Updated: Apr 6, 2021
It's hard for me to pinpoint where my symptoms started. I remember as early as being in my teens and having a period of time where I would wake up in the middle of the night every night with stomach pains. I don't know if this was the beginning of my Crohn's symptoms or just anxiety.
I do know that by my mid-twenties, I definitely had symptoms. Talking to one of my friends, she remembers us trying to figure out "what was wrong" with me around 2014. I kept cutting out foods and trying to change my lifestyle to manage whatever was bothering my "stomach". Nothing helped.
In September 2016 I started full-time school for dental hygiene. The summer before, I had my yearly physical and I remember telling my doctor that I think something was wrong with my gastrointestinal tract and I would like to have a colonoscopy. My family has a history of GI conditions and intestinal polyps, so I wanted to have it checked out. I told my doctor, however, that I would be starting school and didn't have time for it right now-- so I would get back to him about this once school was over.
School was challenging. The dental hygiene program is very taxing and requires a lot of dedication and drive. I love my job, I am so happy that I did it, but it was a lot physically, mentally and emotionally. I was also essentially working two jobs at the same time, so I would wake up at 5:30 every day and go to bed at 11:30 and would be nonstop on the go.
Naturally, the stress I was under flared my symptoms. At the time, though, I had no idea I was dealing with Crohn's. I thought that I was under so much stress and my body was reacting accordingly, which in part was true. I was in pain every single day in school, I spent a lot of time in the bathroom every morning and during breaks, and I was completely exhausted.
Somehow, I managed. I am fortunate to have an unbelievable support system in my husband, family and friends, and had the help of some amazing classmates and professors. But I was constantly wondering what was wrong with me. I was in school with girls who were raising kids and very busy, and yet I felt like I was always struggling so much more then they were. It made no sense to me.
In January 2018, while on break before my last semester, I actually googled "Crohn's Disease". I have a cousin who has Crohn's, and I just continued to feel worse as time went on, so I started to research if it was possible I had something more going on than stress-induced IBS. When I looked at the list of symptoms of Crohn's, I realized that besides intestinal pain and constant bathroom urgency, they did not apply to me. I closed Google and didn't look back.
For those of you that follow my Instagram account, you know that in May 2018 I finished my last semester of dental hygiene and went to California. What you may not know is that at the same time I failed my first clinical board exam (my patient did not qualify for the exam, but that's a blog post for another time), so again I was under a lot of stress.
Looking back on the trip to California, this was the turning point where I finally started believing something was seriously wrong. I was so exhausted the whole trip, constantly in the bathroom at Disney, my joints and muscles hurt, and by the end of the trip I had broke out in mouth sores that were so painful I thought that I had strep throat. I put on a happy face, though, and enjoyed the trip the best that I could. I knew that I had an appointment with my PCP in June and told myself I would wait until that visit to deal with whatever was going on.
June was crazy busy, I was catching up on my life from being in school for 2 years and I did my first board exam retest (again, a story for another day). I remember before the exam I was at the school in the bathroom texting my mom, just bawling my eyes out. I was in so much pain and so stressed and didn't know how I was going to get through it. I took the exam, unfortunately the result was not ideal, but looking back it was not surprising considering my physical and emotional state.
I finally made it to my PCP in late June and he gave me the information for a Gastroenterologist. He also did my bloodwork and sent me on my way.
I called to make an appointment with the GI doctor and the first appointment I could get was late August, with a colonoscopy sometime after that. I was disappointed with having to wait, but it was a start.
After my bloodwork came back, my PCP called and said - good and bad news! I was severely anemic, so maybe that was my whole problem! I started on iron supplements, which considering all of my GI issues, were tough for me to tolerate. But I thought maybe, just maybe, this was a simple solution to my problem.
You have to understand, it was challenging to advocate for myself because I had been in pain for so long, I didn't realize how bad it was. And unlike many who describe having "good days and bad days", I would have good hours, or even good minutes, and bad hours/minutes. I would feel okay for a couple hours and think, maybe it was all in my head. And then for a couple hours I would be crippled over in pain. It was such a mind game with myself and hard to know how serious it was or how much I should be speaking up about it.
By early July, however, I called the GI office and told them that I could not wait. I needed to get in earlier. They moved my appointment to early August; it was the best they could do. So it seemed I had no choice but to wait...
Part 2 coming next week!
Stay strong and s m i l e <3