USA swimmer Kathleen Baker won a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and she has Crohn’s! Baker is the latest but not the first athlete with IBD to achieve something huge, and she sweetly wants to lift others up in her celebration of it. I got swept up in happiness and excitement for her after she tweeted this:
“Crohn's disease is a big part of my life. I hope to inspire others to never let something limit their goals!” @KathleenBaker2
Yeah! … And then I started to think about my goals. Past and present.
Bear in mind Baker didn’t say don’t let Crohn’s make you give up on your goals. She said don’t even limit them – does that mean no pausing, scaling back, modifying? This is just a tweet, to be fair -- one quick little message -- and an excitement-fueled one, and I’m not saying she meant it this way at all or she should’ve thought before she tweeted. No, this was her moment and she was within her rights to hope to inspire this. But that doesn’t mean it makes others like me – people with IBD who haven’t ever able been able to get nearly so healthy – feel very victorious.
It’s not the first time I’ve become annoyed at someone with better Crohn’s-treatment luck, or more resources to handle their Crohn’s in a different way than I can. Recent college grads living off family wealth so they can sleep, go to the gym, and work on their true passion of oil-painting. Lucrative career-havers who can afford a personal chef, a trainer, and a fancy electric Japanese toilet. People with very mild Crohn’s who are off all medications, feel no symptoms, and are doing CrossFit every day. Just people who’ve found a med that works and get to eat biscuits sometimes. Awesome. That’s just awesome for you. Now can I go back to what I was doing? Because I was napping on my couch.
Awesome. That’s just awesome for you. Now can I go back to what I was doing? Because I was napping on my couch. ... Should I not be napping on my couch?
Should I not be napping on my couch? Maybe if I had her diet, her doctors, her exercise regimen, I could just be her – without the swimming talent, but with some of that health and vigor. Why didn’t that article say what drugs she’s taking and what she’s eating? Why do they never say what drugs these IBD superstar people are taking?!
I used to let nothing stand in the way of my goals, and boy did the world love it. No one wants to hear how you encubicle yourself every day because you never know when you’ll need an MRI or a major surgery. That will not win you any chronic-disease-survivor scholarships. Neither will stating how left to your own devices you would sleep 11 hours every night and never, ever accept social engagements on weeknights.
I ended up sicker than some of the people I came to help, showing that I should’ve followed airplane-safety-card rules and secured my oxygen mask before helping others.
I won a sizable and much-needed scholarship by describing how I went to a remote island with no health care or fresh food for an entire summer, soon after recovering from a major surgery, so I could tangentially maybe someday help the health of other people. (I ended up sicker than some of the people I came to help, showing that I should’ve followed airplane-safety-card rules and secured my oxygen mask before helping others.) In grad school, instead of resting on the weekends, or settling for a B or (gasp!) a C in biostatistics, I sometimes skipped sleep entirely just to maximize my success and prove to everyone and myself that my Crohn’s had NO effect on my goals whatsoever. I must join all the clubs. I must co-author all the papers. I must attend class every day and never request a delay on an assignment. Sleep is for people who earn it. My body is just a vessel for goals achievement, and I’ll ride it into the ground like a throwaway horse in an old Western if I have to.
My body is just a vessel for goals achievement, and I’ll ride it into the ground like a throwaway horse in an old Western if I have to.
One of my recommenders submitted a letter about how she had worked closely with me for a year but didn’t even know I had IBD until I requested this letter, because I had achieved so much without ever asking for special treatment. This was seen as a big plus – she doesn’t bother anyone with her petty little health issues, not so much as a sick day. What employer wants to be bothered with their employees’ humanity? Blech.
If you are truly taking care of yourself and still able to achieve difficult goals, then by all means, do so. And that seems like what Kathleen Baker is doing – and why wouldn’t she? She’s on a treatment plan that’s working for now, and hopefully it keeps working. But not everyone is that lucky, which means we may give up on personal goals, modify them, or push ourselves too hard at the expense of our health.
I’m not a sucker or slugabed or quitter because I sleep, and limit, and even quit sometimes. Is what I keep telling myself.
I actually am really happy for Kathleen Baker and everything she’s achieved, and even got a little verklempt about her medal-winning finish. It does fill me with hope and pride when I see an IBDer achieve something big and bring a little more prominence to the disease. Plus, I’m a sucker for the Olympics, and even the silly conventions of NBC’s broadcast of it.
But I’m jealous, and stubborn. I want to be Olympically healthy, while also not limiting my other big goals. But I’m not a sucker or slugabed or quitter because I sleep, and limit, and even quit sometimes ... is what I keep telling myself, feeling the punishing urge to pull on my sneakers and run till I’m too tired to think about my limited, paused or abandoned goals any more.