When you have a chronic illness, it’s easy to focus only on the negative impact it has on your life. Pain, sickness, endless rounds of treatment, overwhelming fatigue, the loss of life as you knew it and the disruption of all your plans for the future.

See? Easy. It’s much harder to recognize any positive effect that your illness may have had on your life. In fact, some people may argue that there are no positive aspects to having a chronic disease. I can’t speak for everyone, but there are definitely ways in which having IBD has made my life better.

I’m not saying I’m grateful to have Crohn’s disease. Far from it. It’s f******g hideous. If it were a person, I’d punch it in the genitals. But to ignore that it’s had any positive impact on my life would not only be untrue, but it would also diminish my accomplishments and the support of my loved ones. IBD has improved my life in the following ways:


When I was first diagnosed with IBD, I had just begun training as a biomedical scientist. Two years later I was qualified, but my illness had taken such a toll that I was no longer able to do my job effectively. I needed a change. I made a list of the jobs I had always wanted to do, a list of my current skills, and found a point where the two lists intersected. I topped up with a couple of university courses, and I now have a career that I love and can easily work around my illness.


Whenever someone would ask my nan (who lived to be 100) what she wanted for Christmas, she would say “to wake up.” Although she was joking, I get it. I am grateful for every day that is a normal, boring day where everyone I love, myself included, is happy, healthy, and safe. For me, that’s as good as I need it to get.


This ties into #2. I no longer sweat the small stuff. Hell, I rarely sweat the big stuff. All the anxieties and insecurities – social, financial, physical — that used to plague me are inconsequential now. I have achieved a zen that my disease-free self could have only dreamed about.


Aside from the Crohn’s, I am probably the healthiest I have ever been in my life. To keep myself strong enough to fight my illness I have to eat reasonably well, drink alcohol in moderation, exercise, not smoke, and not take foolish risks. The extended hedonistic adolescence I enjoyed before I became ill is a distant memory, and I’m sure my body and mind are all the better for it.


Once upon a time, I was young. My skin was like cream, my belly was taut, and my breasts laughed in the face of gravity. And yet, I never would have dared to get naked in front of other women. Now, after all the surgeries, scopes, and other bodily invasions, I can honestly say I will never be ashamed or self-conscious of this body again. I now stride confidently through the locker room, resplendent in nothing but my pride, every crease and pucker on unabashed display.


Before illness affected me personally I, like many people, had only a superficial empathy for others. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be empathetic, but I had no personal experience or point of reference with which to relate. But sickness, pain, and fear are universal, and once I had my turn with them, it opened the door on my compassion.


Perhaps not better, but definitely more. My illness has taught me endurance, patience, and perseverance. It has forced me to confront disappointment, grief, and crippling fear head-on, without flinching or compromise. I can be happier now, because my needs and wants are simpler and immaterial, and I have a gratefulness and appreciation for things that I wouldn’t have thought twice about before.

So do all these positives make up for my having Crohn’s? Not exactly. If I could cure my Crohn’s tomorrow, would I? Of course, I would. If I could, would I go back in time and never get IBD? That question is harder to answer. I like the person I am and the life that I have, and I wouldn’t be this person or have this life I hadn’t become ill. I’ve made peace with my illness, so, honestly, I don’t know if I would change the past.

What I do know is that’s there’s a silver lining to everything, even Crohn’s disease. And for me, that’s enough.