It’s easy to become angry when battling a chronic illness. It's as if your body betrayed you. You're in pain, uncomfortable and often unhappy and don't even want to get out of bed.
Ali Fuller was diagnosed with Crohn's disease when she was 7 years old. As a child, she didn’t have much of a problem with it, aside from occasional flare-ups that were easily controlled with steroids. There were never any times during her childhood that she felt like she was different or had to do things differently than the other kids because of her Crohn's. She would get a flare-up, take steroids, and everything would go back to normal.
She told Shape.com that, every time she got better, she assumed it wouldn’t come back. After every flare-up, she didn’t prepare for another one in the future, she just hoped she wouldn’t have another one. This worked pretty well for her when she was younger, but as she got older it became more difficult to control.
Ali said that during college and beyond, she started to run - a lot. She ran marathons and 10ks - not only for her health but because she loved it. On top of running, she landed a dream job out of college and felt like everything was falling into place, until it wasn't.
The flare-up that changed Ali’s life
Ali was hit with a 2-year long flare-up that left her bedridden most days, forced to take a leave of absence from work, unable to run because of the numerous bathroom breaks she would have to take, and mentally in anguish. Her blog, Ali on the Run, her pride and joy, went by the wayside as she struggled to find the energy to live a normal life. She explains about the time she was so depressed that she couldn’t even muster up the energy to write even a few sentences about how her life was going, because she hated her body for letting her down. She told friends and family that she was envious of people who could do life's simple things like grocery shopping and walking the dog without being in constant pain. She would look at people living their life and thinking "what is it like to live without pain?" She got angry at people who took their healthy bodies for granted. She longed to run and each day she laid in bed devastated her, until one day, the flare went away.
As if overnight, she got her life back. She told herself that this was going to be her year. For the first half of the year, she lived it “on top of the world”. She got married, ran a marathon, adopted a puppy, excelled in freelance writing - but then it all came back again with vengeance.
She tried to pretend things were okay for a while, refusing to believe this was happening, again. She said, in those moments, she reached for little things to be excited about--simple things like heating pads and video chatting with friends.
Then one night, her friend sent her a text message that helped her to “wake up”. It changed her entire perspective, and gave her reason to get up in the morning. Her friend said, "Listen, it's hard, Fuller, and it sucks, but maybe it's time to figure out how to live your life sick and try to be happy." Ali said those words were all she needed to lift her out of her funk and help her realize that, even though she couldn’t do everything she wanted, she could still do many things; she was in fact, alive and blessed to be on the earth. She quit throwing her pity party and started focusing on things she could do.
Ali was determined to bring back the old Ali, despite her illness. The most important thing she learned from her Crohn's experience was to be grateful. She has good days and bad days, but she's grateful for the good days, and even more grateful for what she is able to accomplish on even the worst of days. She states, “When I am functioning at my best—when we're Ali the editor, the runner, the blogger, and Ali the wife and dog mom—it's easy to take it all for granted. I took my health, my body, my ability to run full 26.2 mile marathons for granted for 20 years. It wasn't until I felt it all taken away that I learned to be grateful for the good days. As difficult as this lesson was to be learned, she is embracing it. Through the good and the bad days, Ali is mindful with gratitude of all the things she has in her life.
How is Ali now?
Ali has come a long way with her perspective of Crohn's and her appreciation of life, love and health. She talks about not taking things for granted - ever. Never knowing what tomorrow may bring is a reality all humans have to face, but for people with chronic disease, it's especially frightening. Ali continues to write in her blog, updating her readers with news of her life and her current health status. She is working as a freelance writer so she can continue to work and take time off when she is not at her best. If she needs to work in bed one day, she has the option.
Ali and her husband are also expecting their first child in October. When asked how she's feeling dealing with Crohn's and her pregnancy, she states, “So far, so good!” She hasn't had a flare-up in a few months, and she's especially grateful - something she wants to teach everyone who has a chronic illness. You are sick. And alive. You do have a choice on how to live your life, even as a person with an illness.
Ali says people reach out to her all the time about how to deal with their Crohn's, how to talk to their boss, and other life advice related to living an active, normal lifestyle while battling a chronic illness. Although she is quick to give motivation, she isn’t to keen on telling people how they “should” do something.
Ali says, “I have this unofficial policy in life to never give unqualified advice. I've been running for a decade and have completed a handful of marathons, but I still won't tell you how fast or slow you should run, or how often to get out there. But the one thing I will get preachy about—the one thing I'm perfectly confident advising about —is how to live life graciously. Embrace your life, whatever obstacles are in front of you. If you've had some setbacks with your body, your relationship, your career, look for and embrace the small wins instead, and shift your focus to what your body can do, instead of dwelling on what it can't.”