“When we are no longer able to change a situation—we are challenged to change ourselves.
– Viktor E. Frankl
Four blue pills.
Every day, for the rest of my life.
Having a chronic illness at twenty-two makes you think a lot.
Having a chronic illness at seventeen makes you worry a lot. Especially when that illness goes undiagnosed for months, during which your trips to the bathroom are becoming more and more frequent, and each time you’re losing more and more blood.
After months of anxiety, I was finally diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis (don’t worry, the link doesn’t include any pictures). I don’t talk about it much because it doesn’t pleasantly fit with my everyday conversations:
“Hey Michael, how’s your day going?”
“Eh, it’d be better if blood wasn’t pouring out of the ulcers on my intestinal lining. How’s yours?!”
“Michael, do you know what time it is?”
“Time to go to the bathroom! Seventh time today! HIGH FIVE!”
Nevertheless, my illness does come up every now and then. Usually I get pity.
When I mention that it’s an autoimmune disease, I get the occasional,
“Well, at least it’s not AIDS!”
Thankfully, over the past five years, my attitude towards my illness has changed from constant worrying and embarrassment to sarcastic apathy about its ridiculousness. In between the two attitudes, there were periods of praying, moping, learning, fasting, listening, helping, comforting, joking, laughing, and—above all else—pooping. But through all the changing gerunds, one person in particular stands out who helped me rise out of the dumps (unfortunately, only figuratively).
We met last spring. It was one of those situations where she had befriended all of my friends, but I’d still never met her. Except in this situation, instead of my friends talking about how funny she was, or how similar our two personalities were, they would say something like, “Michael, you’ve gotta meet this girl! She has colitis, too!”
After that, it was love at first flush.
For the next year, we would make countless jokes about treatments, drugs, flare-ups, colonoscopies, and any other advanced potty humor puns we could think of. In fact, we just got back from what we titled “The UCruise”: a five-day exploration of the Caribbean, overindulging in all sorts of foods and drinks that we’ve been advised to avoid by our gastroenterologists.
The reality, however, is that we were cruisers before we cruised. Cruising was less of a verb and more of an attitude that we adopted of leisure and freedom. Whether we were casually sailing at twenty-one knots on the west side of the Caribbean, or anesthetized on a hospital bed while a Swedish doctor with a heavy accent shoved a camera up our ass, we laid back, cracked jokes, and rested in the ridiculousness of it all.
As I write this, I feel I’m erring on the side of conveying that all of my colitis problems suddenly disappeared with an attitude change, a new friend, and a quick trip to the tropics.
Rest assured, they didn’t.
There are definitely still days when I imagine grabbing Morpheus by the throat, screaming “I’M TAKING YOUR BLUE PILL, DAMN IT! FOUR OF THEM! HOLD UP YOUR END OF THE BARGAIN!” Nevertheless, I’ve learned to loosen my grip, take a breath, and have a drink: forgetting the bad, knowing there’s worse, and loving that—if only for a moment—I’ve had a brief escape from winter.
Michael Kelly (’14) graduated from Calvin College with a double major in psychology and writing. Shortly after graduating, he began his graduate level study of educational research, measurement, and evaluation at Boston College. When he is not studying learning and teaching, Michael learns and teaches through stories and writing—fiction and nonfiction, comedy and tragedy, and everything else in between.