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The challenges of living with ulcerative colitis – an inflammatory bowel disease – can be devastating. Worse, the pressure that copes with it can actually cause symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps, according to Medline Plus.
People with ulcerative colitis usually require it lifelong treatmentbut I’m learning to manage stress can help reduce the risk of eruptions. Of course, there is a big difference between being told to remove stress and actually knowing how to do it. Here, four women share what they learned about coping with stress while living with ulcerative colitis.
“Get ahead of your stress.”
Megan Starshack, 36, has been suffering from ulcerative colitis since 2002, receiving a regular IV infusion of a biological (an infusion treatment that contains sugars and proteins or living organisms) to keep symptoms under control. But she is well aware that sometimes there will be bad days in which there can be up to five bowel movements. “After a super stressful day, I will notice that I have more pain and looser stools,” she says.
Once, before an important presentation, she became incredibly ill and wondered whether to go to the presentation or to the hospital. Fortunately, a friend intervened and told her, “Whatever happens, your life will move forward,” and that her health is more important than her job. “It’s a moment I kept to myself,” she says. “I’ve learned to give up things that really don’t matter in the long run.”
Starshak says he is now trying to plan better when he knows a busy week is ahead. “Don’t wait until you’re in the middle to realize that your stress is high,” she says. “Overtaking is crucial.” She recommends any version of stress management that works for you, such as yoga or walking.
“Forgive your body.”
Tovah Bleakney is the mother of three young boys and says her symptoms of ulcerative colitis can make it difficult to juggle parenting requirements. During an attack, “I have severe fatigue, joint pain … I’m in and out of the bathroom all day, leaving my young children with very little time with their usually very energetic mother,” she says.
Between juggling work and home life, 38-year-old Bleakney says she “constantly guesses” what she can do. “On days when I can’t give 100%, I feel like a complete failure,” she says.
But Bleakney learned that changing her mindset could help. “I keep reminding myself that I have no control over this,” she said. “But I control how I treat myself and the grace and forgiveness I give to myself and my body in those days.” Bleakney also started posting daily affirmations and motivations on Instagram. “I can remind myself and the people around me to be kind and work to love each other,” she says.
“You might as well laugh!”
It has been almost a decade since Mary Elizabeth Ulyman was diagnosed with the disease and she has learned to always be prepared. “The first thing I do when I go somewhere is find out where the bathroom is,” said the 33-year-old. “I tend to plan ahead and make sure I know the schedule, locations, and meal plan. I’ll pack my own food if necessary, and I’m used to always having at least a few safe snacks on hand just in case.”
On top of that, Uliman keeps an extra pair of underwear at his desk at work and in his car in case of accidents with unexpected bowel movements. “I always tell myself that if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry, so you can laugh,” she says. “After all, poop will always be funny – I don’t care how old you are.”
Josephine Pucha has been battling such serious symptoms – including extreme fatigue, diarrhea and malnutrition – since she was diagnosed two years ago that she feels she has to quit her job at a health clinic. The 28-year-old mother says she had to keep her main dreams – including going back to school to become a medical technician and have more children – because of rockets. She even had to postpone her plans for an intimate wedding because her condition was so bad.
“Most days I can’t get out of bed or the toilet,” Pucha said of the condition, which often leaves her physically and mentally exhausted. “My symptoms can just go from manageable to unbearable from one day to the next. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that this disease has been with me for a lifetime, so it’s time to learn how to live with it at my best. the way I can. “
Puccia says she is focused on finding a treatment that works. “I just see what my body can handle,” she says. “There is no giving up because I have a little girl who looks after me and needs me more than anyone else in this world.”
After dealing with significant hair loss due to her illness, she made a bold move. “I finally had the courage to just cut it off and see it as a new beginning on my path to remission and good health,” she said. “Instead of controlling ulcerative colitis, I now control ulcerative colitis.”
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