Living a Positive Life with Crohn’s Disease
Consumers employee Lindsay Harris shares the struggles and successes of her journey with Crohn’s disease in this touching edition of Money, I’m Home.
00:06 Lynne Jarman-Johnson: Money, I’m Home. Welcome in. I’m Lynne Jarman-Johnson with Consumers Credit Union, and we are here for you. From finance to fitness, we’ve got it all, and this week we have a wonderful story to tell you. It’s one that truly is very heart-warming because it’s a story about helping others when you’re facing adversity. And what a time of year to listen to that story. Lindsay Harris is joining us today. She’s with Consumers Credit Union, but Lindsay, you also are really involved in an organization and the organizations that help focus on building awareness of something that has affected you. Tell us a little bit about it.
00:44 Lindsay Harris: I bring awareness to something that is kind of near and dear to me because it’s something that I’ve walked through firsthand—and that’s Crohn’s disease. I share my story with pretty much anyone that I meet or anyone that will listen to me on social media. Any platform that I’m given, I will use to share my story, share what I’ve learned, share what I’ve walked through and just bring awareness to an invisible disease that not a lot of people know about.
01:11 LJJ: Well, Crohn’s disease is something that when you hear about it, sometimes people might back away a little. They’re a little bit reticent to ask you about what truly it is and also how it impacts your every single day life. Tell us about that.
01:27 LH: Yeah, so it’s a topic that a lot of people, they don’t know about. So they don’t want to ask about it. I struggle with things like fatigue and joint pain every day, but I don’t let that stop me from living my life. I still have pretty big goals in my life and pretty big dreams that I chase after, and I won’t let a disease or a diagnosis stop me from anything—whether that’s traveling or simply going for a walk outside. I just do what I can with what I’m given and bring awareness along the way and have the hard conversations with the people that don’t know, and they’re willing to have those conversations and willing to ask the questions.
02:07 LJJ: So Lindsay, tell us what started happening where all of a sudden you realized, “Something is not quite right.” It’s very rare for people really in your age group to be diagnosed with Crohn’s. What was it that you started really, “Okay, something’s going on with my body that’s not normal.”
02:28 LH: So back in 2014, I was 19, and I started losing a lot of weight pretty rapidly. And I’m a healthy weight to where losing weight was scary. I was sleeping 75% of my days, not acting normal, so just laying around, didn’t really have much of an appetite. But I figured I might have just caught a bug or caught the flu, so I was like, “It’ll pass.” So, I kind of brushed it off a little bit until January of 2015, and that’s when my mom started really saying, “We have to go to the doctor. We have to figure out what’s going on,” because my parents could see the different things that was going on with my body and what was happening. And we just wanted answers, and we wanted to know what we needed to do to fix it and treat it. And I got an answer of Crohn’s disease in April of 2015. So about four months into pursuing the doctors, we got an answer. I was misdiagnosed at first with E. Coli, so I was on different treatments to try and treat that. But that wasn’t really working, so we were like, “Something else is going on here.” And that’s when my doctors put in a request to meet with a gastroenterologist, and that’s when I finally got more of an answer of what was going on.
03:51 LJJ: Now, when you think about that, that’s pretty scary stuff. Here you are, you think you possibly have E. Coli, so they’re giving you drugs for that. Were you at this juncture just saying, “Oh, come on. What is going on with my body?” Basically, Crohn’s affects your digestive system. Had you tried changing your diet and you think, “Oh, this is easy.” Right?
04:14 LH: So I was in the point of like, “Yes, I want to know what’s going on with my body.” And I’m not huge into medication, so when they were throwing different antibiotics and different drugs at me, I was like, “If that’s what I have to do to get better, I’ll do it, but I don’t really want to.” But again, I was at a weight of 83 pounds for a 19-year-old, and so I knew I needed to do something, because I was scared that if I lost any more weight that I could potentially die. So that was scary, and I was like, “I just need to do what I can to get back in a healthy spot.” So, then I did start doing a ton of research on different foods. I started working with a natural doctor that did a bunch of food sensitivity testing, and I cut about 75 different foods out of my diet. And so, it was things like gluten and dairy, pretty much any vegetables, beef, turkey, chicken, eggs. So, I had to really get creative with what I could eat.
05:13 LJJ: Lindsay, what did you eat?
05:15 LH: Yeah. So, I ate things like ostrich, bison, duck eggs.
05:22 LJJ: That is amazing. And honestly, what’s amazing about it, Lindsay, is just the fact that you did it. That you decided, “Look, this a drastic move I have to take.”
05:31 LH: Like I said, I wasn’t huge into medication, so after I got diagnosed, I did a bunch of healing my body naturally with foods and supplements and vitamins. In August of 2015, I had a surgery because I had a complication from Crohn’s, which is a fistula. So, a little passageway from one of my intestines, I don’t remember if it was my small or my large, made its way to the outside of my skin and just filled like a pocket of infected fluid. So, I had to get that drained. And after that hospital stay, I was put on to IV medication, which helped get my body back into a healthy state. I was feeling good, healing my body with food, but I wasn’t gaining any weight. So, this whole time I was still in the 80s. I was like, “Okay, I’m eating everything I can. I’m doing everything I can, but I’m not absorbing nutrients in order to gain weight.” So, I did the medication route for a little bit, and I was on a steroid. It had every side effect in the book. I hated it.
