Alyssa's Story: Going Public

It’s about time I wrote this. You see, I have been procrastinating for quite a while now because I have been feeling sick and sad. That shouldn’t matter here, in a community where we are loved and welcomed regardless of our condition, but I wanted my contribution to Girls with Guts to be special, and I am not feeling inspirational. I went down the Crohn’s treatment checklist from 2003-2010 when I had my colon removed. Since then, life has drastically improved, but my health is still irritatingly lousy. Depression and anxiety have been problematic as I cope with surgeries, the development of vision, joint, and heart problems, leaving school with unfinished work, and an awful breakup. My current malfunctions prevent me from completing my schoolwork and getting a job, but my circumstances have led to some wonderful unexpected opportunities that I believe will shape my future. My life is not where I want to be, and on top of that, I constantly doubt my abilities. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what the heck God has planned for me. I mostly have no idea what to make of my situation. One of his plans started coming together just as my own plans for my life were falling apart. While I’ve been futilely pursuing my idea of a “normal” life, amazing people and opportunities keep showing up to build evidence that my pain can be constructive. During my time away from school, I helped develop the new CCFA website, joined an ostomy support group, started a blog, and befriended some awesome IBD activists. My new friends inspire me to transform my suffering into something beautiful. My decision to start a blog was a big step toward a better attitude about myself. Prior to getting it up and running, I felt like my experiences were too lousy to be inspirational, and I felt like other people were so much more capable of being useful to the IBD and ostomy communities. Things changed when I decided to get more involved in online conversations. I started seeking more support from my peers, and I started becoming more confident that I could be useful. I am having visual difficulty finishing my schoolwork with all its insanely tiny print, but I can use speech recognition software and a giant monitor to write an informal blog. A few close friends and fellow bloggers helped me realize that in addition to my passion for building relationships with fellow chronic illness conquerors, I am equipped with a unique combination of skills and experiences that allow me to serve this special community.

My work is for people who haven’t reached the so-called “comeback” stage yet, because a lot of us are trying to navigate transitional periods in our lives. When I read stories of successful people who overcame their illness and achieved insanely awesome things, I wonder how they got to that point. I always want to know what got them through the rough patches with their illness, and I want to know if it is possible for me to push through my pain and fatigue to achieve great things too. I used to think everyone else handles their health problems with more grace and strength than I ever could. Now that I have a better grasp of common experiences and emotions, I feel less crazy, and I am free to express the full spectrum of emotions that accompany chronic illness. I’m good at organizing information and summarizing online research, so besides offering emotional support to people in transition, I can provide some starting points for online exploration. It has taken me a long time to truly recognize that my journey with health and emotional issues gave me the empathy and experiences that enable me to relate to others who are struggling, but I am finally starting to shed the shame of feeling worthless.

The blessings of hardship can be difficult to see sometimes, but life is better when they become clearer. I have a great appreciation for my “good” days, and I can recognize and celebrate little joys and victories each day. I spend time letting people know when I’m thinking of them, and I value the time I get to spend out and about with friends and family because I’ve spent so much time alone. I am a work in progress, and I am impatient to keep moving forward, but a new idea is sinking in: I need to forget about catching up to my healthy friends, and I need to be my own sort of awesome. For now that means I aspire to brighten your day and point you toward whatever help you’re looking for. I am constantly struck by the understanding and love shown by fellow activists and online friends. Our instant bond gives me the courage and motivation to share my thoughts and stories regardless of my insecurities. If you’re struggling right now, you’re not alone, and there are a whole bunch of fabulous folks who would love to talk with you.

I want to thank a few healthy friends and my online gutsy buddies (including the founders of Girls with Guts) for giving me the courage to really go public with my health conditions and share my thoughts. I have no regrets, and I know now that I am stronger and more powerful than I ever could have imagined.

If you’d like to get in touch, check out my blog or Facebook page.