My Year With Crohn’s Disease

I realized yesterday that I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease exactly one year ago. Happy Autoimmune Disease Birthday to me! It took me awhile to write and edit this post, so it’s not exactly to the day, but it’ll do. I figured I would write about my journey with this disease – from flare-ups, finally being diagnosed, medications, and now, one year later, how I’m dealing.

*Just a warning, there are some gross parts, so I apologize if you don’t find it appealing, but this is what happened. Also, it’s kind of a long story…it’s been a long time coming and it felt like even longer when I was actually going through it all. I warned you. So if you’re still willing to read, let’s proceed.*

148441_460201446525_5864254_n

November 2010 – My roommate Becky and I

Okay, so I have had two flare-ups in my life, but it wasn’t until the second one that I was diagnosed with Crohn’s. I have no doubt that my flare-ups have been stress-induced. To start off my first flare-up, let’s take a trip to my senior year at Geneseo. Fall 2010 began pretty rough: my 6+ year relationship had become very rocky, I was going to college full-time, working at Walmart part-time, and on top of this my mom’s Multiple Sclerosis was a constant worry.

My health decline started with stomachaches that would not go away no matter what I did. If I was in my dorm room, I would lay down for the 5 or 10 minutes it took for the pain to go away on its own. There was no pattern to them – I thought maybe it was something I ate, but then they began happening before I ate as well as after. I then began noticing little bumps on my legs one day when I was shaving; they looked like whiteheads or ingrown hairs, but they seemed a little more on the green side than on the white side. Weird.

By the end of October my relationship ended, my schoolwork was getting more difficult, and it seemed I never had time to relax, let alone sleep. I was constantly feeling alone and left out because none of my friends had to worry about working and school, so they were able to enjoy their nights watching TV, going to dinner together, just hanging out. But I didn’t have a second to stop and chill.

And eating? Forget it. I began feeling nauseous at the thought of food because the stomach pains had become so intense and unbearable. I quickly began losing weight and by November, I was down to 112 pounds; my normal weight at that point was around 124. I mean, we’re talking my butt was becoming flat. Obviously something was wrong.

134861_10150106186291963_4477977_o

December 2010 – I was completely exhausted here and at my lowest weight. But I had to support the Sabres!

Throughout this time, those small “pimples” on my legs grew and became large open sores. At one point, I would try using a cotton ball with either hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol to clean them, put some Neosporin on them, and cover them in band-aids every single day. No matter what I did, though, they never got better. I mean they were getting so deep and wide that I had craters in my legs. Yeah, gross.

I also was getting swollen joints – I wore a knee brace under my pants because I couldn’t bear all of my weight on my knee without it feeling like it would buckle. Up until this point, I had really only had my nauseous episodes while in my room, so it was easy enough to just lay down for a bit to let the feeling go away. But then it started happening at work; I almost passed out a couple times during my shifts at Walmart because of the pain, nausea, and lack of nutrients.

Wow, what a mess I was!

Okay, so by this point you’re probably asking, “Why the hell did you not see a doctor?!” Well, you see, I did not have insurance. I had just turned 21 in August and my dad took me off his plan. I didn’t have money to pay for my own plan, let alone a bunch of medical bills. I was in the process of enrolling in a state-funded insurance but that takes forever, so unfortunately I never saw anyone for this until it was well-developed.

I ended up going to the ER, though, over winter break because I just couldn’t take it anymore. Something had to be wrong and things were still not getting better, even after being home on break from school and work. Because I did not have insurance, they were not willing to do much for me. I mean, the doctor tried to give me a pelvic exam – I think she thought I was either pregnant (I assured her I was not) or had cysts. After a long and frustrating night, I went home with no more answers than I had entered with.

I eventually got approved for insurance and started making appointments with a doctor in my hometown as well as the doctor on campus. Cultures of my sores were taken but showed no signs of what they were assuming would be strep or staph infections. Antibiotics and corticosteroid creams were tried but nothing was helping. Strangely though, everything just sort of went away on its own by about mid-March 2011; I wasn’t taking meds or applying any creams at that point, so my mysterious condition was still very mysterious.

It left some pretty mean scars on my legs, so I was extremely self-conscious with the warmer weather, wanting to wear things that would show my legs. But lo and behold, my skin was healing and I could eat again! Without knowing why, my condition was gone!

209684_1933276566171_385745_o

May 2011 – Thank goodness I had gained my health back in time to participate in the IV Powderpuff game!

Or so I thought.

