Game of Crohn’s

Thursday 19 May was World Inflammatory Bowel Disease Day (IBD Day)! I decided to write this piece for the lovely folk at headstuff.org about my experience of Crohn’s disease. The article was well received and despite the fact that I shared some embarrassing secrets I was proud of myself. Two hours after posting the article I was called by the big boys at Rté and asked to come on The Ryan Tubridy Show the following day. You can listen the interview here. After the article went up I received an email from someone asking me a few more questions and I honestly thought that she was from Headstuff so I answered them but she was from the fecking Sun newspaper. They posted this article. Thankfully I wasn’t on page three!!

I was overwhelmed with all the kind and well wishing messages I received from people. Poo Power!

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Myself and Tubbers (Ryan Tubridy) in Rté.

So here’s the article.

Game of Crohn’s

I celebrated my 26th birthday in style. Surrounded by nurses and doctors giving me drugs and trying to stick suppositories up my arse. Sounds like a regular night in Coppers but thankfully I was in the hospital and everyone was sober. I had just been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Happy Birthday! I had been sick for quite some time before I sought out help that I had become somewhat normalised to feeling so sick. The symptoms that I experienced included nausea, extreme abdominal pain, fatigue, weight loss, diarrhoea, oh yeah and occasionally shitting myself. At the time I remember my mam saying ‘now there’s no need to be talking about this kind of thing onstage in your comedy, Andrea’, in reference to my little accidents which were mainly due to not being able to trust a fart. It only happened twice but if respected athletes like Sonia O’Sullivan and Gary Lineker can do it in front of thousands of people and have a laugh about it so can I.

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I was embarrassed about it at the time of course because there is such a social taboo in admitting to bowel troubles and shitting yourself. Shitting yourself is HILARIOUS in hindsight, and nobody ever admits that for the first 6 seconds it feels pretty nice. I started cancelling gigs and meetings with friends while I tried find a solution to my problem. I had to give up my job and was housebound, afraid to leave in case I wouldn’t make it to a toilet on time. My GP prescribed me some Xanax and told me it was psychosomatic. I went home to my parents house after I was no longer able to take care of myself because I had grown very weak. They brought me to hospital that night. Mammy knows best.
I would spend the next 4 weeks in hospital. I had to have a colonoscopy and MRI scan before being diagnosed. I woke up during the colonoscopy and saw my insides on the big tv as the doctor guided a camera through my bowels with what looked like a Nintendo 64 joystick. I asked the doctor ‘What’s this film called? Maid in Manhattan or something? Can I get a lend of the DVD?’ Well that’s what I wanted to say. But I was so drugged up that what came out of my mouth probably sounded very different. I remember the doctor laughing anyway. I was pretty happy at the fact that I could still be funny under the influence of a strong sedative. Then came the MRI. I hated getting an MRI scan of my body, not because I was strapped down on a table in a tube with earphones on to block out the really loud noise of the machine. The worst part was that they had the radio playing through the earphones and I had to listen to Live Line for 45 minutes. That’s right. I was strapped to a table and forced to listen JOE DUFFY’s LIVE LINE. It was a new level of torture that has yet to be used in Guantanamo Bay.

After being diagnosed friends and family started Googling Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease. Then the advice and food suggestions began, and although I was really grateful for everyone’s concern I was overwhelmed with the fact that I would be seriously limited in what I could eat. I was told to eat lots of cabbage as it’s a natural anti-inflammatory. This is true, but all I could think about was a teacher I had in primary school who used to eat raw cabbage every day. We called her ‘The Cabbage’. I didn’t want to be The Cabbage! However, a wonderful dietician in the hospital told me not to develop any anxieties towards food. We are all different and what foods trigger a flare up for me might not trigger anything in you. I started to keep a food diary and made sure to only introduce new foods one at a time. I do enjoy cabbage soup quite regularly now and I’ve been feeling good. The Cabbage knew how to treat her bowel well. Good woman.

Over 20,000 people in Ireland suffer from this chronic illness according to the Irish Society for Colitis and Crohn’s disease. 49% of sufferers have lost or have had to leave their job because of the condition.  So, as World IBD Day (19 May) fast approaches I hope that by having told you a little bit about my bowels you might do me the favour of talking about yours with your family, friends, GP and TD. You can show your support by wearing purple or buying a purple trinket from volunteers you see fundraising on the day. We need to put pressure on the HSE to formally acknowledge this disease by adding it to the Long Term Illness Scheme list. It’s more than just a pooing disease. In Northern Ireland Belfast Castle, Newry Town Hall and Derry Council Offices will be lit in purple on World IBD day. They’re putting us to shame down here so let’s see how many building we can light up purple! If they’re not up for supporting the day just tell them it’s a tribute to Prince.

Thankfully I am in remission at the minute and my Crohn’s is under control with daily immunosuppressant medication, watching what I eat and exercise, albeit extremely gentle exercise as the fatigue is a bitch. Although this is a lifelong illness it doesn’t have to be a life sentence. If you are diagnosed with Crohn’s/Ulcerative Colitis there is support out there. The Irish Crohn’s and Colitis Society of Ireland are great and arrange regular meet ups and information nights around Ireland. Don’t be afraid to post about it online in forums. Let’s not be embarrassed anymore! It’s such a shite disease (literally) but it doesn’t need to define you.

After a year of diarrhoea I took a photo of my first fully formed poo and almost shed a tear as I sent it on to my mother and some close friends as if it was a photo of my first born. In a way, it was.

Scruffy is Dead (20 Minute Writing Club)

cat on wall
Cat on the Wall – Dragan Todorović

‘Scruffy is dead.’

‘Sorry what?’

Bernie pops her head a little further over the wall.

‘Scruffy is dead!’

