As the fireworks faded on the first day of 2017, I felt excited and motivated. “This would be the year,” I remember telling my husband, “that I’ll have my strongest body yet.” As an active woman, a busy mom, and a person with Crohn’s disease, it was important to me that I do everything in my power to stay on top of my health.
But, could I really do it? Due to my diagnosis, I’d always assumed that I just wouldn’t be able to be as strong and fit as my active friends. What if I couldn’t get through a workout without needing to use the bathroom, or what if fatigue got in the way?
Once through the gym door, I quickly realized that I was up for (and enjoyed!) the challenge of pushing my body outside of its comfort zone. But within weeks, I started to notice body cramps and a shortness of breath that felt unusual. Following exercise, I felt dizzy, tired and often had headaches. I was finding it hard to be active. I had let myself go too long without labs, and my desire to reach my goal encouraged me to get blood work done to see what was wrong.
Anemia, a common problem with Crohn’s disease, turned out to be the issue. This would require a fight with insurance, infusions, and a slower pace until I could get my iron levels back up. During that time, I tried to keep myself moving forward by focusing on regular walks. Some progress was better than no progress, but I was looking forward to getting back on track with my goal.
Once I started feeling stronger again, walks slowly turned into runs. I was surprised by how much I loved the peace and personal achievement that came with running. But after two months, increasing and persistent joint pain would force me to shift my goal again and limit how much I could take on without being in pain. I was again frustrated that I couldn’t exercise exactly how I’d liked, but a few sessions of Physical Therapy showed me how stretch and strengthen joints and exercise at a smart pace.
And then, just as I was getting into a workout rhythm that seemed to work for me and my body, I met my last challenge of the year: a flare. Each episode left me exhausted and struggling to keep up with day-to-day tasks. But this time, physical symptoms paled in comparison to the mental frustration of yet another roadblock. Challenge after challenge had been presented and I was sick of facing them. I just wanted to reach a simple exercise goal, like a normal person.
I’d set a goal, realized how much I liked it, and then failed to reach it. I’d like to say that I knew right away that I shouldn’t really call it a failure, but mentality is sometimes the hardest muscle to sculpt. It would take a few months - right up until the last day of the year - to realize that I should be proud of how far I had come, despite ending the year feeling even weaker than I started it. Trying to challenge my body had uncovered issues to address, which I may not have discovered or sought help for, if I hadn’t been trying to bring my health and wellness to a new level.
As I raised a glass to the new year, I found myself wanting to try the goal again. Appreciating fully that this may be the single most important resolution that I make, I vowed to have my “strongest body” again in 2018. I would not let Crohn’s disease stand in the way of optimal health. I may need to also set this goal again in 2019, 2020, and forever, and that’s OK with me.
A version of this story was also posted on CompanionIBD Magazine.