I live in a little cottage in Shropshire, UK, with my beautiful wife, Jeannie. We have a bright, creative, talented 17 year old daughter, Ella, who lives in Birmingham studying music/singing during term-time, and regularly returns home for weekends and holidays.
Jeannie and I have spent the last 15 years building a successful small software and website business. I also very much enjoy music production, and have been making music in my spare time since I was 15, when time and energy allows.
We’ve generally considered ourselves to be a happy, stable, healthy, good-living family; eating Organic, living in the countryside, we don’t smoke, rarely drink, and our business ticks along without too much drama or stress.
At least, that was what we thought was true.
On 19th February, 2015, on my 42nd birthday, life brought me to my knees.
I’d been experiencing pain for the last three or so years, each time I’d had a bowel movement; I’d put it down to a case of painful haemorrhoids, and had simply tried to cover up the pain with constant usage of Ibuprofen and Paracetamol, so that I could get on with my day-to-day running of the business. I was constantly low on energy during this time; often feeling overwhelmed by the simplest of tasks, and my head was often muddy and lacking clarity.
Three weeks previously, we’d all caught a tummy bug at home, which resulted in bouts of diarrhoea. Jeannie and Ella were better within a week, but I was not, and continued to get worse, while the pain from the (apparent) haemorrhoids also continued to worsen. I saw my GP, who gave me some topical steroids – Glyceryl Trinitrate and Sheriproct Ointment (Prednisolone Hexonoate) – which actually stopped the pain for about three weeks; I was pain free for the first time in about three years. However my GP noticed higher-than-usual inflammation when he tested my blood, and referred me to an NHS specialist for further investigation.
I was concerned about having any kind of examination down below until I’d completely healed, and so delayed making the specialist appointment for about a week, but then went ahead and made the right phone calls and waited for an appointment.
While I waited, the pain returned, and began to worsen dramatically, and the diarrhoea continued, and I noticed that I’d been losing a lot of weight. I went to another GP on 17th February, who took one concerned look at me, and told me that I was a mess. He said that I needed to see a specialist right away, and recommended I go private, so that I didn’t have to wait for the NHS. I agreed, and he immediately made me an appointment to see his own private doctor.
I visited the specialist on 19th February, 2015 – my 42nd birthday. After an examination, and told me that it looks like I have Crohn’s Disease, and that the resultant infection, had caused an abscess in the rectum – the pain I had been experiencing for years, and what I thought had been haemorrhoids, had actually been the infection trying desperately to escape my body.
I was admitted immediately to the local hospital for emergency surgery.
The next morning, I was wheeled to the operating theatre while sobbing with pain. The next 11 days were spent in hospital; I experienced a lot of pain, and some serious emotional lows as I dealt with the aesthetic and other drugs in my system.
After a CT Scan, and an MRI Scan, and a huge number of blood tests, the doctors confirmed that I have an advanced/aggressive state of Crohn’s Disease.
The Doctor’s recovery treatment
Immediately following the surgery to remove the abscess, I was put on Hydrocortisone four times a day through an Intravenous drip. I was also administered the following:
After – or during – the surgery, my body developed two fistulas, which are a bit of a miracle of biology when you think about them – natural drainage tubes which the body uses to release infection. The surgeon used stitches to hold the fistulas open, to keep the drainage happening while the infection clears up.
The Doctor’s ongoing treatment and Prognosis
I’ve been immediately put on the following drugs:
Ciproflaxin 500mg (Antibiotic)
Metronidazole 400mg (Antibiotic)
Omeprazole 20mg (Gastro-resistant capsules)
Prednisolone 40mg (Steroid) – On a decreasing scale over a period of weeks, settling to a ‘maintenance mode’ of 10mg per day
I was also given Iron supplements for a while, as well as Thiamine 100mg and Vitamin B compound.
I’ve been told that as I have Crohn’s in an advanced or aggressive state, the treatment needs to be equally pro-active. I’ve been advised to take a combination of immune suppressants.
The immune suppressants restrict the body’s ability to fight infection – they suppress the immune system – so that the body doesn’t respond to the causes of the Crohn’s Disease by becoming irritated or inflamed. It takes about three months for these immune suppressants to start working, following a series of 2-hour IV sessions. The drug stays in the system for about a year.
The potential side effects of these suppressants include all sorts of fever-type symptoms, and you have to get your blood tested every two weeks to make sure you’re not developing more serious side effects as a result to the damage done to the immune system. More worryingly, there are also cases of Hepatitis, Tuberculosis and a fatal type of cancer.
I’ll write more specifically about these immune suppressants in a separate post, but just wanted to summarise for now.
My response and plan going forward
The doctors have told me that nobody knows what really causes Crohn’s, and that it’s incurable. They have said that the only way to manage it to prevent requiring serious surgery is to use the suppressants and the steroids to prevent the body’s irritation and inflammation.
However, this simply does not sit right with me on any level. The body is a supremely intelligent organism, and it feels absolutely obvious – and there appears to be a huge amount of supporting evidence online – that instead of suppressing the body’s intelligent response to a perceived threat, the goal should be to seek out and release that threat, bringing the body back into balance. The body will then no longer need to react.
I feel like this Crohn’s Disease is the body shouting as loud as it can that something is wrong. I need to listen to it, not try to keep it quiet.
So, with this in mind, I intend to listen to my body’s messages in a way that I never have done before, and I hope to address and restore balance on a number of levels, by addressing these main themes, which I feel are the cornerstones of a balanced and healthy, happy life.
