“Read the fine print” are usually a couple of words of advice someone is likely to hear before closing a deal, purchasing something important, or making a big decision. Ironically, the statement can also remain to be true when relating it to health. But how does “reading the fine print” behind someone’s current state of health provide any benefit? Well, I for one stand as a perfect example.
When I was 7 years old
When I was 7 years old, I went to Red Lobster with my family and being the picky eater that I was I demanded to only eat a tiny mountain of popcorn shrimp. Later that evening, I became sick with food poisoning like symptoms and it raised enough concern the following day for my mom to take me into the emergency room. Being rushed in was scary, I had never been sick enough before to be taken to the hospital and the process of being poked with an IV was not something I remember handling well. It was a good thing I was taken in however because I was diagnosed to have a case of Rotavirus that kept me in the hospital for 3 days. Thankfully, I recovered quickly and was showered with stuffed animals and hugs from my family that made me feel like one tough cookie.
Unfortunately, over the next couple of months I had suffered from a lot more stomach pains and days off from school than I was used to. I began to lose considerable amounts of weight and just couldn’t seem to gain any either. But, the most concerning change to my health came in the form of intestinal bleeding. For a while, I kept this change to myself because I was ashamed and embarrassed to be losing blood in a way that wasn’t exactly glamorous. Though, I built up enough courage to tell my aunt and spent the next year in and out of SickKids hospital trying to become diagnosed.
After plenty of testing and misdiagnoses, I was finally given the label.
I have ulcerative colitis that is a chronic, incurable inflammatory disease that causes ulcerations within the lining of my large intestines most likely related to heredity and being immunocompromised from my dance with Rotavirus. Now, my understanding of my health condition was very minimal at my age. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I was sick in this way for whatever reason and that I wouldn’t be given a magic pill that would make it all go away.
Physically, my disease causes varying symptoms from individual to individual. Some people with my condition have very mild symptoms, where others are not so lucky and experience more severe consequences. This is where the “fine print” I was speaking of comes in. Often times, physical illnesses are treated according to physical symptoms. The focus of treatment is placed on finding solutions that will alleviate the pain or fatigue. However, what is overlooked more times than not are the mental health changes that can come as a result of being ill.
For a long time, I couldn’t understand why I could pinpoint the change in the way I felt about myself to that time in my life. I had been diagnosed with a physical disease, not a mental health illness so why was it that I began having anxiety attacks, falling into patterns of self-hate, and doubting myself? I was a very self-assured and happy-go-lucky kid before my diagnosis so why didn’t I still feel that way if my disease was only affecting my intestines?
As I got older, I started to research and ask more questions about how my physical disease could influence my mental health. It was then that the fine print of my disease began to read out loudly. In the case of inflammatory diseases like mine, the susceptibility to depression and anxiety is much higher and it is likely a result of excess stress on the immune system. It came as a strange relief to me that I wasn’t alone in feeling the way I did and it has inspired me to educate others on these facts.
The weight of a diagnosis whether it be physical or mental is always heavy at first.
You might feel like you are between a rock and a hard place where you just can’t seem to find justification. The most important thing to remember is that your struggle is what makes you who you are and there is beauty in the fact that you carry on every day as you. Your label does not define you and your feelings are always valid.
Written by Campus Rep Marcela Farias