Thankful Things Thursday: On Having Crohn’s Disease

I mentioned the other day that this week is Crohn’s & Colitis Awareness Week.

Now, if you’ve read this blog for longer than a day or two, you’re fully aware of Crohn’s disease. I like to think I’ve done my part to help spread awareness over the years, even if all the details along the way haven’t been very pretty.

In FITNESS magazine, talking about my going-to-the-bathroom disease. Lovely—but effective! I got lots of letters from FITNESS readers after this piece ran back in April.

Sorry about all the descriptive phrases I’ve used.

But I do think it’s cool — and comforting — that a decade ago I’d tell people I have Crohn’s disease and they’d look at me like I had something made-up. No one had heard of it, no one knew what it was and I’d usually just clarify by saying, “I get really bad stomachaches.”

Me and my best friends!

Understatement of the century.

So that brings me to today: A special Crohn’s-themed Thankful Things Thursday. Because as much as I hate having this disease and as much as it tried to ruin my entire year, I am thankful for it sometimes (and when I’m actually feeling sick, there’s no way in hell I’d write this post — so we’re doing it now!).


I’m thankful for Crohn’s disease because it got me into running! A few years ago, I couldn’t tell you how far a marathon was and I didn’t even know a “half marathon” was a thing. Then, one February day on the Subway, I was reading the Metro NY paper and saw a half-page advertisement for Team Challenge.

I ripped out the ad, took it home and taped it to my desk in my bedroom. I did a little research and found that I could raise money, get a coach and a training plan and run a half marathon in Napa, CA, that July.

I attended an info session with my roommate a few days later at JackRabbit Sports. By the end of the session, I had committed to raising $4,400 for CCFA and running 13.1 miles five months later.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

With my Napa buddies!

I woke up every Saturday to train in Central Park with the team and I got hooked on running — something I had never really done before.

I’ve since run three half marathons as part of Team Challenge: my first in Napa…

At the Napa-to-Sonoma Half Marathon Team Challenge pasta party with the NYC team. I drank, like, eight bottles of water at the pre-race party, thinking I needed to hydrate. That was the day I learned about “over-hydrating” and I was up all night peeing.

…my second as a Team Challenge mentor in Las Vegas…

With the other Team NYC mentors and Coach Jay (far left), welcoming TC participants to the pasta party. AKA being super obnoxious and trying to get people excited.

…and finally, last year I ran the Las Vegas Half Marathon again, after raising $20,000 for CCFA through the Run for the Rabbit campaign.

Sooooo fancy.

I don’t think I would have gotten into distance running if not for Team Challenge. It was a great way to learn about running and train for my first half marathon, and I’m grateful for all the Team Challenge people — the mentors, the endurance managers and the coaches — for getting me to all those start and finish lines.

I’m thankful for Crohn’s disease because it has introduced me to amazing, resilient, incredible people. All those cool people I’ve met doing Team Challenge? We’re still friends.

About to run the Las Vegas Half Marathon in 2009, back when it was still a morning race.

One of the most life-changing things for me came with joining Team Challenge that first time and meeting so many people who not only knew what Crohn’s disease was, but who also had the disease or had a friend, family member or loved one who had it.

Suddenly, for the first time, I could talk about my symptoms. I could discuss my treatment plans and things that worked and didn’t work for me.

“Things that don’t work.”

I felt so comforted. My first season with Team Challenge, in the late winter of 2009, was when I first started talking about having Crohn’s disease. Before that, I’d always mentioned I’d had it as necessary — like to my boss when, just a few days into my first post-college job, I had a flare-up and was out of commission — but I never went into detail or brought it up. Team Challenge connected me with people I could relate to and commiserate with.

I’m thankful for Crohn’s disease because it has made me vulnerable — and I’ve learned to be OK with that. OK, I’m learning to be OK with that.

“GO TEAM NYC.” —Written by Ali Feller

I hate when I get sick and can’t make it to the office. I hate running to the bathroom in the middle of meetings. I hate everything that comes with flare-ups. But this year, after a seemingly endless Crohn’s battle, I learned to let my guard down. I learned that it’s OK to ask for help sometimes, and it’s OK to give into this disease.

I tried so hard to “power through” this year. I tried to keep running and I tried to maintain my normal lifestyle. But at times, the sickness got so bad that something had to give. I hated thinking that Crohn’s disease could in any way control my life — but slowing down and giving myself the occasional break proved to be helpful for my mind, my body and, ultimately, my sanity.

I’m thankful for Crohn’s disease because it helped me find my strength. As I said, there were days when I tried to keep going and live “normally,” and there were days when I had to let Crohn’s win.

