FIGHTING THE IBD FIGHT: WITH LIAM ROBERTSON
Interview by Dr Sunni
What can be said about our next fighter? He literally is a competitive fighter in Muay Thai! Liam is a guitarist, author of ‘More Than Meets The Eye: Living with UC’ and works on an oil and gas production platform in the North Sea. He really has embraced life with a great outlook and epitomises the ability to achieve great things if one puts their mind to it. So, let’s get to know a bit more about Liam’s fight with UC.
Dr Sunni: Liam, tell us all about your journey with IBD and what you have learnt along the way?
Liam: I got ill around the age of 20, so around twelve years ago and my journey with inflammatory bowel disease wasn’t great for most of those years.
I spent the first few years being extremely ill and not getting to the bottom as to what was happening despite a lot of time with doctors at hospitals.
My first colonoscopy came back inconclusive and I struggled with that as no one could identify what was wrong with me. It wasn’t until my second colonoscopy three years later that I was diagnosed with UC. I was put on mesalazine immediately, but to no avail. If anything, I felt worse until I was put onto a course of steroids. I recall feeling so much better then, but once I started tapering off them, I would get ill again.
Once my course of steroids finished, I was ill again, and it felt worse than it was pre steroids. I was then put onto azathioprine, which didn’t leave me with much hope because it wasn’t until six months after starting the course that I was getting better.
However, it was short lived and six months later I relapsed and was extremely ill again with one of the worst flare ups that I can remember. The only option was to go on maximum dosage of azathioprine, and thankfully after a few months I achieved remission and have been since for just over two years.
Overall, I've only been in remission for two years so the last eight years or so years prior to that was a life of constant flare ups which affected me in lot of different ways, mostly emotionally and psychologically.
I really struggled with non-physical sides of IBD, and it feels that it is rarely spoken about. When I was diagnosed, everything was medical and science based and nobody really sat down and spent the time with me to speak about the psychological, emotional and the social awkwardness associated with UC.
I had to go by what the doctor was telling me as opposed to hearing it from people who actually had the condition. It forced me to learn a lot about myself during that time and opened my eyes to a lot. That kind of suffering of people that went on around me and the kind of struggles people go through in it. And manage to keep going. So I think it developed me as a person, certainly soundly for the good.
Dr Sunni: What would you tell your younger self, knowing what you know now, about IBD?
Liam: I would talk around the emotional and psychological effects of the disease and finding strength through that so that I am not embarrassed about it. There have been a lot of times when I couldn’t get to the toilet in time, or, I was struggling when I was out in social situations dealing with the pain and would get embarrassed if people spoke about it.
12 years I have suffered from it now, and still some of my close friends don't have a clue about UC or IBD and its amazing the amount of people that refer to it as IBS or a dodgy tummy. The embarrassment of it all is very much over now, but it requires our own way of dealing with it all.
Dr Sunni: What inspires you to keep fighting daily?
Liam: Since launching my book I have spoken to maybe 300 to 400 people and it has made me come to realize that I'm really at the low end of the scale of suffering. I genuinely believed I was in the worst place ever. However, when it comes to physical pain, there are so many people going through it much worse than me. There are people that have tried every medication, every diet available, had multiple surgeries and yet their IBD keeps coming back. It is these people, that despite going through what they have been are still happy and put on a smile. Lovely inspirational people that give me perspective and allow me to keep going and fighting.
Dr Sunni: How do you deal with food and gut health?
Liam: My experience with food has been a struggle and I tried everything I could possibly try. Some things worked, and some didn’t. I tried juices, diets, supplements and anything else that others would suggest. Not one thing really helped in getting me to remission, but I do believe that being aware of food and gut health alongside medication and certain lifestyle changes can help.
Dr Sunni: What would you advise others with IBD?
Liam: In all of this, it might seem that there is no way out and it’s a dark place to be in. Having to deal with the pain, extreme flare ups or when you feel the medication isn’t working. When you feel the stresses and strains of life because of relationships, work and life you can feel very lost.
I had times where I felt I had nothing left. It can get tough, but I would like to tell others that you can dig your way out of the darkness and that pit.
Give it time, not everything works first time be it with medication or surgery, but things can change, and they do work out in the end.
"Have confidence that it will change for the better"