I was explaining a little bit about my condition to a colleague the other day. They had only just found out I have Crohn’s Disease and hadn’t heard of it. They were genuinely interested and a bit taken aback at all it entails. I gave them the ‘U’ version of my story for now; don’t want to crash straight in with the gore and misery until we’ve at least struck up a vague friendship. Plus it was pre-lunchtime.
As I relayed my abridged tale of diagnosis to present day, I realised many of my sentences were set in the past. Lots of “I used to..” , “when I could..”, and the worst of all, “I used to love doing that…”. When I mulled the conversation over in my head later, those points were all I could focus on.
Why was everything I used to love being pushed to the past simply because I’m sick?
That’s not entirely true of course; I am still relatively active, I still enjoy most of the things I used to but 'in moderation' now.
In moderation never used to be a phrase I had expected to use until at least my 60’s. And being Scottish and a lover of both alcohol and fried foods, I generally didn't think I’d make it to my 60’s.
When you suffer from any form of chronic illness, moderation is a word you will hear a lot of. Everything in moderation. Remember everything you once enjoyed? Well start taking that in tiny little doses until eventually any shred of pleasure you once gleaned from it is all but extinct and you live solely on carrot shavings and the salty tears of Mumford & Sons. That’s what I hear when I'm told to do things in moderation anyway.
I understand why of course; If things make you feel worse then you should generally avoid them. I really should have used the moderation lesson with my first boyfriend, but you live and learn.
Healthcare professionals want you to do all you can to help aid them in giving you the best shot at a healthy and happy life. Therefore they'll handle the medical stuff and it's up to you to work on the 'happy' part. If you focus on what you can't do, you will find your focus become blurred with nothing but sickness. You don’t want your life to revolve around your illness yet its often almost impossible to avoid the topic.
It’s so easy to forget about the things you love to do when huge chunks of your life are taken up by all the medical and actually ‘being ill’ stuff.
Here are some activities I love to do, (despite not being very good at them..)
- Dancing. I love to dance because I feel absolutely in touch with my body- yes I'm well aware how unbearably pretentious that sounds but I don't care- there's nothing better than moving in time to music, except maybe when you're friends or a handsome man are doing it with you.
- Writing. I love to write because it's opened up a world of support and expression for me, it's gifted me wonderful opportunities to help others and that's just the BEST feeling in the world. (Other than when Gett Off by Prince comes on at a good party obviously).
- Impressions. [Disclaimer: mainly limited to Irish accents, the high-pitched Bee Gee and Arnold Schwarzenegger]. I love to do impressions because I have an obsession with perfecting an accent and will annoyingly do it over and over until I get it right. It's not big or clever but it's as satisfying as nailing that Baby and Johnny lift without breaking an ankle.
- Painting. I love to paint because I love the way colour affects mood and the way it can be possible to capture and interpret beautiful things forever on a canvas.
It's hard enough to fit in 'normal' life with a chronic illness. The stuff you should be doing, (in theory), like housework, caring for a family, attending work and performing your best; all of this is exhausting enough as it is without trying to force yourself to have hobbies and FUN too. But, at the risk of sounding like Yoda, force yourself you must – otherwise what is left but a shell of his/her former self who talks of nothing more than what's going in and out of her bowels. FUN, and informative as those conversations obviously are; they are generally best reserved for a certain audience only. (NOT the in-laws during Christmas dinner or a job interview).
So try and focus on the “I love to…so I will” and make it happen. Don’t lie down to your illness. If you cant quite do whatever it may be as well as you used to, then don’t think of that as a negative but as a little personal challenge- adapt and conquer!
But always in moderation of course..