I am so much stronger today because of what I went through this year. I understand my disease better, I know better what I can and cannot handle and I’m in a much healthier place mentally than I’ve ever been. (Some people/Brian may argue this, but you should take my word for it.)

Crohn’s disease takes a major toll on my body. It attacks my sad little immune system and it wears me down with symptoms of fatigue, anemia and exhaustion.

But whether or not my digestive system is cooperating all the time, having this disease has made me into more of a fighter. And I will fight you. Bring it.

I’m thankful for Crohn’s disease because it makes feeling good feel so good. This is my favorite thing. The flare-ups suck. Everything about them makes me miserable. But the second I start feeling better I am a lover of all things in life. Seriously.

Every run is magical.

With Team Challenge before the Las Vegas Half Marathon in 2011.

Every bathroom I don’t have to use is spectacular.

Every healthy day is a beautiful day.

I emerge (like a butterfly) from each flare-up with a renewed appreciation for my health. I have been feeling good (knock on wood, knock on wood, BRB running to a forest to knock on all the trees) since I left the hospital back in September and it has been the best.

Feeling awesome at my cousin’s wedding, two weeks after leaving the hospital. I was so happy getting to enjoy the wedding and not running to the bathroom during the ceremony.

I’m living life like a normal person again and that will never grow old. I feel appreciative and grateful every single day, and as much as I hate to give this disease any credit, Crohn’s disease is the reason I’m so into the whole thankful thing.

I know I may get sick again. This disease never seems to really go away entirely and I feel traces of it all the time.

But if — or when — the next flare-up comes along, I know I’m better prepared for it. I’ve had three months in a row of feeling awesome and I’m so, so thankful for that.

So cheers to health, happiness and occasionally talking about things that are not cute!

ANYTHING FOR YOU? Got anything you’re unexpectedly thankful for, like a disease or a bike crash or that time your dog ran away and your parents bought you a new, better puppy?



29 Responses

  1. Hi, your an inspiration, I am currently raising a community with my business, part of it is gluten free, soya free snacks, that support health and well being in tasty form. I am understanding that more and more people are affected by food intolerances. Hi, and 🙂

  2. Props for looking at the positive side of the disease–great attitude! I (and it seems many others, as well) am thankful for the blogging world. A few years a go I had a not-so-healthy relationship with food, and I give a lot of credit to healthy living bloggers for showing me that you can still be happy and healthy AND eat ice cream! Haha.

  3. I’m thankful for your honesty and to read about someone who’s gone through what I’m going through! Thanks for always giving me a laugh 🙂

  4. I’m thankful for my Hubby’s health. We had a serious health scare a few years ago, and everyday he’s healthy is a day I’m grateful for (I hate ending sentences with a preposition, but I’m too tired to rearrange it…sorry).
    I’m glad you’ve got your happy back. Normally I’m not sentimental, but I love this quote from Elizabeth Edwards (I think), and it reminds me of you and the year you’ve had: “She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails.” You got this.

  5. I 100% agree that Crohn’s makes feeling good feel extra, extra, extra good! When I got out of the hospital in July, I basically saw everything as if it was a gigantic basket of puppies. It was awesome.

  6. I have epilepsy and for the longest time I hated that my body had let me down. But I’ve come to realize I know my body, limits, non-limits (sorry it’s Friday and I can’t think) so much better because of it. I’ve accepted the side effects of the medication and rather than fighting those, I am grateful medication works. It’s weird to think about but I know I am a better and stronger person because of it.

  7. I’m thankful for that horrible breakup I went through almost a year ago. As hard as it was and how much I was hurt, my ex and I have managed to stay, well, I wouldn’t exactly stay friends, more like buddies who only see each other at the gym but realize that we’re better that way than as a couple. Plus, if he and I hadn’t broken up, I’d never be in the most loving relationship I’ve ever had right now…. Perspective.

    xo Marie
    Chocolate & Wine

  8. I’m quite grateful to be alive right now…I’m in Tokyo for a few weeks and I’ve just had my first significant earthquake. It was quite scary! Made me remember very quickly what’s important and what isn’t!!

  9. As someone with UC, you are SO right about the fact that “feeling good feel so good.” After having flares on and off all of last year, and now being on Remicade, its amazing to finally feel normal and appreciate the fact that I have actually been so healthy for an extended period of time.

  10. I am also thankful for my health. I like you have Crohns and never ran anything until the Miami Marathon 2009, the inaugural Team Challenge run! I’d like to say that I continued to run, but was blessed to get pregnant with my second child. My goal for 2013 is to complete a race (any length). Thanks for all your posts!

  11. I am thankful for three legged dogs… Yes, tripod dogs…. I love it when I am towards the end of a long run and I see one of those fellas skipping about! I know it’s weird, but they a) make me so happy b) remind me that if they can cope with three legs, I can definately make it through my run with two, and c) They are so stinkin’ cute….

