A few days after my 17th birthday in 2015, when I should have been having the time of my life, my life was changed forever.
I remember a time where an injection or a blood test was my worst nightmare, now it’s something I have to experience weekly for the rest of my life. I never thought that going to the doctors with what I initially thought was a stomach bug would affect my future so much.
Before that day I had tried to continue as normal by going to college like everyone else my age. But something was wrong. Eating became more of a chore than an enjoyable experience as it caused so much pain and constantly feeling nauseous was draining. My attendance was declining and I was finding it difficult to meet deadlines.
After going to the doctors weekly for months and my GP coming to no conclusion as to what was wrong with me, I was beginning to feel like a nuisance.
Due to my age, my doctor was suggesting my symptoms may be down to ‘exam stress’ or insinuating to my parents that I may have an eating disorder. It was incredibly frustrating as I wanted to eat, believe me – I’m a massive foodie. But it didn’t seem worth it as it caused too much pain.
Life with this undiagnosed illness meant constant blood tests, CT scans, MRI scans, heart scans, endoscopies. You name it, I’ve probably had it.
Finally a diagnosis
For about eight weeks I went to A&E fortnightly as the pain was getting so severe but again, I wasn’t taken seriously. I’d be waiting to be seen for hours only to be given a paracetamol drip, some anti-sickness and sent home again, only to be back two weeks later.
After months of being nothing but an annoyance to my doctor, he finally referred me to a gastroenterologist. Much to my relief he said there was definitely something wrong with me and it looked like classic Crohn’s disease.
I returned to A&E after seeing the gastroenterologist, where I was taken a lot more seriously. I was given morphine almost instantly and within hours I was having an emergency operation.
After having a section of my bowel removed, it was confirmed that I had quite a severe case of Crohn’s disease. The illness affects around 115,000 people in the UK, millions worldwide and has no cure.
Six days after my operation I was still experiencing severe pain and I was yet to eat anything since I was admitted into hospital and as a result was losing weight rapidly. After a CT scan, it was revealed that my intestines were all sticking together, and I had an obstruction in my bowel and therefore had to undergo a second major operation.
Anxiety and constant fatigue
Having Crohn’s disease is difficult at any age but being so young and in the prime of my life I found it very difficult to accept initially. Not just the Crohn’s itself but all that comes with it as well. The anxiety, the self-image issues, the constant fatigue and not to mention the stigma around invisible illnesses.
I think I find it so hard to deal with having this disease as in the space of six or so months I’ve gone from being ‘normal’ to having a huge seven-inch scar down my stomach and a stupid amount of different health issues that I constantly have at the back of my mind.
The physical side effects affected my mental health and gave me anxieties I’ve never experienced before. Suddenly, going on a day out with friends was something overwhelming and scary. What if I had a flare up and wanted to go home? I didn’t want to seem boring.
Crohn’s disease affects everyone differently, so it is difficult to know what is going to cause the disease to flare up. This made the initial few months of diagnosis extremely unpredictable as it was all trial and error with what food I could eat.
Isabelle Blexill is a student at York St John University
Crohn’s disease – the facts
Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the digestive tract and it can cause the digestive system to become inflamed and irritated.
The exact cause of the illness is unknown however, it is thought that things such as your genes, a problem with your immune system and smoking can all play a role.
Some of the main symptoms of Crohn’s disease are diarrhoea, stomach pain, fatigue, blood in your poo and weight loss.
Treatment can help to control symptoms of the illness. Some of the most common treatments are steroid tablets which reduce the inflammation in the digestive system, injections or tablets which stop the inflammation coming back or surgery to remove some of the diseased part of the digestive system.
Crohn’s and Colitis UK have been raising awareness for Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis this week as they want people to realise the huge impact that the illnesses have on people’s lives.