what I've endured and will in the years to come. You should be too. Don't waste your youth worrying about how you look, more people think you are beautiful than you know. Embrace your illness - it's another challenge you can overcome.
Oh and I did end up with breasts, and they are quite exquisite. Obviously.