Silent Suffering This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

I was 14 when I first found blood in the toilet. I was 14 when I decided not to say anything, not to get help, not to look for an explanation. It was a silent suffering, and I took it very slow. Thinking nothing about my insides, or the wretched environment that was slowly developing in my bowels, I continued living as if nothing were happening. But every day my fear of the bathroom grew. I wasn’t getting better. The pain of a bowel movement would make my body shake, my arm veins would expose themselves like slugs under my stretched skin, and my eyes would close into a state of imagination, an escape.

I was 14, and the topic was embarrassing. Nothing in my rational mind gravitated toward telling them about my problem, my daily struggle. The act of going to the bathroom had become so ritualized and the pain so commonplace that my body had normalized the facts. It was simply a given that at least once a day I would have to endure an excruciating episode that ended with the clear water of the porcelain bowl turning a shade of crimson that I came to associate with my cowardice and ­insecurity.

At my sister’s graduation I broke down. I told my parents what was ­happening to me. Soon I was face to face with my doctor, who was baffled. No hemorrhoids, no nothing. “Stop weightlifting until it gets better,” he suggested.

“Serendipity,” I told my parents. “Everything got better.” I lied.

I was 16 when I began going to the bathroom more frequently every day than most do in a week. Going to the gym became a battle between my desire to train and the rumbling of bowels begging for acknowledgment. Running on a treadmill became an internal dialogue. Just two more minutes. I can do this. My body would respond with a low growl, a thud like the tapping of knuckles on wood. This sound would quickly escalate, accompanied by pressure, as if someone were standing on my abdomen. Then I was competing in a race, a 50-yard dash to the men’s room, as an ­audience of fortysomethings looked on in awe at the boy with diarrhea. Over the course of a workout I would go four or five times, and people next to me would inevitably ask what kind of training regiment I was doing where I spent more time in the bathroom than on the gym floor.

I never considered myself handicapped and never wanted to admit I was sick. When I was having difficulty sleeping because of the problem, I thought long and hard about bringing the topic up again. My parents had no idea what was going on, partially because I had lied, and partially because I simply could not articulate what was happening to me. I did not know how to craft a simile to describe this experience to my mother. No one had ever designated a time of day for these sorts of discussions. I knew it was not dinnertime conversation.

I finally broached the topic and was sent to a gastroenterologist. We talked. “Evan, I’d like to examine you, if you don’t mind.” Well, I do mind, actually. I’m 16, and I’d rather you not touch me. I’d rather you not discover my stigma, the one source where all my guilt and anxiety and imperfection manifests itself in crevices and scars. My parents left the room, and I was alone with only cartoon wallpaper to distract me. I closed my eyes and imagined I was home locked in my room. Eventually he finished, and what he described made me think of a small San Andreas fault. “We’re going to do a colonoscopy and an endoscopy to see what is really going on.”

Then I was staring up at the ceiling, a patchwork pattern of porous stucco paneling, and an anesthesiologist handed me a mask.

“So what’d they find, Dad?” My dad didn’t say anything, just handed me a picture. No artist, no anatomist, no believer in the beauty of the human form could have found anything positive to say about my intestinal tract. The picture was grainy with ulcers and burning with inflammation. My intestines were a visual representation of a napalm blast, totally unfit for absorbing nutrients. “The doctors said you have Crohn’s disease.”

Crohn’s is an autoimmune disorder characterized by inflammation and bleeding in the digestive tract. When the intestines become inflamed, their ability to absorb nutrients and water is drastically compromised.

In many ways I never truly reached adolescence because my intestines decided to rebel. I had always felt like a kid – just a kid doing calculus, just a child driving a car, just a boy drifting through life defining himself through grades and relationships. And then I saw the picture of my spotted stomach, my ruby intestines, and I knew that perfection was a misnomer, a paradox even.

Unfortunately, this part of my life had to happen at a very inopportune time. Like any young man, I wanted to spend my time with friends, and I wanted attention from girls. I distanced myself and tried to disconnect. In many ways it was the only thing I felt I could do. My classes were demanding, my drive never waned, and I did not feel comfortable discussing the personal aspects of the issue. I had other things to worry about. So I endured unnecessary suffering as a casualty in the search for youthful ­perfection, an ideal that I felt I had to live up to, only to find it doesn’t exist.

