If you're living with a chronic illness, you're in the right place.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Anniversaries

6:26 AM Posted by Tiffany Taft , ,
Recently I passed my 11 year anniversary with Crohn's disease, which is some time around the end of May. Early on, I knew the exact date.  I want to say it's May 15th, 2002 but I can't be sure any more.  Is this a sign of my continued cognitive decline as I approach my 40s?  Or has the disease become less salient to my identity?  I'd like to think the latter since I don't feel 37, but who knows.

Proof that I'm 37. And if you recognize this, you also may be old.
We follow a lot of people with chronic illness in the socialmediaverse, and I often see people posting about the anniversary of their diagnosis.  If you think about it, getting a diagnosis of something that will never go completely away for the rest of your life is kind of a big deal.  I might even venture to say on  par with a birthday or a marriage.

Side note:  just think how nice it would be if the chronic illness cure rate was as high as the divorce rate in the United States.

So how do you recognize the anniversary of your diagnosis?

For me, it's been an evolution of my thoughts and feelings.  My first year was wrought with questions of if the diagnosis was even accurate and what seemed like endless testing and retesting.  The next few years the anniversary brought about a lot of anger and sadness because I had to have surgery and was blowing through medications to the point I was teetering on having nothing left to try.  For those with IBD, I was in one of the original Humira clinical trials at the University of Chicago after I had an infusion reaction to Remicade.  Once my disease was better controlled, my emotions faded and it became more of something in the back of my mind rather than the front.  I think this is when the meaning of the anniversary began to change from something negative to something more neutral and less emotionally charged.  In the past 2.5 years I've been in complete remission and med free, thanks to a pregnancy and whatever other forces are at play, and I find myself unable to remember when the anniversary even is.  I think that's a good thing.

What I've done to Crohn's.  In my mind.
A few weeks ago I wrote about one of my psychology heroes, Viktor Frankl, and his book about the search for meaning in life.  I often ask my clients this question when there's something bothering them, whether it's a comment someone made, a situation with a friend or family member, or simply a nagging thought that keeps them up at 2 a.m.

"What does that mean to you?"  

I ask people the same question when they want me to interpret a dream.  I'm not trying to be an a%#hole, or pull some psychologist-as-brain-ninja move on them.  Rather, what I think bears little relevance; it's all about the meaning to that person.  So something to think about if your illness anniversary is approaching is what does this day mean to me?   If you've had it for a while, how has that meaning changed over time?  You might be surprised by what you discover.  Other than the number 42.

Best,
Dr. T