By Ashley Anderson
My battle with IBD began when I was eight years old—but I didn’t know it back then, and unfortunately neither did anyone else. I was told I had everything from anorexia and colitis to the simple stomach flu. Nothing stuck.
At 16 years of age I was officially diagnosed with indeterminate colitis and finally, two years later, Crohn’s disease. As a child I felt alone and isolated, and I was constantly tired and uncomfortable. Intermittent illnesses, hospital stays and frequent trips to the bathroom went unexplained to my friends for fear of ridicule.
I struggled to stay in class and sit through exams without needing to head to the toilet. I worried constantly about my grades and questioned my ability to finish my studies.
I sought comfort in my mother, who was a rock throughout it all.
A learning experience
Life was challenging, to say the least, because I was in pain all the time. The prospect of growing into the strong, independent person that I longed to be was a distant one until I found the right treatment. The first few medication trials were disheartening, but when I finally found a therapy that worked, the world opened up around me.
As time went on I stopped settling for less, and instead was able to find ways to build paths around the rough patches. Unlike in high school, where I had kept my struggles hidden as much as possible, in university I realized that I could simply ask a teacher to let me write a test or exam in a separate room (closer to a washroom) for medical reasons. Suddenly, I learned that speaking up might well be a better way to go.
As a young adult, volunteering with others living with IBD and sharing my story helped me to become more confident. These experiences pulled me out of my comfort zone in the best way possible. The newfound freedom I felt gave me more choices, and I truly began to live.
My life today is full of action and adventure, something my 16-year-old self could never have imagined. From trekking Machu Picchu (one of the greatest accomplishments of my life) to completing the 200 km Ride to Conquer Cancer with my sister and a 125 km ultra-marathon with my boyfriend, I have persevered. The barriers that I created for myself earlier in life are gone.
My life now
Sure, there was a lot I had to find out and challenges to deal with along the way—but with courage, and help from my family, I found my voice. Now I’m a certified nutritionist and personal trainer, and I’m helping others with IBD to live life to the fullest.
My life is good!
Ashley Anderson is a nutritionist, personal trainer, yoga instructor and IBD advocate. Reprinted with permission from Robbie’s Rainbow, You, Me and IBD.