I was 18 when I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. With everyone I knew being on the other side of the country, I spent two painful and uncertain months all alone while trying to understand what was happening to my body. I had never had any illness before, and I was a star athlete who rarely had a fever. After suffering by myself in an apartment 2,150 miles away from my family and friends, I decided it was finally time to go to the hospital and figure out what was wrong with me.

There was a sense of comfort that came with being in the hospital. Most people that get sick will agree that being in a hospital is one of the most unfortunate places you can end up, but the nurses and staff are some of the most caring people you will ever meet, and for the first time, being admitted into the hospital for further observation, I felt a sense of comfort with the companionship of my caretakers.

Making friends, spending time with family, and any social interaction are very different when you are living with a chronic illness. Few people understand how you are feeling, and there is no explanation that can put the listener into your shoes and fully understand what you are going through. Only those who have silently clenched in pain while others laugh and continue on with their lives know the struggle that comes with trying to understand how everyone can be happy when your world is filled with pain.

Surely, I thought to myself, there has to be other people that I can talk with about my situation, who will not only understand, but bring a sense of comfort in knowing that they too fight the same fight I have on a daily basis. Getting to know people with the same disease, for me, showed me that people survive and make it through the pain and are still able to live a fulfilling life.

Through social media I was able to meet people who were very quick to give advice and support. I found myself talking on the phone with people that I had never met, that lived in other parts of the country I had never been to, and who were quick to offer words of encouragement. Having lived through similar struggles, they were eager to help in any way they could. To me, these people were heroes. It was like speaking with a very close family member or a best friend. They wanted to see my progress, and through these networks I have made life-long friends that I care for very deeply.

When you think you are down and alone, there is always someone out there that is willing to be there for you. Aside from family and friends, there are communities of people who have similar experiences with their illness that would love to speak with anyone on a regular basis to offer guidance and show compassion. These people understand the struggle, and a sense of comfort comes with speaking with someone that knows exactly what you are going through. Although their situations were different, the symptoms and the feelings are often the same, but no matter where you are in the world, there is a community out there to help you through this time and there are people that want to see you prosper.

Author: Zac Hanes