FIGHTING THE IBD FIGHT: WITH STEPHANIE STOKES
Interview by Dr Sunni
Our next interview introduces the wonderfully talented and friendly Stephanie Stokes as another IBD fighter to join the Dish Dash Deets community. Hailing from West Yorkshire, Steph is a retired nurse with three boys aged under four. She is a lecturer and a successful blogger who champions motherhood and how to embrace beauty, courage and the fight with IBD.
Dr Sunni : Steph, tell us all about your journey with IBD and what you have learnt along the way?
Steph : I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in April 2012. And I will never forget that day. Leading up to the diagnosis, I had suffered from pains in my stomach, increased bowel movements and feeling genuinely unwell. I was admitted to hospital after having some bleeding, and a series of testing including a colonoscopy and biopsies, confirmed I had Crohn's disease.
Being a nurse, I used to work on the general surgical and colorectal unit, and we specialized in IBD and bowel surgery. Having said that, even with the prior knowledge about Crohn's and colitis, when I was diagnosed, I really didn't know what it meant for me. Having seen a lot of the worst cases in hospital, I was quite frightened and a bit confused because no one else in my family had been diagnosed with Crohn's disease.
Though some members of my family experience IBS, there was a lot of confusion around IBD and having a chronic illness. I was a bit blindsided, really. I didn't know why I got it. I felt quite angry as I was quite young at the time. I was twenty-three, and the anger stemmed from being around a lot my friends with whom I used to go out drinking, smoking and enjoying life to the full with. We ate what we wanted and basically, thought we could get away with it.
But, as you get older you realise that you can't continue to live like that, and what you eat and what you do to your body has a huge impact. I had to think a lot about what I needed to do to help my condition - how to cut down the smoking and drinking. I was still quite frightened, and I didn't know what to eat not what to do to live with a chronic illness.
Once the initial shock subsided, and when I got used to the idea that I was on medication; I take mesalazine tablets three times a day, I was able to manage thing better and have since been in remission.
Dr Sunni : What would you tell your younger self, knowing what you know now, about IBD?
Steph : What a lot of people don't realise is that Crohn's disease is not just about your bowel, it can affect other parts of your body. I suffer with uveitis - which is inflammation of the eye. I also often feel very tired and fatigued alongside aches and pains with my bones and the joints.
It can also affect you mentally. I have suffered with depression and taken anti-depressants for it. IBD has a massive impact on your life and if I could tell my younger self something about IBD, it would be to not panic, and try to be optimistic and learn as much as I can about it. It is so easy to just hide away from it, be in denial and pretend it's not happening. The best thing would be to reach out where you can. I was reluctant and ashamed and wanted to keep it a secret because I was quite outgoing and never thought that there would be anything wrong with me, which lead me to feel weak when I was diagnosed.
There will always be this constant questioning of why me? Why is it OK that so many of my other friends can go out and drink and do what they want, and they don't feel ill? Remember, it's about you, it about taking that journey to accept it and accepting you for who you are. There's nothing wrong with having Crohn's, or Colitis, or are having IBD/IBS - it is perfectly fine and something that you learn to live with.
Dr Sunni : How would you sum up your fight with Crohn’s?
Steph : I don't see it as a fight because I try not to think about it. I try to normalize it. I realize I do have a disease, but it is difficult because it's not visible and people don't realize that you've got it. To be honest, I look quite healthy on the outside as I look fit and well. Though I have this disease I tend to get on with life to ensure I just keep going and don’t let things get me down. I appreciate it's not as easy as it is to do that, especially during those times when I felt down and felt angry and felt upset.
Dr Sunni : What inspires you to keep fighting daily?
Steph : The fact that I don’t want to be defined by a disease, and the fact that others also live with chronic illnesses such as diabetes. I'm not the only one that has something and finds it difficult. I find solace and strength in that. When you are told you've got an illness, I want to be that person that keeps going and not let it define who I am, because I’m not just an illness. I’m a person. I have a life. I have friends. I have a job. These help me to fight a lead a fulfilled life rather than accept that I am defined by Crohn’s.
Dr Sunni : How do you deal with food and gut health?
Steph : As a youngster I used to eat what I want - lots of junk food, sweets, chocolates, and crisps. I never gave it another thought. Though I have never been skinny, I've always loved exercise, but when I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, it really made me think about food and what I was eating.
Despite being a health care professional and working in the field, I found it hard to find, and still do, what I should or shouldn't be eating. I did my own research, but I feel none the wiser to this day. I try my best to eat a healthy diet. But I'm not perfect. Certain trigger foods like bread and pizza, can leave me feeling quite bloated and lethargic.
When I have been on a healthy balanced gut healthy diet with fruits and vegetable, I have noticed that I am more energetic than usual.
Dr Sunni : What would you advise others with IBD?
Steph : If there is anyone else out there going through IBD or IBS, as well as those recently diagnosed with the condition - I wish you all the best.
It can be scary at first, but the best thing to do is to reach out and get the help that you need, as there are a lot of groups and associations online that can provide that support. At the beginning, I didn't want to tell people about it, but as I've got older, especially as I have started blogging, I've realized I'm able to speak about Crohn’s and actively allow people to reach out, to ensure we are able to get the help and support when you realize that you are not the only one with IBD.
"Remember IBD and IBS is more common than you think"
- Stephanie Stokes