Fast forward to 2012. I had been accepted into Columbia University for graduate school in July and decided to defer admission until spring 2013 because there was no way I could go with such little time. And since my mom had been in the nursing home for over a year now, I had been spending my time alone in my house except when I was substitute teaching or working at Walmart. So I was pretty stressed. Add on the fact that I had just gotten a long-term substitute job for a maternity leave for the first 10 weeks of the 2012-2013 school year. I was so excited to get more experience teaching middle and high school kids, but man oh man did the stress get to me.

By the first week of September, my symptoms started coming back. The pain. The nausea. The extreme weight loss. The sores. Everything was back. And with a vengeance. I mean, I was literally waking up in so much pain all over my body, I had to hobble like a 90-year old woman. At one point, I was hardly able to put my shoes on because my one ankle was so swollen. The sores started as painful lumps under my skin before they actually opened. Again, gross, but that was my reality.

Luckily I took action much sooner this time, although it was really frustrating. I went to my general practitioner multiple times without getting answers. During my third visit, I broke down and cried telling her how stressed out I had been and how much my health issues were making things worse. She prescribed me a low-dose anti-anxiety pill. This did not do a darn thing.

398181_10151052708571526_1239012809_n

School ID as a teacher. Looking kind of gaunt. Cool.

She finally referred me to a GI specialist and wanted me to get a colonoscopy. Because of my age, the GI specialist decided to “simply” perform a sigmoidoscopy first. Tom came up to stay with me for a few days and take me to my appointment since I was going under anesthesia and would be in no shape to drive myself home. Apparently I was very persistent in trying to share my cookies with him once I woke up after the procedure. Unfortunately I missed a day of school for this test and it showed nothing.

Two weeks later, I ended up in the ER again. This time, because I had proper insurance, the doctors ran a whole slew of tests. Blood tests and cultures, a CT Scan, and a chest X-ray. Around 2:30 a.m., after about 5 hours of being there, the doctor came in and said that all tests pointed to either Crohn’s disease or colitis, but to get a definitive answer I would need to get a full colonoscopy. Until then, she gave me steroids, antibiotics, and mesalamine (anti-inflammatory meds for those with ulcerative colitis flare-ups). Good. Great. Grand. Wonderful.

Within the next few days, I felt much better. I went to Baltimore with my friends as planned the following weekend and boy did I enjoy eating food again! I can tell by the pictures of that weekend how skinny I was! I mean, look at my face! It’s usually a bit rounder than that.

487509_10151235273756963_1592622273_n (1)

September 29, 2012 – Baltimore with Megan

The GI specialist received my ER tests and made an appointment within the next week; obviously something was wrong or they wouldn’t be so quick in doing this. So on October 8, 2012, I went in for a colonoscopy and came out with a definitive answer: I have Crohn’s disease.

I continued taking the steroid Prednisone to help with the inflammation (since Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease, my body was attacking itself, causing inflammation and bleeding and all that good stuff in my intestines). Unfortunately, steroids are known to cause “moonface” – puffiness of the face due to fat depositing in that area after long-term use of the steroids. I obviously began gaining weight because I was finally able to eat again, which was a great feeling. Except I felt like my face was getting very fat and puffy. Everyone kept telling me I looked great and that I didn’t look fat. All I will say is they all lied. Just take a gander at my passport photo which was taken after a month of being on steroids. Thanks everyone.

IMG_0095

November 2, 2012 – Moonface Holliday

Since that day, things have been great. It sucks that I have to take 12 pills every day (I take Delzicol, if anyone’s wondering: 6 with breakfast, 6 with dinner) but I would much rather deal with that than with the excruciating pain I was in. I’m back to a healthy weight and I haven’t had any problems thusfar with my medications. I try to be a little better with my diet, but the doctor has not restricted me in any way. Many people ask if I’m not allowed to have nuts or seeds, but my GI doctor said, “If you like it, it tastes good, and it doesn’t bother you, eat it.” And I have. And I do.

I even emailed the doctor at Geneseo with my story (a bit more condensed) so that maybe if he ever comes across these symptoms again, that person won’t have to go through this huge mess like I did. I feel like I should be on that show Mystery Diagnosis. That could be interesting…

Advertisements

Ahava Something To Tell You…Get It? {Skincare Series 1}

Okay Skincare Review Series, episode 1. How about we start with my favorite of the moment: Ahava.

