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!

Penelope This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 16, 2010 at 3:26 pm
My best friend has chrons disease. We don't talk about it much, but I know he hurts the same as you. I love this piece because when I read it I feel like I can understand some of the things that are never said aloud. Keep up the good work:)
stayingstrong4eva said...
Feb. 22, 2010 at 8:07 pm
I think this piece was very inspiring. You're battle, and you're willingness to share with people makes you really unique. I have diabetes, which isn't the worst thing out there, but it's been a struggle, and I was currently hospitalized for complications. I've turned things around though, and reading this, it makes me realize that I'm not the only one out there trying to conquer something. So thank you! And great work!
alayapoetgirl said...
Feb. 22, 2010 at 7:57 pm
This article has made an amazing piece. You are a phenominal writer...You will go far!
firstsnowfalls This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 22, 2010 at 3:05 pm
Wow. Very powerful. Thank you so much for sharing this.
notebookgirl said...
Feb. 22, 2010 at 11:31 am
Ive been having stomach problems for the last four months and along with gall bladder surgery I had some of your same tests done so in a way I know where you are coming from. Stay strong
B.R.Nack said...
Jan. 31, 2010 at 4:52 pm
this story is amazing, not only are you strong but you are a very talented writer^^
kittkatbar0676 said...
Jan. 31, 2010 at 3:55 pm
Wow.... You did a great job bringing to light not only something you've dealt with, suffered with, but something that isn't all that well-known. I'd never heard of Crohn's Disease before this, and I'm leaving much more educated. You are so strong!
Jacksprak said...
Jan. 31, 2010 at 10:50 am
Man, I don't care what anyone tells you, you are the toughest guy I ever read about, and that includes all the books, articles, magizines everything! I find your story really insirational. I have stomach cancer. It's kinda like Crohn's only it can be fixed...sorta. I puke blood alot. I tried to hide it but I puked at school and got pretty found-out. I'm trying to endure kemo now, and I really hope I can be as strong as you were. Thanks for being so all inspiring.
Kitten111 said...
Jan. 10, 2010 at 2:31 am
Thankyou ... this piece was a real inspiration for me as I have a condition called turners syndrome.... the thing is that because I only have a lesser version of it I look normal but I’m still lacking certain vital hormones (growth hormone - which I got from injections I gave myself everyday for ten years - which is why I’m so short only five foot) but what I really relate to is when my grade went through puberty normally my doctor wouldn’t give me the medication to allow me to... (more »)
JessiGibs said...
Jan. 9, 2010 at 10:34 pm
I kind sorta relate to that. I have a rare musclular defect, and everyday is a battle. I have to force myself out of bed in the morning, walking is difficult, any sort of exercise is out of the question, at school if i get bumped in the hallways i hurt for the next week. the defect weakend all of my joints and cartilage, so i have issues with my spine that is only seen in people more than twice my age. people find it hard to be friends with me because i can do so little. my friends help me carry... (more »)
lshaver said...
Nov. 26, 2009 at 6:32 pm
WOW!!!! i know how you feel...sort of...i have cystic fibrosis, a lung disease that really effects every part of my body. i decided to tell my friends about it wheni was in 1st or 2nd grade maybe? well after i decided my mom hauled all my machines to the school; my feeding machine, my lung treatment machine, and my medicine to explain it all. i thought it was gonna be a good thing to tell them this, but i was terribly WRONG!! they made fun of me, and ran away when i came around, if i sat by t... (more »)
jcarter10 replied...
Dec. 18, 2009 at 7:15 pm
im sorry to hear about that my best friend..old best friend has cystic fibrosis were not close because she moved but she has a hard life and she seems to make it worse on herslef but me and my other friends still try to help her so if you need to talk just find a way to privatly tlk to me.
kittykat87 replied...
Feb. 22, 2010 at 11:56 am little sister has cystic fibrosis...shes only really sorry, good for you to stay strong...f anyone had been like that to my sister i wouldve gotten REALLY upset. Hang in there.
blackrose326 said...
Nov. 26, 2009 at 11:14 am
Amazing, your so strong having to go though this.
Beautiful writing
donna_maleesha said...
Nov. 4, 2009 at 9:34 pm
Wow, you are and extreamly strong person. Great job, and continue the good work.
screenname! said...
Nov. 4, 2009 at 6:17 pm
Wow....I am're strong, really strong!
adastraabextra This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 4, 2009 at 2:14 pm
simply amazing. im glad you finally came to terms with the fact that you needed to tell someone. great writing too!! :)
flute_bandie1493This teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Nov. 4, 2009 at 10:36 am
omg......thats arent words for what you described. i have a similar problem to what you do, i have what ppl call bleeders disease, so i kno kinda of what you feel
Rkingett This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 13, 2009 at 9:11 pm
wow! awsome!
brenda15 said...
Oct. 13, 2009 at 6:16 pm
i luv this!! great work. it was moving to me. keep it up and keep smiling:)
Site Feedback