A Time Of Transition

Jasmine Gibson is living fearlessly and won’t allow Crohn’s disease to dictate her life.

Imagine you’re 17 and the next stage of your life is just getting started. You are in your senior year of high school, your friends are planning schoolies and endof-year parties and cramming for exams, but you’re not doing any of that because all your energy is being consumed by an illness. That was what happened to me during that crazy time when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in October 2019.

It was at the beginning of year 11 that I began to feel really sick. I visited multiple doctors but all of them told me that what I was feeling was just caused by stress or a stomach bug and they sent me home without any answers. My health wasn’t getting any better so I kept at it until finally a doctor noticed that something wasn’t quite right. I was sent off for several different tests to find out the cause of my ‘mysterious’ illness.

After months of faecal tests, blood tests, colonoscopies, and many doctors visits, we finally found that I had Crohn’s. At that point it was the middle of my senior year and I had lost all sense of who I was anymore. I ended up missing 50% of my senior year of high school while I was bedbound because of the pain and it felt like there was no doctor that could make me feel better.

Even though I was 17, I could not go out with friends due to a strict diet and constant dizziness and nausea. I was behind in my studies and unable to play sports or drive. I had to find my new limits and redefine who I was as a person. This was not easy and took months and months of confusion, loneliness and bitter anger.

When I was with my friends the feelings were worse because of my constant absence. I was unknowingly but constantly left out of inside jokes, secrets and stories. And when I was there it was hard to focus on conversations due to fatigue and pain, so I sat there like a doll and smiled. I do not blame my friends for this because they knew I had Crohn’s and tried to be supportive and treated me like they normally would which is what I wanted, but it’s hard to be treated like nothing’s wrong when there is.

The hardest thing I found was that no one understood what I was going through. My parents tried but when you have never gone through it it’s hard to understand the exact difficulty of simple things, like getting out of bed, focusing in class, or trying to motivate yourself to study when all you want to do is sleep.

I remember the first time I had to tell people about Crohn’s disease were to my friends at school. It was difficult as I struggled to put how impactful the diagnosis was into words and there was this fear of how my friends would react. I remember describing the disease and what it did, then trying to explain how it affected me. My high school friend’s reaction was not anything big; mainly questions about Crohn’s, that at the time I did not know the answer to, but my explanation clarified my constant absences and weird behaviour that I had been displaying for the last couple of months.

The scariest thing for me when moving to university was leaving my home, parents, friends and support networks to live six hours away on my own. Having to cook, clean, study and live a balanced life made me afraid I would get a bad flare up but for me not going to university was not an option. Ever since I was a child, I was determined to go to university. It was that goal that kept me going every day I was sick. It got me out of bed to study, go to school and do my assignments and was the reason I taught myself to manage my stress and look after myself.

I was pleasantly surprised that living by myself while going through university and trying to manage Crohn’s was easier than I first thought it would be. Sticking to a study and living schedule, watching my diet, and taking my medication helped me organise my life which reduced the stress of having to do everything myself by keeping me on time and organised. I also found that doing things I enjoyed, playing netball, going for walks around the city, reading, and keeping a thought journal helped to keep me happy and relieve the stress as well.

Managing Crohn’s is not easy but because of it I have learnt that doing nothing and holding on is strong and sometimes all one can do in a situation. When everything gets too much and you feel like you cannot handle it, it is ok to do nothing and wait because the time will come again where you feel good, and you can be yourself again.

Having Crohn’s or colitis does not mean you are useless or broken, it means that there are things in your life that others will not have to consider, and that is okay. Be who you want to be and do not let your IBD stop you. I am more than my disease and I will not let it run my life.