Billie - Loving Myself Again

To the naked eye, I am just like every other 21 year old girl; if you saw me walking down the street, I would blend in with the crowd. What the crowd doesn’t see is that my body has waged war upon itself. My name is Billie Anderson. In January 2017, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis.

There is so much more than meets the eye when it comes to inflammatory bowel disease that the world just doesn’t see. I know that poo isn't exactly the most attractive of things to be discussing. I certainly wouldn't call it classic dinner conversation, but it’s much more than just an extra couple of trips to the loo. Ok, to be fair, that is a rather large part of it, but one thing that I wasn't prepared for was the mountain of other ways it affects me.

I first got really sick about two months prior to my diagnosis. Not only was I spending every waking moment stuck in my bathroom, but I became the definition of skin and bones. I lost two stone (28 lbs) in two weeks, and went from a healthy eight stone (122 lb) to just about five (70 lbs); my spine, my pelvis and my ribs were pushing through my skin. I wasn't eating, and the very little food that I did eat just came straight back up! Thanks to my ulcerated insides, I was losing a lot of blood, which caused severe anemia. My skin was so pale it looked like someone had sucked the life out of me. I was so sick that I could barely stand for more than two minutes without feeling like I was going to collapse. I couldn't walk five feet to my bathroom without needing something to hold on to.

I had gone from a very independent 20 year old, halfway through a history degree, living away from home and making her way in the world, to needing my mum to be on call in case I passed out in the shower.

After about a month of hell, I finally got to see a gastroenterologist and was pumped with lots of meds. They put me on a high dosage of predisolone as a kind of "quick fix" to get me back to a normal functioning human, rather than the zombie I had become. But, it turned out that my colon is very stubborn, so about three weeks after my diagnosis, despite all the steroids, I was admitted to hospital. As my consultant greeted me at the door, with the look of worry spread across his face, the first sentence out of his mouth echoed surgery…I felt like a terrified little girl who just wanted her mum to cuddle her, wave a magic wand, and make it all go away…

Thankfully, I left hospital; colon intact, but with another dent in my confidence. Thanks to the strong IV steroids, I resembled what can only be described as a Bratz doll. With chubby hamster cheeks and a thin five stone body, I didn’t recognize myself anymore; and every time I looked in the mirror, I couldn't help but cry at the skeleton I had become.

But, it didn't stop there. As a delayed reaction to the anemia, encompassed with all the stress that I had been under, the next thing was that my hair started to fall out. In the shower, I ran my hands through my hair, and was left with more down the plug hole, than on my head. My hair was always my crowning glory ever since I was little, and now I had bald patches appearing at 20 years old. To look in the mirror and hate what is standing in front of you, or to not even recognize yourself anymore, just shows how IBD is more than just extra trips to the loo.

Even though this is all doom and gloom, as time goes by, I get to see myself getting better every day. Slowly, I’m filling out in-between the bones. and you can no longer see my pelvis, spine, or ribs. I can now walk up the stairs without needing a helping hand, and the colour has been injected back into my face through blood transfusions, and multiple hits of IV iron; putting an end to the severe anemia that left me breathless and ghost-like. Then, there is the unprecedented joy of having a full head of hair again, or when someone notices how much thicker it looks. These are my little victories. My little moments of happiness that show how my illness is much more than just another trip to the toilet! I’m proud to say that I can look in the mirror again and instead of breaking down in tears, I’m in a place where I can find the strength to love myself again; to look at my face, my body, my hair and smile is the best feeling in the world.

It is this kind of struggle that the world doesn’t see. Now, I’m in a place where I don't look like a drugged up zombie, and the world just sees me as a normal 21 year old. I'm proud to say that I'm not. Even though I’m absolutely nowhere near remission, and my doctor keeps reminding me that surgery could be an option because of how angry my colon is, I do get these little moments of sunshine through the very dark clouds of IBD. They are little moments of joy that represent just how far I have come from those dark days, and as time goes by, I get to bask in the sunshine instead of wallowing under my own personal rain cloud.

Every day I look in the mirror, I take a deep breath and I see someone who has fought very hard for the last year; someone who is still fighting so hard to keep their colon intact, and push for the paradise of remission. It may sound all so doom and gloom, but here I am remembering it all not in anger, but in awe, that I have come out stronger than when I went in. I am living proof that there are little aspects of sunshine in amongst the storm that gets thrown at you if you are diagnosed with, not just IBD, but any chronic illness.

This is me, trying to love myself again.