In November 2008 I found out I was expecting my first child, and both my husband and I were over the moon. Life was peachy… Until I started suffering from strange symptoms, which at first I put down to the pregnancy. Slowly but surely the symptoms worsened. I was dashing to the toilet over ten times each day, losing blood, and was in lots of pain around my stomach and back. I became terrified that something was wrong with my baby. I went to visit my GP, who quickly came to suspect that I may have Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The confirmatory tests could not be done due to me being pregnant, so I was given foam enemas to help the inflammation. I gave birth to a healthy baby boy, and could then finally be booked in for the Colonoscopy I needed in order to reach a diagnosis.
In late 2009 I was diagnosed with Proctitis, which is a form of Ulcerative Colitis affecting the lining of tissue of the inner rectum. I initially kept it under control with medication the doctor offered as the first port of call, and because my disease was mild at this point it worked. Naively I totally underestimated the severity of my disease, and I thought my medication had cured me. I often didn’t bother taking it and generally did not look after myself. I ate too much of the wrong things, drank too much and weighed a lot more than I should have.
Fast forward to 2015 and I became incredibly unwell. I was diagnosed with Pan Ulcerative Colitis which meant the disease was now throughout my entire large bowel and I was flaring terribly. I became housebound and was no longer able to work as a Forensic Science Lecturer, which is a job I adored and had worked so hard for; I had just achieved promotion. My consultant put me on a biological drug treatment called Humira, where I had to self-inject weekly at home.
After a while, it was clear the injections alone were not completely working. I felt a bit better but still not right. I was still not able to go out for long periods. After trying many different diets which didn’t work I decided to try to adopt a plant-based lifestyle. The combination of my new medication and ditching dairy and meat worked. I got my life back, I lost weight, and I could go out with my family again. I even dared to go on holiday. However, I had lost my job, a job I had spent effectively five years qualifying for and just having qualified with my masters, this was a huge blow.
A Fresh Start
I couldn’t see myself doing anything other than teaching, but I had to try to remain positive. I clung on to the fact that not working meant I could be there for my children during the school runs, the bath and story times, and all the school plays and assemblies. I also had the exciting thought that I could potentially do something for myself, something I had always dreamed of doing but had never thought was possible.
I decided to go for it, and thought ‘what better way to earn a living than to work doing something I love?’ Clearly, I love food… (a little too much, but I’m working on it). So far I’ve lost four stone but still have two to go. I set up Glow, a meal delivery business, in January 2017. After a slight blip with my medication after it failed in October 2017, I seemed to settle on a new regime of eight weekly infusions with a drug called Vedolizumab that was administered at hospital. Again, I felt well, the combination of a plant-based diet and the vedolizumab made me feel great. I continued to drop the weight and found myself falling more and more in love with the vegan way of life! I have now switched all beauty products, cleaning products and clothes over to cruelty free brands and even my children decided to come on board in February 2018 and they became (mini) vegans too.
I was so happy with my new-found wellness and lifestyle, I should have known it was too good to be true… Once again, my medication failed! It also left me with horrendous joint pain which was later diagnosed as Inflammatory Arthritis, and also Erythema Nodosum, which is a painful condition where the fat cells under the skin become inflamed. This results in tender, red lumps, usually on the shins. In my case both my shins became terribly inflamed and painful. Once again I had had to face losing the career I had worked so hard for and had built up to a point I was very proud of, simply because I couldn’t stand for periods long enough to complete my cooking and I couldn’t leave the house to complete my deliveries.
A Fresh Start… Again
I became so poorly in December 2018 that I decided to cease trading with my meal delivery business, thinking I could start up again when I felt better and was settled on new medication, or having had surgery if it was necessary. These plans were not meant to be, in January 2019 my Dad who had suffered for many years from Parkinson’s and Vascular Dementia passed away. Despite him being poorly, his passing was still a huge shock as he had been physically well up until only a week or two before he was taken into hospital.
When such a life-changing event happens, it makes you re-evaluate your life and what is important. I thought a lot about what Dad would have thought about the situation, and I had found myself in and listened closely to the opinions of my close family members. I realised I had been continuing with my business far longer than I should have, simply to keep up appearances. I didn’t want to lose face and for people to think I’d failed. When Dad passed away I realised I could not give a damn what people think anymore! I needed to do what was right for me and my family. I knew I needed to create a career that works for me, one I could still run from home but could do sitting down, or even laying down if I needed to. But the question was, what?
I have always enjoyed reading and watching other people’s blogs, facebook pages, and inspirational talk videos and wondered if it was something I could try myself. I was lucky that I had made a friend in the chronic illness world who runs the wonderful blog A Balanced Belly, a blog all about Jenna’s life with Crohn’s Disease and how she helps her gut health through a gluten and dairy free diet. After chatting things through with Jenna I decided to give it a whirl, what did I have to lose?
I still needed to earn a small wage, so I started buying and selling clothes, again something I can do from home. I set up my little blog House of Herbivores, which is all about life as a mum to vegan children. I share plant-based recipes, review vegan products, and also chat all things Ulcerative Colitis too. My recipes prove really popular with vegans and non-vegans alike, as the meat-free food movement becomes ever more popular and families are incorporating more and more meat-free meals into their weekly menus. It’s very early days, but things seem to be going really well. I have had lovely feedback on my fledgling site and have had my writing published on other blogs. My aim is to be able to monetise my blog in the near future, but I am still very much in the early stages of my plans.
It has been quite the journey over the last ten years with Ulcerative Colitis. I count myself as incredibly, incredibly lucky. Yes, I have been diagnosed with a chronic illness, but that does not define me! Over the last ten years, I have also had two wonderful, intelligent and compassionate children. I qualified as a teacher and completed my masters (yes it nearly finished me off but that’s beside the point, and is a story for another day). We have moved into our forever family home and added a silly puppy dog into our family. I have made such happy memories with my family and friends, been on holidays I will never forget, and have made new friends thanks to Colitis and Veganism too.
I am constantly fighting for wellness and will never stop.
I am a mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunty and a friend. That is what defines me, and it is for those wonderful reasons that I will get through the challenges that inevitably lie ahead on this crazy journey that is chronic illness.
Always try to find the positive.
Emma is a freelance writer and cook who created the blog House of Herbivores – a vegan family blog. Emma was inspired to switch to a plant based lifestyle three years ago for health reasons as she suffers from Ulcerative Colitis, inflammation of the bowel. Emma shares her family favourite recipes, vegan product reviews, tips and tricks for the new vegan and insights into life as a vegan family.