How To Combat The "Why Me's"

If you have a chronic illness or suffer from chronic pain, you have no doubt asked yourself “why me?” at least once…or more likely, a hundred times. I know I have. This question usually comes when you are not feeling well, when things aren’t going as you planned, or when you are in pain. It is something that is hard to move past. It can be frustrating and all-consuming at times. It can be depressing and can provoke anxiety. Here are a few tips that I hope will help.

1. Learn to accept that you may never get an answer. For the majority of us, there is no answer to “why me?”. Unfortunately sometimes things just happen. Acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean “it’s okay”. I’m not asking you to say that it is okay that you have an illness or pain. When I talk about acceptance, I mean being able to make necessary adjustments in your life, learning your new normal, and learning that despite your chronic illness or pain you can still be happy. Learning to accept that you may never get an answer to why this happened to you will be a process. It is not something that will happen overnight. You may want to resist it and that’s alright. It is not fair that this happened to you but with some hard work, dedication and a little reorganization of priorities, it is possible to be happy and to accept not having an answer to “why me?”

2. Find meaning. Ask yourself what good could come out of your situation. I guarantee that if you are open to that question, if you take the time to think about it, and if you are honest with yourself, you will likely come up with at least one positive thing that has come out of all the bad. For me, the meaning in my situation is that I am able to counsel others with chronic illness and chronic pain. It is what I love to do and I have been able to take my own experiences and knowledge and help others. For you it doesn’t have to be something as big as a career decision. It may be something as simple as the fact that you now have more compassion for others, you don’t judge people as quickly as you used to, or that your illness or pain has taught you to appreciate the small things in life.

3. Find a passion for something. Try to focus your attention on something other than “why me?”. Find a hobby or a passion that will make you happy and take your mind off of “why me?”. It is okay if the question comes into your mind once in a while. When it is constant or interrupts your quality of life, your focus, or your happiness, that is a problem. Finding something that brings you joy will help you to cope.

4. Find support. You are not alone. As I stated above, the majority of us with a chronic illness or chronic pain have asked ourselves “why me?”. If you find that you are having difficulty with this question, find support, either with friends, family, a support group, or a therapist. Talking about what you are thinking and feeling can help greatly.

Rollercoaster of Emotions

Last Friday I had my annual flex sigmoidoscopy to take a look at my J-pouch. After a whole year of doing fantastic and feeling great I went into this appointment a little nervous but very confident. So after two hours of waiting (no fault of my doctor’s but still very annoying) my nerves kept building. Throughout the exam everything was looking great, until the very end when my doctor found a small piece toward the top of the pouch that was a little inflamed with a small ulcer. One ulcer. Upon seeing that my mind started racing and I started freaking out inside but remained calm so my doctor wouldn’t think I was a crazy person. After he took a biopsy and I got my pants back on, I asked him “what could it be?”, “is it Crohn’s?”, “when will the results be back?” After giving me a smile and trying to calm me down a bit he told me that he didn’t know what it was, it could possibly be Crohn’s but he didn’t think so and not to worry (REALLY?!), and that the biopsy results should be back within a week or two.


So since Friday morning I’ve been able to think of nothing else. I’m trying to remain positive, but having that camera up my butt again and seeing an ulcer again has really played mind games with me. It’s brought back that whole flood of emotions that I felt when I was sick with UC and while I was going through my surgeries. The thing I’ve realized is that those emotions and these experiences will never go away. Even if the results come back and it’s not Crohn’s , this is something I’m going to have to go through every year when I have that exam. The nerves beforehand and the praying to God that nothing shows up during the exam. So it makes me think. For those of us who have had J-pouch surgery as a “cure” for UC, is it really a cure? Possibly it is a cure for the actual physical ulcerative colitis (although not always for those who find out after that they really had Crohn’s all along, or the small percentage who have complications after the surgeries). But emotionally, having these surgeries is definitely not a complete cure. It is something that will always be with us. Those emotions, those memories, that fear. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have had the surgeries. Not that I had a choice, but if I had, I still would choose to have them and I would still recommend them to anyone. They saved my life and gave me a better quality of life. For that I’m definitely grateful. I guess I’ve just realized that for most people it doesn’t end once the surgeries are over. It’s a process. Which is why I think it is so important to take care of yourself both physically and psychologically, during the illness as well as after. I think it’s also the reason I’m so passionate about counseling people with IBD…because I GET IT. And you can’t get all the emotions and fears unless you’ve been through it. So for now, I’m going to do some of the things I tell my clients to do…try and remain positive, deal with my emotions, and since I’m feeling good, enjoy life…and pray that the ulcer is nothing.

J-Pouch Surgery Basics

I know the possibility of surgery is really scary for some people. It definitely was for me. I recently heard from another J-pouch buddy of mine that before she had surgery some people were actually trying to talk her out of it and were telling her that she was weak for having the surgeries. When I heard this I absolutely couldn’t believe it! I know for a lot of people who have the J-pouch surgeries, myself included, it is not an option. If I had not had these surgeries I would have died, plain and simple. Because there is so much misinformation out there and because of the negative ideas that some people have about these surgeries, I wanted to share some information about the J-pouch surgeries.