‘Who’s scruffy?’

‘The cat I’ve been feeding. Well at least I think he’s dead. He hasn’t been around in a while and me after buying all this dog food.’

‘Why were you buying dog food?’

‘Cheaper. It wasn’t even my cat. Why should I be spending a fortune on it.’

Today marks the 18 month anniversary of moving into my house. I like to celebrate the insignificant. To be honest I thought I’d spend it a little differently than awkwardly sitting in my back garden and mourning a stray cat I can hardly remember with an elderly neighbour I hardly ever speak to. We do share, however, a common interest in the singer Patsy Cline. When I hear her singing along to her records late at night through the wall, I am uncontrollably overwhelmed with a sense of melancholy I’ve only experienced in American coming of age dramas. I can imagine being the poor teenage girl who’s sweetheart hasn’t asked her to the prom. It’s not a part I was born to play but naturally fall into. As Bernie sings the second verse of ‘I Fall to Pieces’ through the thin and somewhat mouldy wall, my ‘character’ cries as she clumsily takes off her makeup, breaking a lamp and knocking over a glass of red wine in the process. Although probably too young to be drinking in this film, in these times of heartbreak, societal drinking etiquette may be overlooked.  

At twenty six, I’d like to think I’d have a clearer understanding of love and heartbreak but my experiences are more so imbued with a sense of embarrassment over relationships that I mistook to be actual relationships. I had been seeing someone last year, I think. It’s extremely difficult to tell whether you’re going out with someone or not in Ireland because we don’t exactly have a dating culture here. Dating in Ireland is a text at 3am; ‘You out?’ Towards the end of whatever it was, I began to realise that this lad probably wasn’t the best for me. Apart from being a bit of a dickhead, he had ridiculously bad breath. Unfortunately, at the time I wasn’t assertive enough to bring any attention to it, probably because I was happy to part of something. All I could do was constantly suggest group activities like ‘Hey, why don’t we all brush our teeth?’. I bumped into him very recently at the 99c Store near St. Patrick’s Cathedral so at least it’s good to know that we’re both doing well for ourselves. We used to see each other on Tuesdays and Fridays (our respective dole days).

It’s funny to remember.

The 20 Minute Writing Club – Grout

In the past week I’ve started what has become The 20 Minute Writing Club with some friends. In an attempt to get our creative juices flowing, each day we each pick a random word for each other to write on. The idea is that you write freely for 20 minutes on whatever that one word evokes or inspires within you. It can be a memory, diary entry, creative story, whatever you want. The results have been entertaining enough for us that I’ve decided to share some of my pieces.

The first word assigned to me was grout. (Thanks Aoife)

grout

 

Grout

I’ve never lived in a house where there’s been a decent grouting job done on the tiles. My parents had grown up and been embedded with a working class kind of DIY snobbery. Why pay someone to come in a do a nice job? They’ll just spend their time drinking tea and listening to Joe Duffy on the radio and they’ll charge too much. Get Dad to do it. I knew Dad was ok at DIY. Only ok. One of my first memories of his ‘handy work’ was him destroying the bathroom door with a sledgehammer because my brother Robert wouldn’t get out of the shower. Breaking things and fixing things all fall under the term ‘DIY’ don’t they?

My Dad was late for his weekly golf game, and nothing could keep him from it. What started out as a bit of craic from my brother turned into this hilariously embarrassing memory. ‘Get the fuck out of the shower!’ One thing you should know about my brother is that he hates people using bad language, especially when it is used towards him. ‘Oh yeah, that lovely language is really going to make me shower faster.’ His sarcasm set my Dad through the roof. ‘I’ll break down this door if you don’t fucking hurry up you little bollix.’ ‘Ok. Sure break it down.’

Dad started kicking the door in. He kicked it in so much that he bent the door. It obviously wasn’t the Hollywood police door busting in effect he desired, but it was a start. So now the door was wedged and stuck. Robert was now finished showering and just sitting on the bath in a towel unable to get out. I’m still in bed even though it’s 8.45am. We lived 5 minutes away from school and I was known for being late for first class so the teachers had come to accept it. I got dressed and hung around for the rest of the show, so did Declan my other brother. Dad had to go down to the shed in his house coat to get the sledgehammer and smash in the door. He completely destroyed the door and smashed the mirror on the opposite site. We all gave him a round of applause after he did it. In hindsight that was probably a bad idea but we were cheeky (and very funny). If there was ever a time not to give my father a sarcastic round of applause it was when he was this angry and holding a sledgehammer. If camera phones had been the constant handheld commodity they are now he would have gone ‘viral’.

‘Mad Irish Dad Smashes in Door Because he’s Late for Golf. #ThingsIrishPeopledo #ArentWeMad #PsychoDaddy #LOL #Ireland’

When my mother returned home from work we had all left for school, college and golf respectively. Robert had left her a note on a ripped piece of cardboard from a Cornflakes box which read: ‘Dad went mad. Broke down the door and smashed the mirror in the bathroom this morning. – Rob.’

When my dad came home from golf he tried to act cheerful as if nothing had happened. My Mam very cooly said to him, ‘If you think you’re just going to fix that one door you’re mistaken. I’m not having an odd door out.’ So that’s the story of how we came to have new doors in our entire house. Ironically, my brother Robert ended up putting them all in. He’s pretty fantastic when it comes to woodwork. He had always made great pieces when he was in school.

But back to the grout. When the door was broken in, the frame cracked some of the tiles and some fell out. They were never fixed and now when I’m in a bathroom with perfect tiles it almost feels abnormal to me. Do you honestly mean your Dad never flipped the lid and smashed up the bathroom door at least once? I think I remember it with a kind of Roddy Doyle nostalgia.