As Yahia Lababidi said, “We all have handicaps. The difference is that some of us must reveal ours, while others must conceal theirs, to be treated with mercy.” I always felt that I had to conceal my problem to be treated with mercy, not to be chastised for having to handle this and have doctors touch my body in ways that most people would find revolting. When I was diagnosed I finally told my friends. The outpouring of support from them as well as teachers was enlightening.

I don’t hide my pill bottles or lie to my friends ­anymore. Crohn’s is simply another part of me. On my wall above my bed, next to the prom and winter formal pictures, I hung the picture of my colon, all swollen and crimson. To me, it is more than red hues. It is a symbol of my rite of passage, my own personal struggle to grow up.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 94 comments. Post your own now!

loner said...
Jan. 18, 2011 at 12:18 am
I am so impressed that you had the courage to write about your story, and even to tell anybody. In my own medical issues, I've had to deal with a lot too, and for me, even more painful than my problem is how it affects my life in that I am afraid to tell anyone. You have inspired me and I hope that you, if nothing else, feel relieved to have spoken. Thank you so much God bless.
lyssa28 said...
Dec. 27, 2010 at 3:14 pm
Its amazing how you turned something so negative into something so positive. :) hopefully that picture with head off to college with you. If it does, reply back to this message please.
AnimalGirl said...
Nov. 13, 2010 at 11:56 pm
wow, im sorry that happened to you. that must have really sucked in the beginning... it still sucks, im sure... i think all i can say is "ouch"
BlackHoleHighAlumni This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 13, 2010 at 2:17 pm
My sister's best friend/my "big bro" has Crohn's and my dad had colitis...
tryJTinstead This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 13, 2010 at 11:58 am
this is amazing
RaisedByRobots said...
Nov. 13, 2010 at 10:29 am butt hurts just reading it. thats a good thing lol. It was amazing that you turned a personal experience into an...inspirational piece....something that makes me want to show everyone. I started and couldnt stop reading and was mad when it ended. Wow...great one!
KelseyLovesYou said...
Nov. 13, 2010 at 9:34 am
I read the first three lines and I was immediatly hooked! This is amazing! I'm sorry you have to go thru such struggle, but at least you can turn your experience into something inspirational and amazing. Great job, seriously. (:
tee hee said...
Nov. 5, 2010 at 9:02 am
i have crohns too
dancer13 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 22, 2010 at 1:08 pm
This was so inspiring, the way that you took your struggle with something so taboo in society and made it into this- a piece so beautiful it nearly made me cry. Nice, nice work!!
luvtaylor16 said...
Oct. 22, 2010 at 10:45 am
o wow, great story, my boyfriend has chrones. <3 u bf
pmkenzie said...
Sept. 30, 2010 at 10:46 pm
Ohhh my gosh.  When I read the first couple lines of this article on the first page, I gasped and immediately read it.   By the time I finished reading this, I was crying.  Seriously, crying.  I've had Crohn's for almost four years now (I'm 14), and never have seen anyone else (Ha. Under age 50 at least) who had it.  I understand everything absolutely you talked about.  I had my third colonoscopy/endoscopy a few months ago and absolutely everything was ok, and the d... (more »)
BlackHoleHighAlumni This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Nov. 13, 2010 at 2:18 pm
My sister's best friend is about 20 and has Crohn's...he's had it for a long time...I think it's more common then people's just not something people brag about...except my dad tho :P
-DreamForever- said...
Sept. 30, 2010 at 8:11 pm
Amazing story.  I am sorry about the pain you went through to get where you are today. I have a friend with Crohn's disease and she has her ups and downs. Great story. 
Panda500 said...
Sept. 30, 2010 at 7:08 pm
sierra-BABI said...
Sept. 22, 2010 at 10:59 am
omg such a good story
zThinkimFallingz replied...
Sept. 30, 2010 at 4:11 pm
My friend has Crohn's disease.
Shama said...
Sept. 8, 2010 at 10:35 am
windryder said...
Aug. 17, 2010 at 10:09 am
Insanely good writing. I'm sorry you've had to go through so much physical pain. I hope the medicine helps you.
cupcake420 replied...
Aug. 17, 2010 at 11:13 pm
i wish you the samw thing hope every thing is going great with you ad that you are doing a lot better
Macx14 said...
Jul. 26, 2010 at 7:33 pm
This is a very interesting story and you wrote it very well! Great job, keep writing!
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