Crohn's Disease

My Life with Crohn's Disease

At 15, Katie knew her constant stomach aches were not normal. Diagnosed with Crohn's disease, she was relieved to have an answer but had no idea of the journey ahead. Here is her story...


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Be in the Driver’s Seat of Your Crohn’s Disease Body and Mind

A sudden phone call about the death of a loved one or other upsetting news can be shocking enough to one’s system, but for an individual with Crohn’s disease, it can be debilitating.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic illness that results from an inflammation of the end of the small intestine known as the ileum, and the beginning of the large intestine, known as the colon. Those with a higher risk for the disease tend to range in age from 15-35, with a family history, predominantly whites, Jews of Ashkenazic descent, cigarette smokers, and those living urban areas and northern climates.

The symptoms, which are extremely uncomfortable and painful, may vary widely but can include gas, bloating, abdominal cramps, persistent diarrhea, fever, and in some cases, rectal bleeding. Since the symptoms mimic other intestinal and digestive conditions, it often can take time to diagnose it correctly.

To further complicate matters, the symptoms can severely limit your activities and even when you’re in a period of remission, you may worry considerably about a flare-up. Such worrying can cause you to experience a whole range of emotions from anxiety and self-consciousness to fear and depression.

Another factor to be considered is diet. Certain foods and beverages can aggravate your symptoms and can reactivate your disease. When the disease is active, the absorption of nutrients may be compromised. That is why it’s important to develop good eating habits especially in times of remission, so that the lost nutrients can be recovered.

While much research has been done, there is no definitive answer regarding the cause or the cure for this disease. Therefore, it is essential to educate yourself about all the aspects of it so you can most effectively manage it.

Utilizing a mind-body approach is crucial in order to successfully take charge of your disease.

Take the case of my client, Donna, who had come into treatment to cope with her Crohn’s disease. A 32-year-old married mother of a three-year-old son, Donna was a sales representative for a medical supplies company. With a genetic predisposition to Crohn’s disease, (her father and paternal grandfather have it), Donna had been dealing with her medical condition since her early twenties.

Since beginning treatment she had only two flare ups that lasted four or five days. She reported having severe diarrhea, abdominal cramps and could eat very little. She constantly worried about traveling for work and pleasure, always needing to be cognizant of where the bathrooms were whenever she ventured out in public.

The idea of a recurrence both terrified her and made her extremely anxious. Knowing that it could happen at any time, she needed to prepare herself as much as possible, even traveling with extra clothing just in case.

We had done a lot of work on examining her diet. I had her keep a food journal in order to create a list of foods that triggered her disease. She began to experiment with different foods once she had a period of remission. For example, she discovered that while she couldn’t eat raw fruits and vegetables, she was able to tolerate them by boiling or steaming them. She realized that she needed to be cautious about her protein sources and ate mostly chicken and fish. While she ate few dairy products, she found that using Lactaid tablets before helped her digestion.

Things were going well as we began working on different relaxation techniques to help quell her fears and anxieties. Practicing these techniques, Donna reported feeling calmer and less worried about a recurrence of her disease. She began to think more positively about the future and became more active.

Then came the call that would test our work…

Donna was religiously punctual for her Wednesday 3 p.m. therapy appointments, so it concerned me that not only did she miss her appointment, but she also didn’t call or respond to any of my messages. Three days later she phoned from her hospital bed apologizing and explaining that a call that her brother had been killed suddenly in a tragic car accident led to a bad flair up of her Crohn’s disease.

She was consumed by fear and anxiety once again. While in the hospital I suggested that she ask her husband to bring her iPod so she could listen to her relaxation techniques. I thought it which would remind her of how much they helped during her times of remission and would also provide her with a tool that she knew worked during this healing process.

A week later we resumed our work. Donna was distraught over her brother’s untimely death. In addition, she felt anxious and depressed feeling as though all the progress we had made was pointless and that she was back at Square One. Her diet was now very limited and many foods she was able to eat before, she now had trouble tolerating. She worried about how she would do her job, be a good mother and wife, not to mention, grieve over her brother’s death.

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Allyn St. Lifer has been a therapist in private practice for over 30 years and specializes in teaching clients mindful eating to determine physical hunger and the point of satisfaction. She is the founder and director of Slimworks, a mind/body, non-diet approach for managing weight and transforming one’s relationship with food, body and self.

To find out more about Allyn, please visit her website: www.slimworks.com. She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.

Read other Allyn St. Lifer columns here

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