Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A flare up

It's 11AM on a Tuesday morning. I've been up for 4 hours and haven't been able to get out of bed yet. After sleeping for 14 hours straight through hot and cold flashes with barely the energy to roll over, reality kicks in. Houston - we have a Crohn's flare. Although I've officially lived with Crohn's dating back to my diagnosis in 2000, I wish I could say I've had enough experience to understand the mechanics of managing my invisible illness.

Sadly, I don't know my body is in trouble until it's too late. What's worse - there simply hasn't been enough research for doctors to properly manage the day to day maintenance for Crohn's patients. Recent studies have explored the relationships between Crohn's flares, anxiety, and depression and I'm not surprised at all by the results. I mean...duh, you guys.

The sad truth is I've been telling my doctors about this cycle for over fifteen years, but they were never able to properly address my concerns with anything other than prescriptions. When you deal with constant discomfort and pressure in your body, it's easy to feel anxious because you're trying to find a way to be more comfortable. It's also easy to feel depressed or hopeless by the realization that your pain is ongoing and limits you from progressing in every sense of the word. The real bummer is heightened anxiety or succumbing to depression are essentially triggers to your body to attack itself further, resulting in a Crohn's flare, which can leave you in bed for up to a week. From my experience, laying in bed uncomfortably waiting to recover can cause more anxiety and depression. And so the cycle continues...

In an effort to control my flare ups, I've been injecting Humira pens into my leg once every two weeks in hopes of managing the cyclical dangers of living with Crohn's. After using the pens for almost a decade, my behavior, focus, and energy levels have entered a pattern of pre- and post-injection that causes trouble leading up to and immediately after the shot. I feel incredibly drained before the violent pen injection, but within 24 hours of injecting, feel a burst of energy that triggers all sorts of anxieties and mood swings until I eventually even out.

Unfortunately, the pre- and post-Humira effects are only the tip of the iceberg with managing a daily life. I still get flare ups that cause a lot of confusion, fatigue, and depression. When my brain enters what I call the 'flare fog' it can be especially frightening. I can be 100% totally normal and suddenly I can't think straight, my hearing goes out, and I feel like I'm going to faint. Add crippling abdominal and joint pain and you have the current challenges I face as a Crohn's Disease patient.

It's easy to be pessimistic about the cards I've been dealt, but I know it's healthier for my mind and body to be optimistic for the future of Crohn's management. Having brought my concerns for emotional and physical stress from Humira to my doctor's attention year after year, I've only been offered antidepressants as an aid, which provide even more unwanted side effects. This new study suggesting a relationship between anxiety, depression, and flare ups gives me hope that doctors will try to find solutions outside the pharmacy to balance the day to day challenges Crohn's Disease patients will face.

Now to get out of bed...