Recently another one of those 10-year challenge things was floating around Facebook and when I started thinking about what I was doing at this time 10 years ago my heart sank.
I had an instant flashback to two photos taken of me at a 2009 New Year’s Eve party. Two photos I never showed anyone. Two photos I’ve kept on my computer all this time to remember exactly what my life was like then. Two photos that show a woman who insisted on hiding in the background, who had become unrecognizable and growing increasingly afraid of what her future held. Here’s one of the pictures.
What you may not be able to tell from that photo was how drastically my appearance had changed in a short period of time.
In early 2009, I looked like this:
By the end of 2009, I looked like this:
In September 2009, I had just recovered from a surprise heart surgery after a complication with a medication I had been prescribed for ulcerative colitis. I was on 60mg of Prednisone a day, starting methotrexate and 6MP both of which were my last shot in terms of prescribed treatments. I was absolutely hopeless.
The 5-inch scar on my chest was still healing but the mental wounds I was developing at that time had just begun and would continue to cut deeply, over and over again, for many years to come. I hadn’t been diagnosed with depression yet and I had no idea that what was brewing inside of me would wreak havoc on both my physical and mental health. There are some things you just can’t prepare for.
It wouldn’t be much longer before I met with a surgeon at Cleveland Clinic who told me if I didn’t have my colon removed that I would die. I had just turned 25 and I was looking my mortality directly in the face. I had received my UC diagnoses in May of 2009 and in just 8 short months I was planning a surgery that would change my life and my life changed in so many ways that I could never have fathomed. Some changes were so crushing that I’m still working through them all these years later. But there were others that gave me life again. Physically and spiritually.
The next few years looked a lot like this:
Looking into 2020
As we countdown the days to a new decade, there’s a lot of collective contemplation I’m seeing online. Questions like:
“What are you going to do to make the next decade better?”
“Are you prepared to enter a new decade?”
As I saw the 2009/2019 pictures of my friends pop up all over social media, combined with these memes, I have truly wanted to hide. Not because I haven’t progressed in 10 years, and not because I’m not ready for 2020, but because closing out this past decade feels so heavy. On one hand, I’m elated to put more distance between my current self and the devastation of my health in my 20s and other major traumas like the loss of my Dad. On the other, it feels like ending a toxic relationship with someone who you still care for deeply. I’m co-dependant with the identity I’ve formed over these years and for some reason, it feels like once the clock strikes midnight, a new door opens to my future while simultaneously closing one to my past. A decade is just a set of years that has a special term but for a reason I can’t identify, it feels very permanent. As if there is a time limit on past suffering, and once it’s over it’s no longer apart of you. And if that’s the case…why am I not running full force into 2020?
I don’t know who I would be without the past 10 years, without UC, without my j-pouch, and without this story. I honestly don’t even remember who I was before all of it. I think I was a person who was just existing, without any real purpose or passion. Without any real trauma or joy. I just was. I don’t miss that version of myself.
I like to think I feel things more intensely now. Like living through the highs and lows of UC and everything that it brought showed me the spectrum of feelings is so much bigger than I thought it was. I didn’t know true pain until I contemplated ending my life just to escape it. I didn’t know true elation until I woke up from my 5th and final colitis related surgery. Even though I live without a large intestine, I’ve truly never felt more whole. And when I look back at 2009 me I’m sad about what she’s facing, but I’m so grateful that after the last tumultuous 10 years of this life, I turned out to be this version of me.
So what am I going to do to prepare for the next 10 years?
I’m going to respect the journey I’ve been on by feeling every bit of that spectrum, by continuing to share my story, and by allowing myself to process and handle it all at my own pace. Because there really isn’t anything we can do to prepare for a new decade, right? So instead I’ll just commit to endless self-growth and trying to bring more happiness to the people I encounter.
I just found you online through a newsletter I’ve subscribed called healthline.
I too have both MS (diagnosed in 1995 at age 30) and UC (diagnosed in 2011). I have been trying to find someone else who has both diseases.
I’m happy to have found someone and to know for certain that I am not the only one with these two diseases. Not that I wish for someone else to have these diseases, but I wouldn’t mind talking to someone with both.
Hey Kristina, In the almost 14 years I’ve had MS and 10 with UC, I’ve only found 2 other people and I talk to A LOT of patients. Apparently the combination is pretty rare for whatever reason! Feel free to shoot me a message! Happy to share any knowledge I’ve got.
This post still takes my breath away. I came back to read it tonight because though what this last decade held for both of us was different, you put to words exactly how I’ve been feeling about this “fresh decade” around the corner. I’m so excited. I’m still healing. There was a lot of toxicity loss and general awfulness, and also some amazing highs. I weirdly feel like I wish I had resolved all the residual emotions from this decade…which is silly. But real. Thanks for sharing your story, I can only imagine the heaviness of putting this to writing.
Experiencing joy and grief at the same time is something that is hard to wrap your brain around. We’re not raised to believe that they can both hold space at the same time. I feel like that’s the best way I can explain ending 2019 and the last decade. So much joy, but a boatload of grief that seems to perpetually hang around. Thank you for sharing with me.