Ahava LogoNot only is Ahava the Hebrew word for “love” (aww) but it is also a skincare line from Israel whose products are made from Dead Sea minerals and plants as well as other all-natural ingredients. Depending on what type of skin you have and what you want out of your skincare regimen, you can pick which line is right for you.

All products are:

  • Paraben free
  • SLS/SELS free (sulfates)
  • Allergy tested
  • Approved for sensitive skin
  • Not tested on animals
  • Produced without petroleum, harsh synthetic ingredients, or GMOs

My favorite line of products from this brand, Ahava Deadsea Plants, is heavenly. Honestly I hope heaven smells like this. If so, Lord take me now.

Our store carries all four products in the Plants line – you can distinguish them by their green lettering. Overall, the scent of the Plants line is so refreshing. It’s like…plants. Duh.

The Caressing Body Sorbet makes your skin feel so silky smooth and completely moisturized, without feeling heavy, oily, or sticky. This stuff smells so wonderful, I honestly want to eat it out of the tub. And then, when it’s on my hands, I want to eat my hands.Body Sorbet

The Firming Body Cream is similar to the sorbet, except it seems a bit thicker and smells a little less amazing. I’m unsure why that is, but I prefer the smell of the body sorbet to the body cream.Body Cream

The Dry Oil Body Mist is awesome. Apparently oils are all the rage nowadays for skincare, even for oily skin. Weird, right? I actually tested it side by side with another brand’s body oil spray on my legs. I joked with my coworker that we were going to be so oily we could just slide right home after work.Body Oil

But they aren’t like putting on baby oil where it’s just thick and goopy and makes you look slicker than the hair of a 1920s mobster. It’s a light mist that you spray on your body, gently rub so that it soaks in thoroughly, and you are left with glowing, dewy-looking skin. And it smells absolutely fantastic.

The last product, the Smoothing Body Exfoliator, does not smell the best. This would be my least favorite of the four products based on smell alone. It is not harsh or super gritty since Moroccan Argon shells serve as the exfoliators. I have not tried its actual exfoliating power since I am at work and would most likely try it on my legs. Or feet. And that would be weird to do at work. Right?Exfoliator

If you read my Hair, Skin, & Nails post (if not, do it to it my friend!) my skin is super dry and sensitive. Something else that is sensitive: my olfactory nerves. My mood will change drastically if something smells bad; like, I transform from Happy to Grumpy in a nanosecond. Although, side note, Once Upon a Time taught us that Grumpy was originally named Dreamy.

Long story short: I need intense hydration that is gentle and that smells divine and Ahava Deadsea Plants definitely provides that.

Apparently Duane Reade and Target both sell Ahava products, although they go by the name ‘Dead Sea Essentials’, are not found on their website, the packaging is much different, and the prices are much lower. This is definitely something to look into if you don’t want to splurge on the “real” stuff. I’ll admit that Ahava products are pretty pricey and not as readily available as the less expensive alternative.Dead Sea Essentials

For more information on their products, the company, or to order some shweet stuff, you can go to their website, www.ahavaus.com. Also, let me know if you’ve tried Dead Sea Essentials and what you think; I may try it out myself…

Hair, Skin, & Nails >1 Month Update<

It has now been 4 weeks since I started taking the Hair, Skin, & Nails supplement, so I’m updating with my overall impressions after one month. As was mentioned in my previous post, I am only taking 2 of the caplets when the suggested dose is 3 per day. So let’s see what (if anything) I’ve noticed…

DSCN1126

My skin has been on and off with pimples here and there, and it still feels dry without moisturizer. I realized, however, that when I work out my skin tends to freak out. Since our 5k at the end of June I haven’t been working out as much with school and my new job. My skin was looking fine and then one day I decided to run, and by the end of that day I had two pimples starting to take form. To be fit or not to be fit?

Also, the back part of my scalp went through a couple days worth of itchiness and I was actually afraid that I had gotten lice! I bought Neutrogena T-Sal shampoo and T-Gel conditioner and (thank God!) it felt better by the next day and (again, thank you Lord) I have not had the itches since.

My hair seems a little bit more lively, but I’m not sure how much the supplement has to do with that. For one, as mentioned before, I have a different shampoo and conditioner combo – I’ve been mixing the T-Sal/Gel products (for dryness and softness) with some Brilliant Brunette (to help with the color).

Second, I picked up the “It’s a 10 miracle leave-in product” and have used that every time I wash my hair for about two weeks now.

