Last year at this time, I was just beginning my downward spiral into my final severe Ulcerative Colitis flare. Each day of the next few months will be an anniversary of something UC-related, and the flashbacks to those harder times will be abundant: there are the dates of my multiple ER visits, the admission for my 16-day hospital stay, my first Remicade infusion, the day I came to realize that surgery was my best option. It seems like reminders of my past illness are lurking around every corner. But then so are reminders of my amazing recovery.
Healing physically and regaining strength follows a fairly logical and direct path; recovering emotionally is a bit more circuitous. Sometimes it is hard for my brain to grasp all that has happened in the past 12 months. How in the world did I make it through the tough events of the year to get where I am now? It all seems to have gone by so fast, and I don’t believe my mind has fully processed everything yet.
Even a simple doctor visit brings memories to the surface. Today I went to my primary care physician for a routine physical. It was strange in a way to be feeling so healthy again. My doctor and I hardly had anything to discuss. I had some lab work done to check B12 levels and other things to make sure I am absorbing nutrients correctly since surgery. Watching the needle go into my arm in the lab took me back to my days in the hospital. There, blood work and IVs made dealing with needles a daily occurrence and my arms were a mess of prick marks and bruises. Now it had been months since I had last seen a needle and the skin on my arm was beautiful and flawless.
And who would have thought seeing the final Harry Potter movie would set off a wave of emotions? Last December, four weeks after surgery, Doug and I went to see the second-to-last film in the series. Other than a few shopping trips, it was one of my first excursions out of the house. After the movie, we stopped at the grocery store and Doug ran in to get something. When he came out, he found me sobbing in the car. I am embarrassed to admit to having such a ridiculous pity party now, but what had set me off was Hermione’s fashions in the movie. I liked to dress in a similar style, and I thought I would never be able to wear my favorite clothes again. Not to mention that Harry, Hermione and Ron did a lot of camping in that movie. It made me worry that I might never do that again either . So, when I (wearing my favorite jeans once again) went to see the final film with Doug last month, that memory came flooding back, and I realized how much I had improved since seeing the last film.
Even outdoor activities often take me back. I just returned from an amazing eight-day backpacking trip deep in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. (I hope to get a video out on this in the next few weeks after sorting through the footage.) It was on a backpacking trip during the same dates last summer that my final UC flare took on a severity that I had not experienced before. As I hiked through the mountains last week, I often reflected on the extreme bleeding, fatigue, nausea and abdominal pain I felt on that trip and how immensely better things are now.
Then there are the places that act as reminders. Our recent backpacking trip departed from Durango, CO. At around seven weeks post-op, my husband and I took a week-long trip to this town. The excursion was liberating. It was a seven-hour drive there, and it was my first time emptying my appliance at rest stops and gas stations along the way. It was also the first time I changed my appliance away from home. However, I was still in a lot of pain due to my body being stubborn in healing my abdominal incision. It was a struggle to walk a few blocks, and I spent a good share of that trip curled up on the couch at the condo in tears, wondering if I would ever get back to normal. Now, eight-and-a-half months later I was confidently walking down the streets of Durango, pain-free and an expert at managing my ostomy. As I strolled along, my mind kept flashing back to scenes of that hurting and scared woman. I could hardly recognize her. Was that really me such a short time ago?
Perhaps someday the memories of my illness will begin to fade. However, maybe I shouldn’t be so eager to purge these recollections from my head. They are an important reminder of all that I have gone through and all that I have overcome.