Finding Strength

Illustration by: Eris C. Kennish

Written by: Niamh Forbes

At the age of 21 I was diagnosed with coeliac disease, ulcerative colitis, and primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). Ulcerative colitis is chronic inflammation of the colon, resulting in continuous painful stomach symptoms that make everyday life very difficult, lack of vitamin absorption, and chronic fatigue. PSC is a rare liver condition in which the bile ducts in the liver get clogged. It is an incurable disease, the only treatment for which is a liver transplant. It can result in fatigue, jaundice, pain, and ultimately liver failure. Throughout the past year I have been on intravenous treatments, had a stent inserted into my liver, had CBT therapy for anxiety and depression, discovered that I was unknowingly developing cancer in my colon, and had my entire colon removed to treat it. My illnesses mean that I need a lot of help to get through life. I sometimes need day to day help making food, cleaning my house, and often I am often too anxious to go places on my own. However, this does not mean I am weak. Dealing with illness everyday since I was 15 has given me incredible strength. I would be a very different person without my experiences, and as much as I often resent my body for not working properly, I am oddly thankful for the good that it has brought into my life. Being a sufferer of chronic illnesses enables me to be more aware of the experiences and difficulties of others, and to relate to people in a way which would not be possible if I did not know what it feels like to experience trauma, fear, pain, relief, gratitude, to the extent I have. This allows me to fully appreciate my support network and realise how valuable the people close to me are, as well as the counsellors, doctors, and tutors that have helped me so much when I needed it. I still fear the future and what might happen inside my body, and what implications that may have in my life. But I am proud of myself for everything that I have done and achieved despite my illnesses, and all that I am capable of withstanding. The societal system we live in is not designed for people like me, nor is it designed to work in favour of women, people of colour, queer people, trans people, people with disabilities, people with mental illness, sufferers of abuse, creative people, those experiencing poverty, and many others. It is especially not designed for those who embody more than one of these categories. To live within this system will never be an easy thing and unfortunately it is a reality that I and countless others are living. I do feel lucky however to be allowed to see this system for what it is, and to be surrounded by people that also see this. This is powerful and and it is something my illness has given to me.