In the classical Bildungsroman, the hero undergoes several challenges and hurdles through the course of his (because there are too few heroines in classical Billdungsromans, and don’t get me started on dickens) life. They grow with each challenge and end up being this all around good person. Did I just describe 98.6% of all of Hollywood movies?
I generally don’t subscribe to the life-is-a-Bildungsroman view. People don’t become better people by having stuff happening to them- otherwise I’d be all wise and so good I’d walk on water. But, I believe that sometimes you have to learn a few things to be able to move on. Crohn’s can teach you a few things, and one of them is putting yourself first. Sounds egoistical to you? Let me give you an example: at #takesteps2015, one of the speakers was a woman in her mid to late thirties. She was a military wife taking care of the kids, and her husband was on tour in Iraq when she started experiencing the first symptoms of the disease: stomach pain, weight loss, diarrhea, fatigue. Instead of getting her ass to the doctor, she chose to ignore it. “I couldn’t let my husband down!” She declared. Ten pounds lost later, her mother forced her to go to the doctor. Still, she was full of guilt every time she was tired, had to go to the doctor etc.
Crohn’s will teach you to put yourself first, because if you don’t, you are not much use to anyone else. In December 2013, I just had moved states and started a new job as Assistant Professor of German. It was a lot of work to say the least, but I enjoyed it. And then came the flare. After all these years with Crohn’s, I thought I might just outsmart everyone, including myself. So, I drank a lot of coffee, always stayed close to the bathrooms and kept on a brave face. One fine December morning, I was just teaching dative of location in German (the question “where?” always requires a dative!!!), and had to hold on to the table to not faint and fall. I taught the rest of the class sitting. One of my students had noticed, and offered to walk me back to my office. So here I was, the assertive, take-no-bullshit young assistant professor, being walked to her office by someone fresh out of High School, who later told me that the entire class had been “really worried” about me. That was really the opposite of what I wanted. So, I put myself first, starting with stating the obvious: I told people I was not feeling good, and I finally went to the doctor. I had to learn to communicate properly- in Grad School, my professors knew about my Crohn’s and whatever I needed, I got. At the new university, I had to do it all over again. I had to tell them that no, I couldn’t teach before 10, because I often don’t sleep at night and need the hours between four and eight to get ANY sleep at all. Contrary to my fears, it was not a problem. It turned out that the Department secretary, beloved by all, had Lupus, someone else was struggling with mental health, and someone else had chronic shingles- everybody had SOMETHING, and once they got the help they needed, they performed as well as anybody else.
I also began saying “No” to things- I didn’t participate in all the 5000 events on campus, and I cancelled class, instead of dragging my carcass in. Despite my conviction to the contrary, the dative case could wait, and my students didn’t complain.