It's a 10

Third, to promote shine, I started rinsing my hair with really cold water in the shower. So after my whole shower routine is done, when I’m all ready to get out, I torture myself by turning the water to cold and holding my head to it for about 20 seconds. I haven’t gotten any comments about my hair blinding anyone with it’s shine, so it may be all for nothing, but what the heck? If nothing else, it wakes me up in the morning.

Finally, and probably most helpful, I have cut down on using heat on my hair. I’ve only used my straightener to curl my hair maybe 6 days this month as opposed to every other day. It helps that it’s been so sticky and humid. Honestly, there’s no point in even trying to make my hair be anything but curly and frizzy when it’s so hot and humid. So I save time and my locks when I go semi-au natural.DSCN1136

So when I wash my hair with said shampoos and conditioners, I spray said leave-in product and squirt some mousse in my hair, comb with my head upside down, flip right-side up, and finger-comb/shake my waves out to my normal parted style. I then create a braid at the front of my hair using my bangs because they get the most out of control and awkward looking when left to air dry (seen above…kind of).

Against all these great improvement-inducing products and routines, I dyed my hair about 2 weeks back. I am now all brunette again (I used Natural Instincts #12 Light Golden Brown if anyone is wondering) because I wanted to blend my highlights and cover my grays. I let it go for quite awhile longer than normal, but a male coworker pointed it out one day so my self-conscious self took over and I caved. Ugh, when are they ever going to patent that cure for gray hair?Natural Instincts #12

All that said, I’m glad to report that I definitely notice my baby hairs are less pronounced and seem to be growing because they aren’t breaking due to heat tools.

My nails took a beating at the beginning of the 4 weeks because I had gotten gel nails done at a salon. After almost 2 weeks, I started picking and pulling at them and a few of my nails ended up really beat up. Because the top layer(s) were pulled off with the gel nail, I ended up buying acetone to take the remainder off. So needless to say they’re still recovering from that.

I haven’t felt nauseous or anything while taking the supplement, but I’ve been taking them with breakfast and dinner, so I think that helps. I have about 3 weeks left of these pills and I’m not sure whether I want to continue with the regimen or not. If I do, I will definitely look into getting a different brand/pill because these are large and horrid tasting when they don’t go down the first four tries because of their being large. Since I take 12 pills a day for my Crohn’s, I’d rather not continue to add two more huge pills to the equation.

I will update either when I finish the supplements and change over to a new kind or in another month. Or when my hair is thick and luscious enough to do a super sexy hair flip.

Until then, I’ll just keep looking like this:White Chicks

Cheers to healthy mind and body. And humor.

A Sleep Aid Review…After 4 Hours Of Sleep

I am currently running on about 4 hours of sleep.
And this is a review of the Slumberland Snacks Sleep Squares.
So get ready.

I received a sample of these sleep squares in my June Conscious Box. I wrote about my Conscious Box experience in a post you can find here.

Reading some reviews, apparently people swear by these things. I don’t have a sleep disorder, so I have never really taken sleep aids or anything like that, prescription or otherwise. I’m a pretty light sleeper, so I wake up (and then stay awake) pretty easily. I took an anti-anxiety pill for a bit last year, but the anxiety was due to my Crohn’s, which was not diagnosed until a bit later. And when I’m stressed, it can take a toll on my sleep patterns. But nothing as bad as last night…

So these sleep squares are said to be “deliciously simple treats that help you get a better night’s rest.” The sample I received contained two squares, and since they are supposedly very healthy (100% natural, sugar and gluten free, etc.) they actually have an expiration date. Mine were due to expire in 2 weeks, and since I have to work and go to school the next 4 days, I figured last night would be good a time as any to test them out. Be prepared, get a good night’s sleep to tackle these next few days. Right?

The directions suggest taking the sleep square(s) about 30 minutes before you plan to fall asleep, so I took one at 12 midnight. It didn’t taste bad (they come in many flavors, but mine were just plain chocolate) and I made sure to chew completely before swallowing, as was directed.

After about 30 minutes, I had been dozing on and off, but when I would come back to consciousness, it felt as though my heart was racing. I had that really anxious feeling like when you’re nervous or feel like you’re forgetting something. Or when you doze in public and realize it only after you jolt awake in an embarrassing way. Why was I feeling like this?

I did my homework.

I didn’t have to be up early.

I hadn’t eaten in over 4 hours.

I hadn’t had any tiffs with friends or anyone, causing me to stress.

Heck, I had even done some extra independent studying of Statistics AND worked out at the gym!

What gives?!

So around 12:45, I took the second square, drank some water, and climbed back into bed. This second one would do the trick, it had to. I just needed that extra push.