I’m starting out with a series of guides and protocols created by Jini Patel Thompson called “Listen to your Gut” which I’ve found absolutely inspiring. Following her protocols, 1000’s of people have found relief and remission from different types of IBD ranging from IBS AND ulcerative Colitis through to Crohn’s. Thompson herself had Crohn’s and left the traditional medical route of treatment when she found herself getting sicker and sicker. She then spent the next seven years researching her own methods, and has been in complete remission for 20 years.
The protocols tackles all aspects of IBD from all essential angles. I intend to do the same:
I understand that each of us is often allergic to one or many food types. Lactose and wheat are very common allergens that affect sufferers of IBD’s. The Listen To Your Gut protocols outline a series of restriction-based diets, dependant on your current symptoms. The diets range from a ‘maintenance diet’ which restricts a few basic food types like processed foods, refined sugars, dairy, alcohol and caffeine, through to a more-pallettable version of the Elemental Diet, which is a protein shake regimen that allows your digestive system to completely rest and heal into remission during flare-ups.
When I had the first then-undiagnosed symptoms of Crohn’s four years ago, I put myself on the Slow Carb diet; a version of the Paleo diet which is very popular amongst fitness enthusiasts. I put myself on the diet to help with my workouts as an attempt to build both energy and muscle, but found to my surprise that my symptoms completely cleared up, so I know for sure that diet is a key factor here. It’s also obvious that the balance and stability of your gut flora and and the bio-organisms must be balanced in the right way for the digestive system to be happy – what we eat, obviously, determines what bacteria ends up in the gut.
Stress and Emotions
When we’re stressed, we feel it bodily. We feel our stomach tighten, it’s like the stomach holds the tension there. The gut is referred to as ‘the second brain’, and there are all sorts of neurological marvels going on in there.
I know that I hold, deep, a background level of stress and anxiety that I’ve carried with me my whole life. I grew up in a hugely tense household environment, and relationships throughout my teenage years added to my levels of anxiety and feelings of tension and stress. I also have a natural, habitual tendency to assume pessimistically about current and future events; I’ve been working on that for some time, but I realise that it’s a very deep and multi-layered collection of experience and conditioning that needs to be dismantled. I also had issues of guilt and self-loathing because of various specific experiences. I need to dig as deep as it’s possible to go here, and see through and release the whole thing. It’s going to be a long journey.
My current favourite tools for this stress, energy, trauma and conditioning release are Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or Tapping), Craniosacral Therapy
and Acupuncture (later on when balance is more restored).
Fitness and bodily balance
I’m planning a range of fitness and body/energy balance treatments and activities which will develop as I find my energy again, and as I try out different things. On the bucket list are country walks, cycling, Hatha Yoga, Tai Chi, QiGong, returning to weight training (Stronglifts is my favourite workout method), as well as ongoing Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic consultancy and lots of fun random activities as they cross my path.
I’ve followed a spiritual path of some sort or another since I was young. For the last 21 years or so, that path has been that of Nonduality, a contemporary western take on the ancient Northern Indian tradition of Advaita Vedanta. It’s about seeing past your outer conditioning to discover your true self, which is revealed as the true self of all – we are all the one Self, all is one.
This discovery and the related practices that naturally arise out of the journey lead to a natural stillness in your being; this stillness is the core of everything, and in some ways I wonder whether this entire life-crash is the universe enabling me to strip everything down to my true self, and to live my life from the absolute silence of What Is.
Crohn’s Disease as a path for awakening seems perfectly reasonable to me from where I’m sitting now, and looking at it the other way round, stillness, mindfulness and meditation will be three of the most essential tools on this road to wellness again.
It should go without saying at this point, but…
I’m going into this with my eyes open and my head screwed on. I’m not in denial about the seriousness of the illness, or its symptoms. I’m certainly going to take on this healing journey in a holistic way, as it feels right and true and essential. But I do also recognise that the western medicine may well have saved my life. The surgery, the steroids, the antibiotics, however much an insult to my system they were, also took me back from the brink.
I’m not expecting a smooth ride; I’m going to make mistakes, I’m very likely to have more flare-ups, and have dips in my health as well as progressive movements forward. I recognise that those health dips may at some point be big enough to warrant going back on the steroids again, or even, God forbid, another stay in hospital.
This isn’t going to be easy, and my only true rudder to navigate by – apart from all the wonderful expert advice I’m being given – is my own sense of what’s right and true and real in any given situation. If what’s right, right now, is to take a course of steroids, then so be it. If what’s right, right now, is to stay off the drugs and take a more natural or holistic route, then so be it. I won’t give that inner authority away; it’s the most important thing.
I’m feeling very optimistic about the future. I feel like this is a huge opportunity for me to re-assess my life and the way I live it on every single level. How blessed I am to be forced to do this now, and not when I’m 60 and past my best?
I intend to take this gift and run with it – to listen to my body and my intuition, to live my life to the fullest, to be my true self to the depths of my being, to be happy, fulfilled, live creatively, to follow my dreams and let go of my anxieties and stresses.
I intend to hold my wife and daughter’s hands and, smiling, to lovingly share the most amazing life we can possibly lead, with courage, awareness, passion and compassion. I plan to be well. I plan to be fitter and stronger and more energised than I’ve ever been.
I plan to live the life I was born to live.
With joy, love, grace and laughter.