J-pouch surgery is an option for people with ulcerative colitis as well as for people with FAP. For people with ulcerative colitis, it is typically done when all other medical options have failed, which was the case for me. These surgeries can be done in one, two, or three different surgeries, usually depending on how sick the patient is. In my case, I had three surgeries because I was so sick and malnourished. The first surgery was simply to remove my colon. After my colon was removed, I had a temporary ileostomy, which is a small opening in the abdomen where a piece of small intestine sticks out in order to remove waste into a bag attached to the abdomen. Three months later was surgery number two in which the J-pouch was formed out of small intestine. The J-pouch’s job is to essentially act as a “new colon”. After this surgery, I still had the ileostomy. The third surgery is called the “takedown” and consists of removing the ileostomy and attaching that piece of intestine to the newly formed J-pouch. After this surgery the person will be able to go to the bathroom normally again.

After takedown surgery, the patient will most likely have to go to the bathroom several times per day until their body adjusts to the J-pouch. Some people say that it’s almost like having ulcerative colitis again at first. It does get better though! After the body adjusts, which can take up to one year but is usually much sooner, the average person uses the bathroom around six times per day.

What’s hard about these surgeries is that everyone is different. One person may have a lot of problems and go to the bathroom a lot each day, whereas another person may do great and only go to the bathroom three times every day. You just never know. I think maybe that’s what scares people so much about these surgeries.

In my opinion, J-pouch surgery is a fantastic option for people with ulcerative colitis. Yes, as with any surgery, there are risks and things that can go wrong (obstructions, pouchitis, cuffitis…) and there’s always a risk that the J-pouch will not work as it should. But these risks are rare and for most people, life with a J-pouch is a million times better than life with UC.

Life after J-pouch surgery…for most people, including myself, is great! There are things that are a little different, like going to the bathroom more often, but they are completely manageable and although there are more bathroom trips, unlike with UC you can hold it until you can find a bathroom. For me, there is nothing I can’t eat and nothing I can’t do.

I want people to know that J-pouch surgery is not the end of the world. If you have to have surgery you are not weak and you did not do anything wrong. It is possible to live a normal life and a good life after these surgeries. For more information you can visit my website at www.ccddsupportnetwork.com.

Relaxation Techniques and IBD

We all know that stress does not cause IBD, but that stress, along with anxiety and depression, can make symptoms worse. It is really important to find a way to cope with the psychological aspects associated with IBD. One way is to use relaxation techniques to calm your mind and body. So, next time you are feeling stressed, anxious or depressed try one of these...they really can help:

1. Slow breathing: This is probably the simplest thing you can do, but it really does work and the best part…you can do it anywhere. If you are by yourself, close your eyes. Then, relax your body. Take a deep inhale in, slowly counting to four or five. Hold the breath for a second, and then slowly exhale over four or five seconds. Rest for a second, and then repeat. While you are breathing, concentrate either on counting the seconds while you are inhaling and exhaling, or think of something peaceful, like the ocean. This works great if you are by yourself and can lay down and close your eyes, but it also works if you are out in public and start feeling some anxiety because it will make you concentrate on something other than what you are anxious about.
2. Progressive Relaxation: This is a great technique that works best if when you are alone. Start by either lying down or sitting in a comfortable chair and closing your eyes. Take a couple deep breaths. Then, tense the muscles in your feet. Hold the tension for a few seconds and then let it out. Move to your calf muscles. Tense the muscles and hold for a few seconds. Then release. Move to your quadriceps muscles. Tense your quadriceps muscles and hold for a few seconds before you release. You are going to repeat this procedure, moving all the way up your body including your buttocks, hands, lower arms, upper arms, whole arms, abdomen, chest, and facial muscles. After you have finished, tense your whole body, hold for a few seconds and release. Then take a few deep breaths.
3. Guided Imagery: Start by either laying down or sitting in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes and picture yourself in a peaceful, relaxing place. This could be either at the beach, lying in a hammock…anywhere you like. Look at your surroundings. Notice the colors and textures around you. Hear the sounds, smell the ocean or the flowers, feel the sun. Notice any other sensations. Relax and enjoy. The more you do this, the easier it becomes.

There are many other relaxation techniques, but these are the three I like the best. Remember, the less stressed, anxious and depressed you are, the better you will feel. Enjoy and remember they all take practice. I hope these help!

My J-pouch and I Are Flying for the First Time

On Tuesday my J-pouch and I will be flying for the first time together to go to Massachusetts for my brothers' wedding. I have to admit, I'm scared. After all, it hasn't been that long since I had to think about the "what ifs" before every outing. I know there should be no problems and my mind is still probably in UC mode but I can't help but freak out a little. What if something goes wrong? What if the change in pressure makes me uncomfortable? What if I have to go to the bathroom on the plane and people are waiting? What if I don't feel well while I'm there? I know I just need to stop worrying about things that most likely are not going to happen and focus on the exciting fact that my brother is getting married and I'm actually able to go, but I'm sure you IBDers can understand. Anyway, I'll update when I get back. Wish me luck!