Accepting the Restrictions From My Crohn's Disease
When I was younger, all I wanted to do was play sports. I played football, baseball, basketball, even hockey. But when I was 12 years old, I started feeling really bad - I'd get stomachaches and really bad constipation that would last three or four days. I remember being in the bathroom, almost screaming in pain. I knew it wasn't normal. Eventually, my doctor diagnosed me with Crohn's disease.
Because going to the bathroom hurt so much, I would consciously eat less because I associated eating with the pain of going to the bathroom. I got really skinny and dehydrated, and kept getting sicker and sicker. Soon, I couldn't lift a baseball bat, much less play tackle football. I lost any kind of athletic ability I had - it all diminished. That was a really hard time.
I started high school weighing 80 pounds. You can't play high school baseball weighing only 80 pounds. It was terrifying - these huge 18-year-old guys walked around with beards and big guts, and I was tiny by comparison. I kept to myself, certain some of the other students would pick on me.
Luckily, everyone left me alone, and sooner or later I discovered golf. To me, golf was everything. I started playing almost every day. It replaced baseball, football - all those sports I loved while growing up. I may have lost the ability to play everything else, but at least I had golf.
But sports weren't the only major loss. Because I was so sick in middle school, I was homeschooled during eighth grade. Most of my friendships faded away because I just didn't see people that often. Friends would come and visit me, but I'd have to run to the bathroom all the time and would be in so much pain that they would have to leave. But my core group of high school friends - the ones that mattered - still stuck around through our graduation.
High school was rough - but then I started college. I drank alcohol for the first time and even kissed a girl for the first time. I joined a fraternity and experienced my first hangover. It all hit me really fast. Because I have an ostomy bag, I get dehydrated very easily - hangovers were the absolute worst. I would spend all day recovering from a night out. After a while, my grades really started to suffer, and I knew I couldn't keep treating my body so badly. I decided to stop drinking. Even without alcohol, I still have a great time at the bars and at frat parties. Sometimes I'm the designated driver for my fraternity brothers. Honestly, watching drunk people be drunk tends to be pretty amusing, and it's fun being the only person who remembers what happened the night before. I'm at peace with giving up alcohol - it just wasn't worth it for me, and I feel so much better now.
Treating my body well also meant I had to stop eating like a college student. Even during my freshman year, I ate healthier than any of my friends. But because my Crohn's is so severe, it wasn't enough. I started cooking more and stopped eating fried foods. Now, my normal diet is really simple. I'll have a yogurt and a protein shake in the morning, a sandwich for lunch, and some sort of meat for dinner, with easy-to-cook vegetables like asparagus or peppers. I honestly don't really care what I eat, as long as it doesn't make me feel terrible. My dad always said, "Eat to live; don't live to eat," and that's what I do. I eat because I have to, not because I love the taste.
So yes, I gave up my favorite sports, I struggled a little in school, and I keep a really restricted diet free of alcohol and fried foods. But honestly, I don't care about the things I may be missing out on. I've felt so bad in the past, and I don't ever want to go back there again. Feeling good is well worth the sacrifice.
Matthew Miles is in his fourth year of college at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.