Describing myself to a new acquaintance in a recent email, I noted that the chief difference between the old me (i.e., pre-Crohn's) and the new me (post-Crohn's) is that New Me is happy 99.99% of the time.
The percentage is perhaps a little generous, I'm no stranger to hyperbole (or litotes, for that matter) in pursuit of my point, but basically accurate. My illness, epiphany and subsequent long, slow climb back to health gave me an appreciation for life that mellowed into a baseline level of happiness that's above the norm. I'm no Buddha, baby, but neither am I the centerless, high-strung, spinning top of whack-job that I used to be.
Still, I have my moments. And there's nothing that will send me down the greased chute of panic to the Dark Place faster than a loose bowel movement.
To normal people, a little diarrhea, or "D" as it's affectionately referred to on the SCD Listserv, is just the natural result of a bug or stress or a bad piece of chicken. For me, it could be any of those things...or it could be the trusty Crohn's trumpet tooting an old tune called "Bust Out the Big Meds, Baby, I'm Comin' Back to Staaaaay!"
It's hard to explain to people who haven't been through it, but the worst thing about any illness is, I think, the not-knowing. I was much more scared about the diarrhea I suffered alone in my apartment pre-diagnosis than I was shitting two pints of blood out of my ass at Cedars-Sinai. Don't get me wrong, it was not without its alarming aspects (mmm...litotes...). But hey, if you're gonna shit two pints of blood, there's really no better place in the world to do it than the IBD ward of a clean, modern, teaching hospital in an industrialized nation. Especially if you have good insurance.
So the long climb back really was about information gathering. The more I learned, about Crohn's, about treatment, about my own body, the less I feared. And one of the things I learned is that shining the light of truth on something, living really and truly in the present moment and not where you were or where you'd like to be, really does turn that monster in the corner back into a coat on the back of a chair 99.99% of the time.
That's the lesson of one of my all-time favorite books, Bedtime for Frances*, which I first had read to me some 40-odd years ago. I'm not the fastest learner on the block (hyperbole alert!) and I'm sure in no small way my legendary stubbornness played a role (litotes! litotes!) but let's face it: human beings are wired for fear, and 0.01% of it is probably always gonna linger no matter how sanguine you are or how brightly your Mag-Lite® beams.
And now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to call my doctor.
The wonderful drawings illustrating this post are by Garth Williams from Russell Hoban's brilliant and hilarious Bedtime for Frances, one of the many delightful books in the Frances the Anthropomorphic Badger series. If you have a kid, buy it now. If you don't have a kid, buy it now anyway.