I read the box, making sure that these squares were actually to help you sleep and not give you energy. It does mention that you should discontinue use if you have feelings of anxiety and insomnia (check and check), along with a heap load of other negative reactions.

And then, around 5:30 a.m., having been awake the entire night, I got out of bed and jumped around my room to try to release a bunch of the pent up energy, ate a banana, and noted that the sun was starting to come up. Wonderful.

I climbed back into bed (by now I had already had a few meltdowns…”everyone else is asleep, what is wrong with me?!”), read for a bit, and around 6 a.m., I was finally able to kick that anxious, super-awake feeling enough to catch some zzzs. And then I woke up at 9:30 and laid there until my alarm went off at 10.

I’m sure this is how I’ll look coming home after work tonight.
Needless to say, I personally do not recommend these things.

Hair, Skin & Nails (oh my!)

DSCN1126I’ve decided to try taking the Hair, Skin, and Nails supplement by Spring Valley in hopes that I will become a smokin’ hot, glowing supermodel with long, luscious locks to my tush. Alliteration aside, I guess I would settle with stronger hair with less fallout, stronger nails with less breakage, and maybe a bit of a glowy complexion. That sounds a bit more realistic.

I have heard so many girls (mostly on YouTube) who buy Prenatal vitamins in hopes that their hair/skin/nails will improve. I mean, we all hear about how pregnant women’s skin glows and how their hair and nails grow like dandelions on Miracle-gro. But honestly, I think a lot of it has to do with hormones. So instead, I’ll try this collagen support vitamin and hope for the best!

So I’ll start by giving you an idea of what I’m dealing with right now so that an update can hopefully show improvements.

A little about me: I’m a very dry person. And no, I’m not talking about my humor.

My hair is really dry, so it frizzes if I don’t put some sort of product in it. I usually use a mousse because my hair is curly but fine, so I don’t want anything too heavy to weigh it down or make it flat but I need some sort of control. I color my hair quite often because I was blessed with graying hair at the age of 16 (Proverbs 16:31 – crown of glory, holler) so that adds to the dryness.

Lunch copyAt the moment, my hair is about 2 inches past my collarbone and is not very thick (density-wise, not diameter); I have fine hair, but quite a bit of it. I also have a ton of baby hairs around my face, so I’m hoping this whips them into shape. I also have been trying to cut down on using heat on my hair, so hopefully that will help as well. It stinks that heat makes it look so much better! #firstworldproblems anyone? Anyways, see picture (left) for current hair condition.

My skin is always dry unless it’s really hot and humid (causing me to sweat profusely) so I am constantly reaching for lotion. I have had bouts of eczema on and off since high school, so I try to be very conscientious of applying lotion when my skin feels dry. My face suffers hormonal breakouts around my T-zone (typically once a month, if ya know what I mean) and is sensitive, so finding gentle but effective cleansers and moisturizers is difficult.

My nails have taken a beating over the past year; I was diagnosed with Crohns disease in October, and my malnutrition showed in my nails. I had pits and ridges on every nail and was unable to grow them very long because they were pretty brittle. Since I have returned to normal eating habits, they have gotten better, although I still have some ridges and waves.

DSCN1124So that is the condition of my hair, skin, and nails right now. In terms of the supplement, the serving size is 3 caplets per day, to be taken with meals.  So far I have been taking them for three days, although I have only taken two caplets each day instead of the suggested three.  They are kind of large and are kind of smelly, but I’ve taken larger pills, so it’s no big deal. I’ve heard that it should take 2-3 months before full benefits are seen but I will update any changes I see after the month mark.

I looked up a bunch of reviews, from YouTube to Amazon (you can read through them here), and here’s what I found:

Good experiences

  • Many reviewers on Amazon and YouTube claim that their hair and nails grew longer and stronger after only a couple weeks. Also, skin was less oily and more glowy with fewer breakouts.

Bad experiences

  • I read a bunch of reviews where bad skin breakouts occurred; apparently the collagen found in these kinds of supplements is broken down through hydrolysis, so it is recommended by many to drink plenty of water while taking it.
  • Others complained of nausea caused by the pills; it is important to take any supplements with food. Your stomach will be producing acid to break up the food and supplement instead of the lone supplement sitting and rotting the lining of your stomach and/or causing nausea.

Unfortunately I was unable to find any proper research on these sorts of supplements, so this will be a self-study. I shall update after one month. Ready. Set. Sports Illustrated cover, here I come.