Recently, during an interview, I was asked to talk about what I couldn’t do because of my IBD or my j-pouch. I may have visibly bristled at the question, though I tried to mask this initial negative reaction. I did think about how to formulate an answer–probably for a good solid minute. In the end, I couldn’t come up with anything.
The interviewer made a few suggestions, but they were things that I don’t dwell on, such as dietary restrictions. Having some dietary restrictions is not something I think about often. I can absolutely still eat all kinds of healthy food as well as not so healthy, yet tasty, food like chocolate, and also have a cocktail. I no longer see food as an obstacle or a problem, because I’ve worked out my diet and I pretty much stick with what I know at this point. Therefore, this is not something I ruminate about or concern myself with too much.
So that leaves coming up with something else I “can’t” do.
Still thinking. Maybe I can come up with something that’s funny or clever?
Nope. I got nothing. Because I’m annoyed at the question.
Focusing on the Things I Have Done
I CAN do whatever I set my mind to. Did I find a partner and get married? Yes.
Did I have two healthy children? Yes.
Do I have a successful business? Yes.
There are all sorts of things I find difficult, because my energy level is not the same as other people’s. For example, there are times when I have pain or discomfort that makes me want to stay home with Netflix and a heating pad. And sometimes I do that, but most times I do not.
I make plans with friends and keep them. I get involved in volunteer organizations and show up. I take on clients and I deliver on my deadlines. I’m not going to let the fact that I’ve had a colectomy and j-pouch creation, or that I have some signs or symptoms of ulcerative colitis, or extra intestinal problems cropping up stop me from doing any of the things that are important to me. I’ve made the conscious decision to push myself beyond what I think I can do.
Part of my attitude, I think, comes from having many years behind me where I thought I couldn’t do some of the things I wanted to do. I have no idea where that block came from: did I place it myself, or were there others who assisted in placing it on me? I can’t answer that, and the question goes down the path of eventually assigning blame, but I don’t live my life rehashing the past. The fact of the matter is that there’s a voice in my brain, even now, that tells me not to do things. “I can’t get on a plane and go to a new city and meet with people I don’t know,” it tells me. “I can’t stand up in front of a room of people and give a presentation.” I can’t…I can’t…I can’t.
Keeping the Monsters at Bay
I don’t listen to this voice. Oh, it creeps in sometimes, when I am tired or sick or scared, but I work hard to keep it away. Even when it does show up, I try to ignore it and most of the time I’m successful, even if I can’t make it go away entirely.
Even now, having thought through the question thoroughly, I still don’t have an answer. If I’m not going to let my own brain tell me what I “can’t” do, I’m certainly not going to let another person tell me I can’t do something. Matter of fact: if you tell me I “can’t” or “shouldn’t” do something, I’m probably more likely to attempt it.
People with IBD live with the reality of some limitations, it comes with the territory. But accepting a new normal is different than putting limits on your life. Limits and other people’s expectations, and “I can’t” aren’t things we should accept.
If you were asked, “What can’t you do because of your IBD,” what would you say?