I am beyond excited to share today’s post with you. I have shared some truly inspirational healing stories here in the past, but this story is my favorite. Today’s post is by my sister! Only three years younger than me, she was also diagnosed with ulcerative colitis during her college years. Although our diseases present themselves somewhat differently and our symptoms differ, we have worked together over the past few years to support one another in our quest for healing. I have been waiting a long time to have her share her story so I hope that you enjoy it!
Healing From Ulcerative Colitis: Jesse’s Story
I am twenty-two years old and have been living with an autoimmune disease for three years. I found physical healing through the Autoimmune Protocol Diet, but it changed my life in so many other ways. These past three years have been a tremendous journey, and I only hope that my story will provide at least one of you with some hope and inspiration…
“Where are my pants?” I yell, still groggy from the anesthesia. The nurse wheels me out of the dimly lit examination room as lyrics to “You’ve Had a Bad Day” still play from the speakers and echo against the walls, foreshadowing the coming moments. The nurse leaves me with my parents while I regain my composure and feebly put my pants back on. Moments later, the door opens, papers fly in my face, and the words, “Congratulations, you have ulcerative colitis,” ring in my ears. As quickly as it had opened, the door closes again, the words are hanging in the dry, sterile air and I sit motionless on the gurney, bearing the weight of a heavy diagnosis.
It was March of 2013; I was nineteen and in my sophomore year of college. I had spent a lifetime dealing with countless doctor visits, unanswered questions, and bogus diagnoses. In one way, it was a relief to finally have an answer. Only, I didn’t like the answer I was given. I was young, I had dreams, and my life was only beginning. This wasn’t supposed to be happening, at least not to me. I visited my doctor once a month and compliantly took the medications I was given. However, the second I walked out of the office, I disowned both the diagnosis as well as my body; it had let me down and I wanted nothing to do with it. I continued to be in denial for another year, living my life as I pleased, eating whatever I wanted to eat. Only, my body had other plans.
In February of 2014 I sat in my doctor’s office on the verge of tears, while my mom reassured me it was all going to be okay. After a year of completing several intense steroid therapy treatments and going up the ladder of medications, nothing was working. I was afraid I would have to drop out of school. I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, let alone attend my classes. I was left with two options: go on severe medication that would increase my risk of getting lymphoma or change the way I eat. At this time, I was a full time college student in an intense degree program and only twenty years old. I couldn’t envision myself being on dangerous medications for the rest of my life, but I also couldn’t envision managing a demanding lifestyle while being a full time student. However, with the support of my family and my boyfriend (who is now my fiancé!) and the convincing of my sister, I half-heartedly chose to embark on the Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP).
This is about the time where I should tell you that AIP instantly changed my life and I never looked back! However, my story is a little bit different. I had just spent the past year being in denial, and once I began AIP, I spent the next three months bargaining. I thought, “I’ll eat this way for a year, and then my life will return to normal. I’ll have my old body and lifestyle back and I can continue along on my merry way.” In May of 2014 I experienced the worst flare I had ever had. I am already a small person to begin with, but during that flare I lost so much weight I was barely tipping the scale at a whopping 84 pounds. I couldn’t move a limb without being in pain, walking down the stairs made me exhausted, and I couldn’t leave the house without fear of soiling myself. All the anger that I had held at bay for the past year finally erupted. Why me? Why now? I was so young; it wasn’t fair. I was infuriated with my body, yelling at it because it had betrayed me. I felt trapped inside something so hopeless and useless.
Then, the depression hit. I stood in the shower weeping as I watched piles of hair swirl down the drain, dragging all of my hopes and dreams with it. I used to dream of traveling and seeing the world or being a missionary overseas; I used to love to run and hike and be active, but my body would no longer allow those things. Having a lot of friends and being involved in many activities used to earn me the title of a social butterfly. Losing those friends was something no one had prepared me for. The people who I thought loved and supported me, suddenly didn’t know what to do with me or how to be with me. I am a musician and my primary instrument is my voice. However, sickness had overtaken it. My voice was so weak, it cracked when I spoke, so singing opera was out of the question. I had been stripped away from almost every identity, hope, and dream I had ever known. I had hit rock bottom and there was only one way up.
So, finally, after dipping my toe into AIP like I had been doing up until this point, I plunged in head first, only to discover it is so much more than eating the right food. When I finally began feeding my body what it needed to heal, I understood the importance of also loving and actually listening to what my body needs. Until this point, I had spent my entire life shaming and ignoring my own body, eventually disowning it completely. The day that I whispered, “I want to be your friend,” I felt a physical sigh of relief and a feeling of wholeness that I had never felt before. I began to care for my body with love, compassion, and understanding. I realized that I am fearfully, and wonderfully made and definitely not a mistake. I was created this way for a purpose.
This realization began spilling over into all areas of my life and overall health. I began attending acupuncture on a regular basis, practicing meditation and mindfulness, as well as ridding my self of the harsh chemicals found in so many of my cosmetic products. I soon was fermenting kombucha on the top shelf in my closet, washing my hair once a week, and sporting all natural deodorant, and I had never felt more normal and healthy! My hair has now grown back to the thickness I once loved, my skin is clear, my hormones are balanced, and I haven’t had a single PMS symptom in a year. I am proud to say that I was in remission for a full year and, although I experienced a flare this past May, through AIP and other healing supplements, I was able to overcome it in a matter of weeks rather than months. Loving myself allowed my body to reach remission, because each aspect of our bodies and minds are so intricately interwoven that it is impossible to address one, without affecting the others.
I graduated this past May on time and with a degree in music therapy. While many of my dreams have changed for the better, some of the things I used to enjoy are becoming easier, like hiking and being more active. My autoimmune disease and AIP truly saved my life physically but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It stripped me away to my core only for me to see who I truly am, which is strong, independent and beautiful.
It has also shown me the value of support. It can be really hard to ask for help, but it is your deepest times of need when you discover who your greatest support team is. I truly could not be where I am today with the help of my wonderful family and fiancé, but especially my sister. She is my rock and sounding board, the only one who truly knows what it feels like to be in my shoes. Find support, whatever that looks like for you. For me, it was family. For you it may be different, but whatever you do, don’t walk this journey alone.
Lastly, it taught me what is truly important in life. Before my diagnosis, I kept myself so busy that I barely had time to be present in my own life. Being forced to slow down, caused me to be more present in my daily life and it has brought me so much joy. Things like bills and traffic don’t stress me out anymore, but rather the small things, like the bird singing outside my window, bring me great joy and peace
I am an AIP warrior. I am not fighting against my own body, but rather working with it to overcome the grips of disease and live the life I was meant to live. I only hope that my story has brought you some peace, joy, or hope. Thank you for letting me share it.