“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, believes Anisha, a Mental Health & Employment Service Manager working within the NHS. In her spare time, she is a health advocate and qualified inclusive dance instructor and a licensed Zumba instructor. Anisha is living with Colitis, and here is her inspiring journey.
"I first experienced symptoms in 2008 when I was 24. After a holiday abroad, I noticed blood in my stool. I went to my GP initially, and then was referred to a number of doctors and hospitals. I lost a lot of weight and I struggled to eat. I was often in the toilet up to 20 times a day and was doubled over in pain. Every part of my life was affected – from my work to my hobbies to my social life. It affected my mental health and it also affected my family, who could see the devastating impact the condition was having on me. I felt exhausted, and I started to grieve the person I once was and the things I used to be able to do.
In 2010, 2 years after experiencing my first symptoms, I received the official diagnosis that I had Ulcerative Colitis. My diagnosis had not been straight forward, and I was pushed from pillar to post and received very little help and support. I was told there was no cure, and I would have to live with it for the rest of my life. I was devastated, yet I also felt a huge sense of relief at finally knowing what was wrong. I had a diagnosis, but more importantly, I’d been listened to and believed.
I’ve spent the last 10 years travelling 90 miles for each of my IBD appointments so that I could remain under the care of the team who diagnosed me. It’s been a real challenge trying to find a medication that works for me, but after a tiring and frustrating journey, I’m now on biologics and they’re keeping me in remission. I feel hopeful for the future but that wasn’t always the case.
As I was navigating living life with Colitis and coming to terms with the life-long journey ahead of me, I found myself facing another challenge. In 2011 I was involved in a high speed, non-fault road traffic accident. The physical injuries I sustained, although not life changing, took a number of years to recover from. I also suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. I continued to manage constant flares from my Colitis, and I couldn’t remember what life was like before my diagnosis or the accident. I faced some very dark times and decided I could not go on like this.
Desperate to create some new and happy memories, I followed my dream and decided to travel to South America for 5 months. I quit my job and spent a month planning the trip, working closely with my IBD nurse to ensure I could manage my Colitis while I was away. I knew it was going to be a challenge - not only did I have to carry 5 months’ worth of medication with me, I knew that the toilet facilities may be patchy in places. The long bus journeys were really going to push me out of my comfort zone!
I created a lifetime of unforgettable memories while I was away. I’d connected with the Chilean Crohn’s & Colitis group and had attended a march in the capital to promote change in the healthcare system to support people living with chronic health conditions. It really brought home that being an extra voice can really lend weight to a cause. These challenges led me to revaluate my values and priorities in life and so I decided to change careers. Moving from a consumer led industry, I started working within the NHS supporting mental health at work. I did not want others living with mental health issues or chronic illness to feel as alone as I did.
My experiences in Chile also led me into health advocacy, and I started to share my story at conferences, on TV and radio, in blogs, and at events. I believed that change needed to happen, and nobody should experience stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health and chronic illness.
I also began dancing again. My Colitis had impacted my hobbies and I found myself struggling to play hockey which had always been my go-to activity. I needed to find something else that worked for me, and dance was just that. However, after the car accident, I wasn’t able to take part in the dance classes that I’d been doing prior to it. Along with my physical rehabilitation I tried a Zumba class. I’ve never looked back! I loved being part of the Zumba community, and in 2014 I became a licensed instructor and started teaching. I then followed this by becoming a qualified inclusive dance instructor and teaching students with disabilities, long-term health conditions and mental health issues alongside students living without these. I wanted to provide a safe and inclusive space for all, where there would be no pressure and no judgement, and most of all where we could have fun.
That’s why I’m getting involved in My WALK IT. As a community, we can come together to raise vital funds, to stand together for everyone living with Crohn’s & Colitis, and to have fun."
By taking part in My WALK IT you are helping us to better support people like Anisha. New research is revealing that over 500,000 people in the UK are living with Crohn’s or Colitis. We’re working hard to improve diagnoses and treatment, and to fund research into a cure. Until then, we’ll continue to raise awareness and to give people hope, comfort and confidence to live freer, fuller lives.
On behalf of Anisha, our nurses, our research teams, and all of us at Crohn’s & Colitis UK – thank you for your incredible support.