I wish I could think of a classier way to say this, but I’m not sure such a way exists.
I pooped my pants in Hobby Lobby.
Yes, actually pooped. In my pants. Inside Hobby Lobby.
And because once wasn’t enough, I repeated the offense the very same day.
As I drove to the store, the gears in my guts seemed to be happily at rest. No rusty clanking. No threats of throwing a sprocket. But something about getting out of the car and standing up caused a monumental shift in my gastrointestinal tract. The moment I walked through the doors of Hobby Lobby, I knew I was in trouble. I frantically scanned the aisles ahead, the walls — anything — for a restroom sign. I had made it only a few steps past the front registers when it happened.
Rather, a molten eruption of excrement-infused lava came flowing out of my diseased large intestine. Thankfully, it wasn’t enough to spill outside the legs of my underwear. (When you go to the bathroom 16 times a day, bowel movements are sometimes modest in quantity.) I took careful strides, gliding quickly towards the exit. I made it to the car, with everything contained. Then I sat down in my own waste and drove back home, with hot tears of frustration coursing down my cheeks.
After scrubbing my entire body under a hot spray of water, putting my clothes in a sudsy wash, and disinfecting the leather seats in my car, I took a few deep breaths, and started fresh. This time, I put on ladies’ protective, disposable briefs, a dignified euphemism for diaper. Despite the disposable briefs, the result was the same. I again left the store empty-handed, and drove home, defeated.
It seems funny to me now, but for a time, it wasn’t.
Maybe it’s because it’s hard talk about what comes out of our bodies. In our foodie culture, we tend to talk a lot about what goes in. We talk about the locally sourced, organic smoothies we drink and the carefully-plated dinners we consume during a night out on the town. We talk about the street vendors at farmers’ markets, the deep-fried-something-or-other at the fair — we even talk about take-out, be it bacon-topped cheeseburgers or golden-fried wontons with teriyaki-flavored fried rice. Whether the gastronomic interests lie in haute cuisine, hole-in-the-wall dives, or something in between, we take pride in what we eat. For the love of liberty, we even take photographs of our food. We show them around, text them, post them and forward them. For good or ill, this is our level of devotion.
But once the meal is finished?
Nothing. Game over.
We don’t talk about what goes on once the food disappears into the elusive black hole that leads to our intestines. Unfortunately, for people like me, that’s when the real game begins. And sometimes, it’s a dark and twisted one, not unlike J.K. Rowling’s Wizard’s Chess, a magical game in the Harry Potter series in which the players battle not for sport — but for their very lives.
This game is called Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). It’s an umbrella that shelters two maniacal siblings: Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. They are considered chronic, lifelong, and incurable. There are flares, usually followed by periods of remission. It is a vicious cycle that repeats.
No, it’s not the same thing as eating bad sushi and running to the toilet for 12 hours straight. It’s not like the time you got the stomach flu and were in agony for a full weekend. It’s not even in the same class as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which is admittedly inconvenient, but not a disease.
IBD is an autoimmune disease that attacks the body’s gastrointestinal tract, producing a wide range of symptoms that can include gut-wrenching pain, swelling and inflammation, painful ulcerations in the GI tract, rectal bleeding, anemia, fevers and extreme fatigue, strictures and obstructions — all in addition to an unpredictable cycle of diarrhea.
There are others in the autoimmune family: Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Celiac, Graves, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and Type I Diabetes all come to mind. These are only a few of the estimated 80 or more cousins that have places at a king-sized banquet table, all sharing the same root menu — a struggling immune system that in confusion, attacks the body.
Although our symptoms are often different, the severity of our disease covering a wide range, there’s one thing we all have in common. We are fighters. You cannot always see our scars or the determination with which we arm ourselves. The daily battles we win are often fought on the inside. But we are fighters, still. We wake up and realize through the struggle that each day is a gift.
And we laugh, if only to prevent tears.
As I look back at that day in Hobby Lobby, I can smile at the memory. It’s not because that was the pinnacle of my experience with IBD. It wasn’t. When compared with the multiple hospitalizations and surgeries I’ve experienced in the two years since, it seems nothing more than an inconvenience. No, the reason I smile is because it is part of my life experience, and I proudly claim it.
We put some of the most beautiful things on our bucket lists, because we want to look back at the end of our lives and know that ours was a life well-lived. We dream of exotic vacations with loved ones, reading classic literature, and recreating the desserts of internationally-trained pastry chefs. We dream of writing novels, attending sold-out shows on Broadway, and working a little less so that we might enjoy a little more. These are things we consider hallmarks of interesting lives.
But sometimes, the most poignant hallmarks of humanity aren’t things we think about putting on a bucket list. They are things that can’t always be planned, which makes them all the more beautiful. They are things like helping little hands catch lightning bugs on a summer evening, sharing our innermost thoughts with a friend, or helping to lighten the load of someone experiencing grief or pain. And sometimes, just sometimes, they are things like having a messy life experience right in the middle of a busy store.
My friends, I’m proud to say that I’ve added a few of these beautiful, unplanned experiences to my life’s bucket. I’m proud to say ‘I pooped my pants in Hobby Lobby’.
This is the first in a series about my struggle with autoimmune disease.
Worldwide, an estimated five million people live with IBD. In the United States, approximately four people out of every thousand suffer from Colitis or Crohn’s. Millions more suffer from other autoimmune diseases. Whether you realize it or not, you likely know someone fighting in the trenches.
For more information about IBD, visit: