For seven years, I struggled with ulcerative colitis. It affected every aspect of my life. With colitis, you can have good days and bad days. On bad days, getting out of bed and taking care of oneself can be difficult. Taking care of others, especially children, is another feat altogether. Having ulcerative colitis usually means you have frequent fatigue, pain, and discomfort, and, often, anxiety over the illness itself. It can be tough to keep up with the physical demands of kids, let alone all of the other responsibilities of life. Parenting is a hard job for the healthiest people, but it is a whole new level of challenge for those with chronic diseases. Having colitis makes it very difficult to do all the things parents need to do in taking care of their families.
With the prevalence of UC as high as it is, we know that it takes no prisoners. Ulcerative Colitis affects all walks of life, every race, age, and sex. It can affect the healthy as well as the sick. I was a very healthy, active, and athletic person whose life revolved around health when it entered my life. I was a health coach, helping people with weight loss through diet and exercise. I followed a vegan diet for many years and assumed I was impervious to disease. However, getting sick with UC took a toll on my confidence. I felt that I had done something wrong as a health coach and was afraid to tell people I had a disease for fear that it would make me look bad.
When I first was diagnosed with UC, I went through a divorce and was under stress. Not only was I depressed and sad about the divorce, but I was also physically drained. The colitis made me feel extremely tired, and it made it very difficult to parent my two young children. They were 7 and 10 years old and full of energy. When you have small kids, you don’t have time to be sick or to lay in bed. They need almost constant attention, feeding, driving, and care. As a single parent, it can be challenging to do it all in a healthy state, even more so when sick. I recall many days where all I wanted to do was lay in bed, and getting up to cook, clean, or play took everything out of me. UC takes a toll on your lives and the lives of those around you.
My kids were not aware of my illness. I didn’t want to scare them, and I thought it was too difficult to explain why I was tired. I often said I had a tummy ache or tiredness, which was entirely accurate. However, Inaccurate didn’t expand on why that was the case. They became accustomed to my limited energy on many days, but it didn’t make life any easier. Life goes on whether you feel well or not. Later on, as they got older, I explained more about what I was dealing with and the measures I was taking to resolve it.
Another aspect of UC that many people don’t realize is that it often accompanies depression. For example, gut damage can cause depression and anxiety because the gut holds many neurons, affecting mental health when inflamed. Also, many people will be deficient in nutrients such as Vitamin D, which can affect mood and mental health. So aside from the fatigue and discomfort, I often felt depressed. Anyone who has suffered from depression knows how deeply it can affect your everyday life.
Parenting, especially as a single parent, requires us to be in the best health possible. Without it, we risk worsening our health and not meeting our children’s needs and demands, and there are many. I encourage you to talk to your children about your illness and what you need to do to help yourself be well. Kids can be incredibly understanding and supportive, and as patients of chronic disease, we need all the support we can get.