Monday 23 August 2021

My Irritable Bowel Disease nearly saw me give up on love, here's why you shouldn't

Love is not something to give up on - and that's coming from someone who realised she was falling in love with her best friend at the same time as being diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD).

Double whammy but here's why it's not worth giving up on love if you have or have just been diagnosed with a chronic illness (and I've got a new ring to prove it).

I have felt heartbreak more than most. My Dad once described me as the girl that "loved the idea of being in love". 

If you name a rom-com, I have likely seen it twice, and the all-consuming love portrayed in novels and movies was what I wanted for me. 

In reality, although I longed for this fairy-tale life, I was ok being the single friend. I was happy being the 'fat one' that saw their friends kiss boys at parties and go on dates. As much as I would have loved those things after being worn down by failed relationships and emotional abuse, I was content on accepting what I was told: "if I don't want you, nobody will". 

Then in 2018, I reconnected with my best friend, Stephen.

We had lost contact while he was working abroad in France, and it is safe to say the connection was instant when he got back, but I was petrified. 

It resulted in many excuses for why I couldn't go on dates and never really any explanation. 

In May of 2019, after talking for months and our feelings developing, we finally got together, and the boy I had considered my best friend in the world was now my boyfriend. 

Not many people can say they have fallen in love with their best friend, but I had….and hard. 

He knew everything, all of my darkest secrets and being that vulnerable scared me. 

For the first time in my life, it felt like nothing from my past defined me. Instead, he loved me for the here and now. 

Stephen accepted that, at times, things triggered me, and instead of punishing me for it, he guided me through it. 

The road wasn't easy at first, but our first holiday together in September 2019 to Majorca was the turning point. 

We had an incredible trip and made some friends for life, but this is when the first signs of my condition started to show themselves. 

At first, I just put it down to eating poorly whilst I was away and drinking too much.  

Then we got back from the holiday, and the stomach cramps were still pretty intense, so after speaking to my mum about it, she suggested going to the doctor if I had picked up a stomach bug. 

The GP brushed it off as food poisoning and said to continue with over the counter medicines, which seemed not to do much.

Fast forward to Christmas, and I was still feeling pretty unwell, and I had started to lose a bit of weight, and the half a stone I usually gain over Christmas from eating crap didn't pile on. 

When I stepped on the scales on January 1st to start my fitness regime for my resolution, I had lost nearly two stone without even trying. I was astounded, 'lucky cow,' I thought to myself. 

My intuition told me that this wasn't right, so I called the GP again and went in… "food poisoning, but we will do some further tests." 

After the success of our first holiday, I had booked our next and surprised Stephen with it just before Christmas with a card that said: "Lanzarote for your birthday in February?" 

We were so excited, and he couldn't believe it at first, but he was so grateful as always. 

To feel a little more confident in my swimsuit, I then hit the gym three times a week for about a month. 

The fatigue after a gym session was intense, but I put this down to being unfit and working long hours and various shifts. 

On February 1st, my next weigh-in day came around, and I had lost another two stone, and my stomach still wasn't feeling right, so I went back to the GP. 

I walked in, and my doctor looked shocked. 

"How much have you lost in 2 months?!"… "Erm, about four stone," he looked at the screen and back at me and went white but remained calm. 

He examined my stomach, and when he touched it, the pain seared through my body like nothing I had ever felt. I screamed the place down. 

After it was over, he said my results were showing abnormally high, and my reaction to the examination had meant he was going to call the gastro team at the hospital. So I needed to go there immediately, or he would call an ambulance. 

Enjoying this article and intrigued to read more like it? Check out:

- You say 'from Duff to Buff', we say sometimes losing 8 stone is not what it seems: Chronic Illness Awareness

- Sex with a chronic illness: How to feel sexy when you feel so poorly

- My chronic illness wreaks havoc on my self-development journey, here's how I changed my mindset

I walked back out to the car where Stephen sat waiting, and I just burst into tears. He knew that I was not too fond of hospitals and was petrified, but he came with me. 

After several procedures and various tests, the details of which I will not go into, I got diagnosed with IBD.

"Please can I go on my holiday, though," I said to the consultant, pleading with him. 

"I don't think you realise how poorly you are, do you, Miss Murray? But if it gives you something to look forward too I will do everything I can to help get you there but be prepared. It is not going to be easy, and I can't guarantee it," said my doctor. 

Every bit of advice the doctors gave me, I followed. 

A liquid diet, foam enemas, daily blood tests and eight different medications were all trying to get it under control. 

After three weeks reluctantly, the consultant agreed that I could go on holiday but with strict rules.

Stephen and I boarded the plane and our holiday was fantastic – I pushed myself to the limits, but he was there to tell me when it was time to take a break and reassured me that he was tired too, so I didn't feel bad for the necessary day time nap that I had promised my consultant I would have. 

We faced our fears on that holiday, and he reassured me that anytime he had spent with me was impressive.

Once we got home within three days, I broke down. 

The holiday that had been getting me through the reality of my crumbling health was over. Then set in, the fact of what the doctors had said had hit me. 

How could there be no cure for this? In my head, being told that no matter what I do, this is something that I will have for the rest of my life, I couldn't cope. 

My plans of travelling the world as I please were over, my body was fighting me, and everything changed.

Stephen was incredible support for me, managed to calm my nerves and helped me focus on the end goal of setting my condition under control and into remission. 

Then Covid-19 hit the world, and my new illness meant I was in the most vulnerable category, so we didn't see each other for almost six months. 

Facetime and texts were a godsend but not the same as seeing each other face to face. 

In that time, the drugs had made my body swell, my hair fell out, and it caused me to have a rollercoaster of emotions. 

I pushed him away so much, but he stayed no matter what – at my lowest point, I had lost eight stone in six months. I couldn't eat, sleep, and I didn't even have enough energy to leave the house, but when we were allowed again, he would sit outside the toilet door, just somehow making me laugh over it all. 

Fast forward to today, and after lots of trial and error, I am now on a new medication which means that my symptoms are more manageable, and we are working on getting me into remission. 

As for myself and Stephen, we have now been living together for the past nine months, and on June 17th, Stephen popped the question, so now we are onto a new chapter of wedding planning which is so exciting and gives us something more to look forward too.

To anyone reading this who is going through something similar, going through heartbreak or just feeling like giving up on love – there is someone out there for you! 

You may think that is a lie, but I never thought anyone would be capable of sticking by me through all of this and the problems that everyone faces are different. 

The road to love isn't easy, but if it is meant to be, then you make it work. 

It may be the person you least expect, but even when you feel like you have no value in yourself, someone out there values you. 

You matter to someone, and hey, it may not be the love of your life. It may be a friend, relation or work colleague, but there is always someone. 

I have gathered so much strength through having this illness because I know that no matter how ill I am feeling or how tough life seems to be treating me, it is ok to feel sorry for yourself. 

If a friend were going through this, you would feel sorry for them, so it is ok. 

Admitting that you are struggling is ok, and picking yourself up even if you need help from someone else is ok too. 

My new mantra in life is "right now, I am surviving, but one day I will be thriving!" it is something that has helped to pull me out of some dark places. 

I had given up, but somehow this beautiful person loved me. No matter what happened, no matter how ill I was, he was by my side through it all with no judgement. 

In the moments that I hated myself, he loved me his hardest. 

I never thought that it would ever be possible for someone to be so supportive and unique to me, I was the queen of pushing people away, and he stayed.

PS: Stephen wanted to add that if he can make it out of the friendzone, then anyone can.

Written by Jessica Murray


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