Walking Two Roads

Now that I’ve returned to work, I feel like I’ve become two different people. One is Chronic Crohn’s Chrissy, who is supported by her wonderful husband and sassy kids because they understand her daily physical challenges; and the other is Conscientious Coworker Christina, a blog writer for a non-profit filled with staff who don’t have rooms reserved at the hospital or have to time their meetings around the toilet. Every moment of the day, I am one or the other, but have yet to be able to exist as both.

I start my days on “The Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis Diaries” Facebook page and Twitter, spending two hours reading posts in between packing school lunches and running to the bathroom. I catch up with the friends I’ve made since opening up about my disease on the most public of all platforms–the magical interwebs–and I can’t tell you how much these posts mean to me. To read about the challenges my fellow Crohn’s and colitis sufferers face, and the successes they achieve, is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. But most of all, it’s validating. I take strength from the fact that I’m not alone, and I try to add my voice to the discussion as well as post news articles to encourage the empowering exchange of information. And, yes, I do throw in a gratuitous cat meme from time to time to lighten the day. (And by time to time, I mean every. damn. day.)

When my kids are safely off to school, I put Crohn’s Chrissy on the back-burner and turn on Conscientious Christina (who has zero time for petty things like soul-searing, gut-wrenching fatigue). When I write, I feel at home, shaping words into effective sentences to help support the organization’s goals. When I have to run to the bathroom, or my fingers throb and burn with IBD arthritis, I try to separate myself from my pain so my other self doesn’t come through. I don’t have time to be consumed with what I like to call the “whats” of Crohn’s disease: “What do these symptoms mean?” “What did I eat?” “What can I do to make it stop?” and, most importantly, “What ancient deity did I piss off in another lifetime to deserve this?”

Conscientious Christina doesn’t have time, yet, for Chronic Chrissy, but I know that one day I will have to make room for both. It’s impossible to live as two separate people–to feel closed off from your coworkers because they can’t possibly understand what you’re going through no matter how hard they try. It embarrasses me to admit that I have to go to bed at 8 p.m. to get ten hours of sleep in order to take care of my family and to work the next day. And it’s even more embarrassing to admit weakness and to have to call in sick because I was up all night before, wracked with agony, glued to the bathroom, sweating and shaking because a chronic illness that I never wanted decided to choose me.

How do you navigate your separate worlds? Have you managed to successfully blend your two identities as Working Joe/Jane and Sick Joe/Jane? Or are you like me, walking two roads, your brain trying–but failing–to concentrate on which path to take?

11 thoughts on “Walking Two Roads

  1. You make me laugh and I can totally relate to you. That’s one of the pluses of this stupid disease I guess. You can relate to someone you have never met but who you share so much in common. I hope you have a great day.

    • Being recently (9 months ago) diagnosed with UC I am still trying to combine both of my worlds…. The nice part is I work in healthcare so it was easier to explain my diagnosis and have people understand (sorta.) It is also nice since my co-workers know what can entail in the disease that they were and are very understanding in regards to having to take time off b/c I’m sick.

      • Hi Jamie! I’m glad you’re in an environment that understands exactly what’s happening to you. Some people assume it’s intestinal only, and that inflammation isn’t occurring everywhere (along with depression in trying to work your life around UC). I bet you’re educating a lot of folks who will be more compassionate toward IBD people in the future! ~ Christina

  2. It is SO reassuring to read your posts and to know that I am not going through all these ‘battles’ alone.
    Every day I struggle not only with the demands and pressures of the multiple roles and responsibilities in my life but also battle the inner turmoil of Crohn’s, and all it’s associated baggage!

    Since my diagnosis and treatment began I, personally, have found it increasingly difficult to adjust my life, roles and responsibilities accordingly and I wonder (almost on a daily basis!) if I will ever find the right combination and balance to lead a ‘normal’ life again.

    Doctors and other health professionals tell us that a ‘normal’ life is possible, but when you’re faced with a daily battle of agonising pain, cognitive impairment and the constant fear that making the wrong decision could make it all so much worse, it’s really hard to see that this is possible.

    Having a chronic illness adds more pressure, pain and frustration to name but a few difficulties and makes the simplest task feel like a mammoth operation or expedition.

    I sometimes feel like I’m going slowly insane inside my own mind, worrying about pain and what mistakes I have made – your ‘what’s’ of Crohn’s are absolutely spot on! It’s mentally draining some days and so incredibly frustrating when all you want to do is something simple!

    I am trying a new approach though…….I am trying not to expect too much from myself in all my various roles, or push myself too much, but know my own physical and mental limits – it’s hard to recognise this! However, I feel that I am probably my own worst enemy and that if I can find a way to be kind to myself that other people in my life will follow suit and it may eliminate the disappointment and frustration of letting myself down, and also disparate my feelings of inadequacy. It’s currently a work in progress kind of thing!

    Thank you again for your brilliant blog!

    • I’m so sorry I’m late in replying, Rachel, but I wanted to thank you for your brilliant comment! If you ever want to write a piece for my “Voices of Chronic Illness” column, let me know! You can email me at livingsick@yahoo.com. I am going to make that a regular feature. And the reason I chose “Voices of Chronic Illness” as opposed to IBD is because what we all suffer through regardless of disease type is very similar.

      Thanks again! ~ Christina

  3. When my disease is active, I tend to still pretend it doesn’t exist. This is nice on one hand as I still do any and every thing I would regularly do, but bad on the other hand because sometimes I find myself doing things I know I shouldn’t be, things that will worsen my condition. I often just push myself too far and next thing you know I’m in the middle of a 5k praying for a point in the track where it would be appropriate to duck off into a restroom! I’ve gotten myself in some of the worst predicaments, but I’m also thankful that I haven’t missed out on much.

    • I’m glad you’re able to do the things you want to but are aware that they are sometimes too much! It sounds like you are balanced, or aware of what you need to do to feel balanced, and I think that’s the first step. I’m still in confusion land over here! ~ Christina

  4. Hi Christina: I gave up trying to do the two worlds, at least for now, as it was just too much for me. Luckily, I have an insurance plan and am on medical leave from college teaching. I was grateful to hear that you get 10 hours of sleep; I can’t seem to sleep that much, and I feel exhausted a lot of the time. I’m always amazed to read about these people with IBD who do all these things-working,
    travelling, hard core exercise-I don’t know how
    they do it. Thank you for your inspiring, insightful blog.

    • Thank you, Maureen, for reading and commenting and for the wonderful compliment! I’m glad you’re taking a rest. This disease sometimes feels like it sucks the soul out of us. There are times that I’m so fatigued, I can’t lift my arms above my head. It’s a hard journey, for sure. ~ Christina

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