Next Sunday, the 7th, is my twenty-seventh birthday.
Two years ago I was turning twenty-five and I was 90 lbs and spending that quarter-century celebration by preparing for surgery to happen a week later. My eighteenth birthday I was a newbie to the Crohn's game and although I celebrated that occasion, I was much more sick than I was even aware of. In comparison to what my future with this disease would become, that summer before college when I became an adult; that was a walk in the park.
On my nineteenth birthday I was the opposite of the year before. I was on steroids again and I was puffy and I hated the way I looked. I guess in a way the extra weight made people think I was okay. I think that time was an extremely emotionally difficult time for me and it marked the first time in my life I ever thought about weight or my appearance. Imagine that--I made it through nineteen years as a woman never thinking twice about eating whatever the hell I wanted or wondering if I was wearing flattering clothes.
And then twenty came and it was more of the same. I took the medicines I was prescribed and I never actually knew if they were working. All I knew was that as long as I could get out of bed 75% of the time and live a somewhat productive life, then I would keep taking all twenty pills I was prescribed daily because at least I knew I was doing something to make myself better.
The year I turned twenty changed my life drastically and Crohn's picked up my life like a snow globe and shook that shit hard. I never comprehended until years later that I had actually come close to death and when my family later told me stories of the day my bowel perforated, I understood how serious this illness was. That year I also learned that I had been living my life with blinders on. I opened my eyes to the fact that I had become conditioned to life robotically. I walked to class and took notes and studied but I never did any of those things with enjoyment. I forged casual relationships with classmates I was forced to work with but I didn't actually make friends. My best friends were my mom, my dad, my brother, and my sister.
And as I have spoken of often on here, I will always remember my twenty-first birthday as when I started Remicade. There were no excursions to bars throughout the city for me. I spent my summer back and forth from Baltimore and my cocktail of choice was a saline drip filled with the medicine that would change my life and give me years of fulfillment where I was able to envision a life where Crohn's wasn't a topic I needed to discuss daily. That year I blew out my birthday candles with tears streaming down my face because no amount of joy involved in celebrating that special milestone could make me feel better. Only months after that first infusion was I able to feel the change that comes from a fulfilling life.
And honestly, I couldn't even tell you how I spent birthdays twenty-two through twenty-four. But I know I was healthy; very healthy. I also know, though, that two weeks after my twenty-third birthday I was in the hospital battling a bowel obstruction. That fact is one of the terrible things about Crohn's. That even when you are healthy, all it takes is scar tissue from your last surgery or an insufficiently chewed piece of food to send you bolting to the hospital. It is small in comparison to a Crohn's flare but it is still an awful reminder of how much this disease has the power to knock you on your ass when you least expect it. Even if it isn't the disease per se, there's always something else resulting from treatment or surgery that brings on new problems.
Unfortunately many of my memories of birthdays are tainted with this connection to my difficult times being sick. I also remember these times vividly because every time I've been in the hospital in the month of August and a nurse came to check my ID bracelet to confirm my information, there was always a 'happy birthday' exchange, followed by me laughing in my head at the cruelty of it all. I've gotten too many 'happy birthday' wishes from nurses and doctors over the years.
I will be turning twenty-seven next Sunday and although I might forget about future birthdays years from now, I will always remember this one. I am nowhere I thought I would be when I imagined myself this age but I also know that I have plenty of time to compensate for the past. Recently I have had a lot of frightening experiences resulting from moving on with my life with an ostomy. It has been terrifying to meet new people, date, and start a new job. But this is life. At least I am doing just that. I am living and as long as I am living I am going to be scared from time to time, ostomy or not.
So here's to me and the start of my first completely healthy year of adulthood. 27. HOLY CRAP.