  12. That was an awesome post. Really inspiring! I think running teaches us all a lot about ourselves. For me? Training for — yet never running — two NYC marathons in a row has taught me to not just say the phrase “make lemonade out of lemons” but to actually live it. After one year of injury and another with the hurricane, I’ve learned to embrace the PROCESS rather than the OUTCOME of training. And it’s brought me a lot of inner peace.

    Oh yes, and digestively? I learned — who knew — I’m lactose intolerant! And that realization has actually made me a healthier person along the way and a person who feels better when I’m running and when I’m not. Soy milk! Genius!

  13. I am new to your blog but that was a very touching story and glad you found the positives! I ran the Crohns Disease Guts and Glory 5k in New Jersey this past summer BUT really did not know a ton about it (well still dont) but thank you for the post!

  14. I’ve been very sick over the last half a year, and while it’s forced me to deal with a lot of things I’ve hated (being fed by a tube that sticks out of my nose and goes into my small intestine; taking time off school), I’m also thankful for how much it’s taught me about what’s really important. I know that I’ll come through this with a better sense of who I am as a person and what I want to do with my life.

    I’d also like to say how appreciative I am for what you’ve written about Crohn’s Disease and your openness about your experience with it. Just last night I got a call from my gastroenterologist saying that she wants to admit me to the hospital (maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, or maybe Sunday — hopefully Sunday) for a work up for Crohn’s. I’m not sure it’s all that likely that it’s what I have, but having read your blog makes me feel a lot less scared about the possibility. Thank you for showing what someone can do in spite of — or as you put it even because of — Crohn’s!

  15. First I want to say that I love following your blog! I also read Lauren and Emily’s blogs and the three of you are really inspiring and helping me to stick with my marathon training plan! So, I guess I’m thankful for you!

    I have read a lot of success stories about people with Crohn’s Disease who successfully manage it by following a vegan diet. Is this something that you’ve ever considered? I don’t want to be that crazy lady you’ve never met giving medical/nutritional advice, but I figure if it’s something that’s helped others then it doesn’t hurt for me to at least pass it on to you.

    Here a couple of links, if you’re interested.

  16. I too am thankful for Crohn’s disease. I was diagnosed in August 2011 and by the end of September I was in the hospital for an illeocolectomy. But seriously, this past year has been the best year of my life! I have not felt this healthy in years! Like you, Crohn’s has made me a better, stronger person and I am looking for ways to do my part in fighting this disease and for finding a cure for the millions that are affected. You are an inspiration Ali! So glad I found your blog a few days ago!

  17. I know it’s super cheeeeesy, but I’m really thankful for you and your blog. I have two friends who have Chron’s, and I’ve never really been able to understand what they go through. Maybe I’ve been to hesitant to pry, I’m not sure. But you’ve helped me learn what they both have to endure, and I feel like I’m better able to offer support. So thank you for helping me to be a better friend!

  18. I may have written this in my blog last week, but I can’t say it enough. Ali, I’m so glad we reconnected (via the internet and social media) and you inspired me to participate with Team Challenge. Last weekend is Vegas was the best weekend of my life and I can’t wait to participate in another event. They are truly an inspiring and motivating group of people. I was in awe all weekend. I can’t wait to participate in another event and coming from someone who has never really enjoyed running – this is huge!!! Maybe someday we’ll be running in orange together! (I’ll just be a little ways behind you.)

  19. I’m thankful that I found Team Challenge and your blog because I know there is a giant group of people who will let/encourage me to run whether I’m sick or not! I don’t have to let Crohn’s control where my life is going or how active I can be. Instead I am in control and I like that a whole lot more!

  20. I do have to say that sometimes when I’m running and really hating my legs and and lungs and exercise in general, I’ll occasionally think about your blog and remind myself that I am SO LUCKY that I can even get out there and run with little to no issues. What a simple but serious blessing.

    I’ve seen a lot of people deal with some pretty serious health issues this year, including loved ones who are very, very close to me. While I would never say I am thankful for their illnesses, I will say that seeing them struggle has made me so thankful for my own health and resilience. I think it’s something we all take for granted DAILY, and I’ve been trying to remind myself that I am so, so lucky.

  21. I’m thankful for ice on the ground. I nearly slipped on ice today while running but ended up getting really excited. Sounds strange, but I’m originally from Florida. So my first experience with ice just made me excited to be in cold weather now!!

  22. I am thankful for my chronic migraine headaches (now much much better!). They have taught me to control my diet to avoid triggers and like you, have made me appreciate my headache free runs so, so much!

  23. As much as I hated going through it, I’m thankful for deployments. It brought my husband and I closer together and really opened up communication between the two of us.

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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