06:35 LH: I lost a lot of my hair. I lost some of my vision. My memory was messed up. My face got really puffy and swollen. I had mood swings, and so that was really fun because I’m a pretty positive, upbeat, nice person. And so, I would just lash out at people, and I just wasn’t myself. I felt like I was a monster, and I hated it. The steroid, thankfully, was a short-term thing. I think it was about maybe three months until I was in a good spot with the IV medication, and I was on my IV medication until February of 2017, which then I took myself off of medication, which I don’t recommend unless you have a doctor supporting you. But I have a goal of being off of medication, and I was in a good spot that I came off of medication, and I was medication-free for a year.
07:32 LJJ: Wow.
07:33 LH: Yeah, and stress is one of my biggest triggers of what causes my flares.
07:38 LJJ: Lindsay, you just mentioned a key word there, which is flare. So, this is life-long that you will have flares that come and go, and you just mentioned stress triggers for you.
07:49 LH: Yeah, so a flare can happen at any time, which was scary, because I feel healthy and fine right now, but tomorrow it could be a completely different story. So it’s supposed to be with me my whole life, but that’s kind of what the medication is supposed to help with, is to keep the disease in remission and keep it under control so you don’t get flares, but it’s not to say that being on medication… You still can get flares while you’re on it.
08:18 LJJ: Tell us a little bit about when you have a disease that affects your immune system, what’s going on on a day-to-day basis with COVID?
08:27 LH: Yeah, so I try not to let things run my life. I am trying to live my life as normally as possible right now. I’m taking the extra precautions, making sure that I’m doing everything I can to stay safe and being smart about what I’m doing and where I’m going. If I don’t feel comfortable going into a restaurant or going somewhere, I’m not going to do it. But I’m just trying to do everything I can to stay safe and still enjoy the life we can enjoy right now with everything going on.
08:56 LJJ: And you mentioned that you had at one point cut your diet back drastically. Are you still on a drastic diet restriction or has that changed?
09:08 LH: That’s changed. So, I’m pretty much back to a normal diet, which is good, because I don’t think I could last on the couple of foods I was eating, forever. But I still try and stay away from trigger foods for me, which would be like gluten and dairy, but I pretty much can eat whatever I want just in moderation.
09:30 LJJ: So you’re young. You look down the road, and you’ve already had surgeries, but you are very proactive in making sure that you’re taking control of your disease. You are taking control of making sure that your life is the way that you are going to lead it to the best possible way. What can you do to recommend that for people just on a day-to-day… Lindsay, it’s a joy to talk to you, to listen to you, to see you smile. You bring such joy to Consumers every single day. There’s no question about that. And yet I’ve seen the pictures. The pictures are raw. They’re very raw, to see you when you were so thin. So how do you every day get up and make sure that you share this story that turns to joy?
10:23 LH: So a big thing for me, throughout my whole story has been my faith, and that’s something that I’ve just held tight to and held on to, knowing that there’s a purpose for my life. There’s a purpose for why I’m going through what I’m going through. And instead of… The common question people ask is, “Why is this happening? What’s going on?” And sometimes they throw God into it, like, “Why me, God?” I’ve changed that question from “Why me?” to “Use me. Use my story to reach people. Use my story to bring awareness. Use my story even though it’s long. It’s messy. It’s complicated. Use that to show people the goodness and show people that even though you could be in a storm and a battle right now, there is good coming.” And just hold on to that. And it is hard to believe. When you’re in your lowest low to believe, “Yeah, like something good is coming, but I… ” I don’t know. I’m just wired the way of positivity and wired in a way of not really letting things affect me, so it’s been a huge time thing for me to just get through everything.
11:51 LH: I have an amazing support system with my family, my friends, my job. Everything. It’s been great. And so, I would recommend finding community, finding people that you can talk to, finding people that will support you. I have different things, different dreams that I’m working towards. One of them is to be medication-free, and that’s not common for people with a disease to desire to be med-free. But I have people that support me with reaching that dream. That’s my biggest advice, I guess, is to just find your people.
12:29 LJJ: I cannot thank you enough. I think everybody right now is kind of going through some stuff. With everything that’s going on and… Your story needs to be told. Everybody’s here for you, Lindsay. You know that? But what is amazing to me is how you’re here for everybody else.
12:45 LH: Thank you.
12:45 LJJ: God bless you and thank you.
12:47 LH: Thank you.
12:48 LJJ: Thank you for sharing your story. Number one, anybody who’s listening out there, there are trying times that we’ve been in for quite some time now here. And every single thing that you can do, Lindsay, you have shown us and proven to us that there is a light. Thank you for sharing that light and being that light.
13:09 LH: Of course, thanks for having me.
13:11 LJJ: Is there a specific website that you recommend for people who have questions about Crohn’s, who have questions about awareness and/or volunteering?
13:22 LH: I think the Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Foundation would be a good place to start. I do know they do different walks, and they have different volunteer opportunities. They have a ton of different research and blog posts and stuff on their website.
13:36 LJJ: Lindsay Harris, thank you so much for taking the time with us today. We sure do appreciate it, and we love your story, sharing with others the positive of getting through difficult times.
13:48 LH: Yeah, thank you for having me.
13:50 LJJ: Money, I’m Home. Lynne Jarman-Johnson with Consumers Credit Union. If you have a topic that you’re interested in, please send it our way. We’d like to thank our producer, Jake Esselink. Jake, thank you for connecting us with Lindsay today. Thanks everybody for joining us. Have a wonderful week, and we’ll talk with you next week.