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.

Join the Discussion

This article has 94 comments. Post your own now!

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!
DreamInspired replied...
Aug. 17, 2010 at 9:36 am
You do understand that he went through this right? It is not fiction
MercedesXO said...
Jul. 26, 2010 at 4:43 pm

This was SUCH an inspirational story. Congratulations to you, and what you went through was difficult. I can't imagine, and the strength and bravery you have is amazing. I like that you admitted to being afraid to find out, and sometimes not knowing can let us pretend that nothing is wrong. I'm glad you had the strength to get help:) The last line was excellent, and really wrapped together the entire story. I can tell you are very intelligent, and that you are an excellent writer. Unbelievabl... (more »)

Demon_of_Truth said...
Jul. 26, 2010 at 2:28 pm
You're a very brave person, and I liked the way you wrote this. i hope you never have to feel like that again. But, you made it though so a a big "Awesome dude!" for you. :)
myheart said...
Jul. 26, 2010 at 10:10 am
This was touching and brave. Everyone eventually goes through some revelance of growing up, and the fact that in the mist of all this you had to go through something so difficult is couragous. This is going to remind a lot a people about how they are growing up. Brilliant.
RFrocker23 said...
Jul. 4, 2010 at 10:54 pm
This is great! You really opened up and it was very touching and riveting, in a surprising way.
banna42 said...
Jul. 4, 2010 at 12:19 pm
wow. this was a touching story. i never understood Chohn's disease before. I appreciate your sharing!!
Sarbear This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 12, 2010 at 11:14 pm
wow. i appreciate you sharing your story. i feel like i understand chrone's better now. great!!
laraelizabeth This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 12, 2010 at 10:55 pm
This article really touched me because I have a relative in his teens with Crohn's. He had some slight differences in symptoms but I can now imagine what he went through. Thank you for this wonderful article, and for being brave enough to admit your disease.
xBaByGiRrL22x said...
Jun. 12, 2010 at 2:00 pm
wow. this is incredible. thank you for being confident enough to share your story. u were so strong, and u should be really proud. this is truly inspiring, & i hope u get better and better each day (:
deka9 said...
Jun. 12, 2010 at 1:26 am
Wow! Evan, thank you for writing such an amazing article. You are so brave to share this story; furthermore, I truly believe that you have inspired many people from teens to adult to face their problems and not to give up. Thank you for writing :) Hope and pray that you are getting better everyday!
Emil_Keller said...
May 21, 2010 at 8:05 pm
Wow! Your story was truly an inspiration to me... It really makes you appreciate life, and gets you through the hardships. I'll always remember this piece... Thank you!
riley.nicole!XD said...
May 21, 2010 at 8:04 pm
wow....i never read through really long poems...but this one kept me on the edge of my seat. i almost started to cry because it gave me memories of holding back everything in your path. it hurts....a lot. good work kid...keep it up...and good luck
charzard said...
May 3, 2010 at 10:23 am
i was reading through some old things that other people had faved, and i stumbled upon this. i read this several months ago. i can't remember if i commented or not, but this an amazing article. i'm glad you can still do what all teens should, like go to prom and the like. good luck in the future.
xMeadowx said...
Apr. 29, 2010 at 10:51 pm
Wow! I really loved it :) great piece of writing and proves a good point.
Pranav M. said...
Apr. 29, 2010 at 8:19 pm
C'est magnifique, Monsieur Evan. You have shown the me that there is no point in hiding anything, that really just leads to silent suffering... 
MyTeacherMadeMeDoIt said...
Apr. 29, 2010 at 6:50 pm
Very amazing i feel so sexist saying that at the beginning i thought this was a girl writing. This is a amazing picece
chrissyclarinetist said...
Apr. 29, 2010 at 11:04 am
wow evan. this was a truely powerful story. it really got to me. not many stories hav the power to make me cry, but this one did. i didnt cry till the end however, when u were finally able to get support from your friends, and you didnt need to hide it anymore. i think everyone should read this story. kudos man
StarlingChild This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 7, 2010 at 1:47 pm
Wow. That is one powerful story. I personally have no medical problems so I never could relate to these stories. Yet, the way you explored this topic made me stop and think about how lucky my life is and how strong people like you must be to endure the daily amount of pain. Be strong, hang in there, you are a brave person (as well as everyone else "silently suffering"), and will keep battling on.
Jerika said...
Apr. 7, 2010 at 12:55 pm
That was an amazing piece of writing. There's alot of emotion in it and it's very touching. Not everyone has the courage you do to have posted this. I loved your story and keep it up. Your an amazing writer.
LoveOfWords said...
Mar. 16, 2010 at 4:07 pm
Really good piece of writing. If it were me, I'd never be able to publish it publicly; I admire your courage. Well done!
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