It was a cold Alberta Sunday evening in the winter of January 2011. I was busy working on my Aga Khan fellowship application which was due in a few days when my partner,Irfan’s, dad called and asked if we wanted to go to Paris…..tomorrow. Irfan’s mom and brother (Adnan) were flying out tomorrow to visit Irfan’s sister (Jemila) who was living there at the time. We booked our flights and were set to travel the next morning.
Irfan and I worked frantically to pack, get the application done and mail it out all before our flight. I was exhausted by the time we arrived but didn’t want to waste any time getting caught up on sleep. We didn’t have many days to soak up all that the magnificent city has to offer. We were there for a week and although it was ridiculously fun I put my body though hell, physically but also emotionally. I was eating every bit of inflammatory food that was being put infront of me, was barely sleeping, had total disregard for my more than regular unhealthy bowel movements, and had totally neglected any yoga/meditation practice. Well 2 days before we were set to leave, I got my due in the form of horrid diarrhea.
Initially we didn’t think much of it. I mean, people get diarrhea all the time, especially when they’re on vacation. The diarrhea continued for a few days, which then turned into a few weeks which then turned into a month. Then I started to get worried. I was pooing between 10-20 times a day, the doctors couldn’t figure it out. They had me do a bazillion blood tests and everything was coming out normal. One month turned into two. I had chronic diarrhea for more than 60 days and had lost 30 lbs. I’m so tiny to begin with and I could NOT afford to lose any more weight! We were in and out of the hospital and finally, FINALLY, they did a scope and on March 8, 2011 I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
That was maybe the worst day of my life. I will never forget the moment the doctor said, “So Kiran, you have Crohn’s disease.” I stopped really listening after that point. I could feel the lump in my throat forming and could see Irfan from the corner of my eye, bless his heart, frantically writing down a bunch of stuff the GI was saying in his little notepad that he takes everywhere with him. I knew about Crohn’s and I knew it was bad. I had just learned what it was recently – it had been on my list, although at the bottom, of one of the many possible self-diagnosis, courtesy of WebMD. The GI went on to describe how I had this horrible chronic disease that would require life-long drugs and medical treatment. He talked about steroids and immunosuppressants and possible side effects. He talked about drugs I could take for the side effects of the initial drugs. He talked about travelling and how I would need to be more careful. Traveling to developing regions like Asia and Africa was probably not too wise as they didn’t know much about the disease and so could be dangerous if I needed to receive medical treatment in case of a flare-up. It was too much.
Driving home that same day from the hospital, from Calgary to Redwood Meadows, incredibly miserable, I received an email notifying me that I had been accepted to the Aga Khan Fellowship and that I was all set to go to Mozambique in a few months to help rural women farmers set up sustainable agricultural small businesses. This is the job I had basically been waiting for for 10 years; all of my personal and professional choices and achievements were directed towards THIS.
I was unable to accept the offer as I would not pass the medical for Aga Khan.
Life has a sense of humour.
And so, I made a choice. It was unacceptable. It was ALL unacceptable: the fact that I had Crohn’s, the fact that I had to rely on all these drugs, the fact that I was prevented from fulfilling a professional dream was all unacceptable. I decided to get healthy. That was the beginning of the end and the beginning of a beginning.
Luckily, Irfan and I were already a little into the “alternative health” scene, we had an aryuvedic doctor that we saw from time to time. After my diagnosis though, I was totally plugged in and fully charged in any and everything natural that could help rid me of this dreadful condition. I saw two healthcare practitioners, my aryuvedic doctor and a naturopath, both of which were incredibly helpful and supportive. They were confident that I would be able to heal my gut and get off the meds if I adhered to a special diet. I began an anti-inflammatory diet, which basically means no gluten, no dairy, and no nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers & eggplant). I sort of have an obsessive personality to begin with which got me into trouble in the first place (cheese & sheesha being my frenemies) but proved fortunate when undertaking the diet. I stuck to the diet with more discipline I had ever used in my whole life (my fellow partying MA students would have been pleasantly surprised ;)). I barely ate out and when I did it was either sushi or thai (thank God for Asian food!), or when I did not get to pick the restaurant I made sure to eat ahead of time because I was almost certain that everything on the menu would inflame my gut.
It was hard, I’m not going to lie. It was hard figuring out what to eat, it was really hard figuring out TASTY things I could eat, and it was hard dealing with the social pressure. You know what I’m talking about, when people look at you like, “Who does she think she is bringing her own food to the party” (which I did!) or waiters/waitresses hating you for making their lives just that more difficult for asking them to custom make my meal. I hated being high-maintenance! (I still do). This was SO unlike me pre-Crohn’s. I was Kiran, happy-go-lucky, incredibly easy to accommodate, and super adventurous. I was the kind of person who could decide to go to Paris and fly out the next day 🙂
Well, my personality and life changed overnight.
It had to, I had no choice if I was serious about this healing thing. I had to become incredibly aware and careful with my body. Whereas before, I could treat it like a garbage disposal with total disregard for the torture I was putting it through, now I had to treat it like an ill-child that was crying out for help. I only put in food that was on the diet (which then only became more restrictive as I learned additional food intolerances), ensured to not over-exert myself in anything that I was doing, and made certain to adhere to my yoga and meditation practise (stress is an absolute NO-NO with Crohn’s).
I decided to quit my job and give myself a big chunk of time to heal. I was living and working in remote Alberta on a First Nations reservation as a community project coordinator. NOT a stress-free job in the least. I needed to cut out stress so I cut out my job. I moved back home to Oakville, Ontario to be close to my family to soak up all the love my life had to offer. 🙂 I went on a bunch of meditation retreats and sought therapy to help me deal with all my emotional crap, which I was certain was major contributor to the toxins in my body.
When I was initially diagnosed, I was put on steroids and an immuno-suppressant and my symptoms subsided within a few days. I started the anti-inflammatory diet one week after the diagnosis and so it was hard to gage if the diet was effective as the meds were masking the symptoms. Even with the absence of symptoms I adhered to the diet religiously (I wanted to get to the CAUSE and be symptom free WITHOUT the meds!) Unfortunately, the immuno-suppressant gave me pancreatitis (omigoodness which was worse than the Crohn’s!) and so I had to discontinue that right away. The docs didn’t know what to do with me and so they kept me on the steroids for way longer than normal as they feared I would have flare-up if I stopped. I was on steroids for 6 months (yikes!) and then in August 2011 I finally convinced them to take me off.
It is now been 8 months since I have been med free and symptom free and I feel better than I have my whole life. I was basically chronically constipated my whole adult life, “IBS” as they like to call it, which I chose to suffer with and didn’t think much of. I used to feel sluggish and tired and was prone to flus and colds (which I would pop antibiotics for like it was candy). Now I feel awesome! I have so much energy, have great skin, BARELY get sick and, and best of all, have normal bowel movements! My god, the joy of having normal poops! My day just starts off great with a great poop. I honour my body and take care of it. In return, it takes care of me. 🙂
My GI now thinks that I was mis-diagnosed and that I never had Crohn’s in the first place because they can’t make sense of how I am doing so well. I told him that I healed myself. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Maybe, but I think we misdiagnosed you.”
Well they can say whatever they want.
All I know is that I was sick before, even well before Crohn’s, and that with some diet and lifestyle changes I feel healthier I have been my whole life.
And to that I say, thank you Mr. Crohn’s Disease 🙂