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I Have A Chronic Illness, I’m Not Celebrating The Return To ‘Normality’ This Is Why


Another day, another 24 hours spent hanging out at home. At the time of writing, I’ve not left my apartment in just shy of 19 days – unless you count the mundane tasks of taking the bins out and checking the mail, that is. No, we’re not in the middle of a lockdown and no, I’m not self-isolating.

I’m part of a small clutch of folk who haven’t felt hammered and hamstrung by stay-at-home orders and the restrictions that have been part and parcel of the pandemic. In fact, the last two years have been among my happiest. Toward the end of 2020 an international YouGov study showed that 5% of people in the UK reported the coronavirus outbreak as having a positive impact on their mental health. And while I count myself within that number, that’s not to say I’ve not been impacted by pandemic-related anxieties. I’m one of around 115,000 people living with Crohn’s disease in the UK – a chronic autoimmune condition (that sits under the blanket term of inflammatory bowel disease, along with Ulcerative Colitis) that ultimately sees up to 80% of sufferers needing surgery at some point. 

In short: my immune system has a delightful habit of attacking itself – usually at inopportune moments – resulting in ulcers and inflammation that manifest throughout my digestive system. I’ve taken medication every day since I was diagnosed on 14 June 2007. Each of my flares has been markedly different in terms of severity (a couple requiring hospitalistion with around six months’ recovery, others at-home steroid treatment, and some just minor lifestyle tweaks), but recurrent symptoms include unrelenting fatigue, intense pain and a sense that I am, for want of a better term, malfunctioning. 

Back in early 2020, my specialist uttered the words everyone with chronic illness wants to hear: ‘You’re in remission.’ It came as a total surprise – I felt like hell. Looking through the rose-tinted lens of hindsight, I was stressed out with zero work-life balance. I had just moved into a new place, work was full on, I was travelling lots, saying ‘yes’ to everything and burning the candle at both ends. I can’t say I was unhappy, but I was overwhelmed and as much as I’d always claimed it to be, my condition wasn’t being prioritised. 

Having seemingly dodged a health bullet, as the first wave of Covid made its way westward, I was determined to keep my Crohn’s stable. I may not have had any symptoms in close to a year – just the minor omnipresent niggles, aching joints and low energy – but I was still a person living with a chronic illness. Though I don’t define myself by my condition (I tend to file it next to periods and mortgage interest in the list of things I’d rather not have to deal with), at that moment its presence was acute and I felt more vulnerable than I had since I was first diagnosed. 



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