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  • Vanessa Rae

the big sick

It's back.

After five years of enjoying full remission from Ulcerative Colitis, last week, I started getting sick again.

So much has come up for me: feelings of deep shame that my body is broken, intense worry that I'll be unable to live the life I love, anxiety that my partner won't be able to handle me or the sick and will decide to leave.

It started with pain. I noticed it while I was in session with a client. I stepped to the side and felt a sharp stab "down there," down where the big sick hides.

I bargained with myself. "You've been too stressed out lately. If you just rest, the pain will go away."

I wished it away. I ignored it for a couple days. I didn't want to believe it could come back.

I even kept it from my partner; if I didn't speak its name, surely it will just disappear.

But on our way to go cross country skiing, while drinking coffee and driving up the mountain, I told him. I told him I was terrified at even the possibility it was back.

When Dean and I met, I had been sick with Colitis for four years. I'd endured years of incontrollable bowels, bloody stools, inability to walk due to severe inflammation in my joints, never being able to go anywhere or do anything without fear I'd poop myself. The shame. The utter, unspeakable shame. My life revolved around staying within close proximity of a bathroom at all times.

I went through massage school this way, with a brave heart and kind instructors, in the meantime trying out every kind of diet and alternative treatment available. You name it, I've tried it.

I was never more determined to do something in my life: I WILL get better.

After about a year and a half of just getting worse (sometimes going to the bathroom up to 40 times per day) I had to shamefully and woefully admit to myself (and my team of gastroenterologists) I needed medication. Thus began the harrowing, years-long journey of trying and failing endless steroids treatments, enemas, self-injections of biologic therapies and infusions of immunosuppressant drugs. Nothing worked.

In December 2015, I made the decision to move to Bend, start a new medication and begin my massage career. That's also exactly when I met my partner Dean, and the puppy we all love so much, Gracie.

It is my firm belief that the combination of so many positive things in my life, eliminating the unhappiness I felt in Portland and starting the new medication brought me into remission from Ulcerative Colitis.

I was finally able to hike, bike, climb. After being trapped in my body for four years, the freedom to move about without a care in the world was more profound that I can explain. It was like I had been set free from prison.

Dean was gracious, kind, understanding, loving, and accepting of whatever my body could or could not do. Slowly over a period of months at the beginning of 2016, my body, mind and heart healed.

Here's my first time climbing with Dean. Look at all that joy and love!

Fast forward to last week. I begrudgingly called my doctor's office and was able to get in with a Physician's Assistant. The pain was worsening. I held out hope that maybe it was just "something else."

If you've never had the joy of meeting someone for the first time then five minutes later laying down so they can perform a rectal exam, let me tell you, you have no idea what embarrassment is.

She suspected active Ulcerative Colitis, and possibly Crohn's Disease, prescribed a topical steroid and ordered a CT scan to determine what my intestinal walls looked like.

On the eve of the longest, darkest night of 2020, I walked out to my car in the pouring rain and sobbed the unholiest, most gut-wrenching sobs of my life. I wailed into my steering wheel: the big sick was back.

The CT a few days later confirmed my doctor's suspicions, and we're waiting for blood work results next week to determine the level of medication in my system and what our next steps might be.

I continue to go to work, walk the dogs, cook nourishing meals.

But there is a deep well of sadness, grief that starts in my guts and works its way around my heart, crushing it under the weight of worry, under all that we have endured this year, under the layers upon layers of belief that there is something wrong with me.

To all those who suffer from chronic medical conditions, to all those who are grieving this year, to all those who look forward to a brighter 2021, I see you, I feel you, I understand.

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