I am Ijmal Haider, and I have Ulcerative Colitis.
I was diagnosed in November 2015, and prior to my diagnosis I knew very little about the illness. In a very short period of time, summer of 2015, I had lost a significant amount of weight; I was dealing with a lot of cramping and bloating. I went and saw my family doctor, and he said most likely it was stress related but just to be safe he recommended me to a gastroenterologist. Around that time I was dealing with a lot of stress, I was at the peak of my career in Real Estate development, working on the biggest project of my career, I was writing nationally for publications and newspapers, and I was dealing with lots of personal stress as well, so I believed it to be pressure related.
When I met with the GI she asked the pressing questions regarding my lifestyle, my workload, my self-care routines, and all the questions related to my symptoms. Based on the information she had she said it was important we set up a colonoscopy, she said she was suspecting it to be colon cancer. My scope wouldn’t be for another three months from that time. I didn’t want to worry anyone, so I kept her suspicions to myself until my scope. For three months I kept that information to myself and naturally stressed in silence.
In November of 2015 when I had my first colonoscopy I found out I had ulcerative colitis, not colon cancer. In a groggy state, post scope, I struggled to ask the proper questions to understand what the diagnosis meant, I was overloaded with photos and literature and prescriptions.
This allowed me to understand the severity of what I was dealt with, painting a vivid picture of the research I would need to do and the alterations I would need to make to my life. I quickly learned researching diseases on the internet was a trap that seemed to always lead to the darkest corners.
For two years I was consumed with my illness, what it meant for me. I was skeptical to make plans or have fun. My biggest fears were always what if I eat the wrong thing, what if I need to use the bathroom while out, what if I show any sign of weakness amongst my friends,family, and peers. So, I became a bit of a recluse. My illness had taken over my life, all plans revolved around ulcerative colitis. I had put my career, my passions, my creativity and dreams on the back burner.
Spring of 2017, when nothing seemed to be working to reduce inflammation or to make me feel better; I decided to explore Naturopathic medicine, in conjunction with my regular medications. I wanted to try every possible option, so I would have no regrets. In this process I learned so much, I learned the importance of diet, the importance of stress management, understanding what ulcerative colitis actually was and how it affected the body.
I was put on plans to reduce inflammation, create proper diets without irritants, and reduce stress. This definitely helped with many aspects of how I was feeling.
During this time someone close to me gave me one powerful piece of advice, he said “Ijmal, you are not ulcerative colitis,” which really resonated with me. My naturopath had mentioned to start journaling to help reduce the shame, anxiety, stress, and the isolation that the illness brought to my life. When I was diagnosed there were very few outlets I came across that assisted in tackling the psychological effects of having an invisible illness. This is where I decided rather than keeping a private journal I would create a public blog. My blog garnered attention and lead to many people around the world reaching out to me to share their own stories, or to thank me for sharing mine. I was uncovering a community, eliminating shame and stigma, and breaking down the isolation I had felt for the first two years of my diagnosis.
Fall 2017, a friend and I decided to start a web series, called ‘Help Us, YYC’ to tackle the stigma of living with gut issues and invisible illnesses. A tool to educate and help people feel connected and allow them to feel less scared about what they are going through.
In 2018, I find myself having increased inflammation and preparing to start biologic treatments, but I have also found my individuality, my creativity, my career, and purpose again. Through the community I stumbled upon and the stories I have heard I have never felt more prepared to tackle the next step in this journey. I found my peace through the idea of helping others in turn they have ended up helping me.