Five ways I’ve changed since getting ill

Just in case you’ve missed it, I’ve been a bit ill.

At the end of November, I was diagnosed with crohn’s disease. And two weeks later, I was whisked to hospital with an abscess that required minor surgery. I know – unlucky, right? It was an abscess in the most inconvenient of places too: my arse.

I can’t sit down properly. I walk like an asthmatic John Wayne. And ever since the operation, I’ve had to have daily dressings – so it’s fair to say it’s taken over my life. My days are mostly comprised of trips to the doctor, long chats with nurses, and lying on the sofa.

It’s changed me, man. But it’s not all bad news.

1. I see myself as so much stronger and braver

I never saw myself as strong. Or brave. Actually, I’ve always been pretty avoidant when it comes to things that scare me.

But in September I had to face my fear of visiting the ole GP, which quickly snowballed into confronting several other personal nightmares: nurses, doctors, hospitals (including an overnight stay), surgery, procedures, needles and pain.

I’ve had to be brave.

I have a love-hate relationship with this picture. I love it because it’s genuine, real and unposed. But I don’t love that I was sad and in pain during it.

‘You’ll be able to face anything now,’ one of my nurses told me last week. I hope she’s right.

I’m already seeing the change. I have to go to hospital every Sunday for my dressings. Hospitals used to make me feel wobbly. Now I feel fine. That’s progress, baby.

2. I’m more honest

I always thought I was honest because I didn’t lie. But actually, that’s not the same thing at all. In some situations, I’d bottle up my thoughts. I didn’t want to rock the boat. I was frightened of hurting people’s feelings. And some things I just didn’t see, maybe I struggled to face a few truths.

I think that’s one of the reasons it took so long to get diagnosed – I wasn’t as blunt and clear about my symptoms, I sat on it for a while because I was scared, I spoke in metaphors and vague references to my friends. Now? My lucky, lucky friends have heard all about my broken body. Ditto colleagues, Instagram followers, family members, people who stand too close to me in public. Sorry. But also not sorry.

I’ve even told a nurse that appointments with her make me nervous because she causes me a lot of pain. That is huge for me. And guess what? She was more gentle next time. It turns out being honest with people can pay off. Huh, who knew!?

3. I really see and appreciate the kindness of people

My family have been marvellous. I am a pain in the arse (pun only half intended) at the moment. I mostly live on the sofa like a slug in a tasteful midi skirt, requiring daily lifts to the doctors or hospital, having to be cooked dinner, and needing a lot of cuddles and reassurance while I overshare about my worries and bodily functions.

The woman known as sissy-wissy

It’s not a fun job but they’re champs about it. And even when I get a bit teary because I feel like a burden, they reassure me I am not.

And nurses. Nurses are great aren’t they? Especially the district nurse who came to my house on Christmas day. Imagine giving up Christmas with your family to poke dressing into my butt wound. Why? How? We have been blessed with angels, I say.

The people I work with have been great too – understanding, sympathetic and forthcoming with flowers, chocolate and jigsaw puzzles (which is all I need to sustain myself). I’m not convinced all workplaces would make you feel genuinely missed. Mine does. And I genuinely can’t wait to get better and back to the office. ‘Normal life’ sounds wonderful.

And there are so many lovely people on Instagram – some are friends, some are people I haven’t seen in years, some are total strangers – who have been so great. Whether they’re sharing advice, sending well wishes or forwarding cat photos, they’ve kept me going.

Finally, my friends: the ones who’ve stuck by me, visited, given me hugs, sent me thoughtful messages or cards, been there via WhatsApp or promised me a Nikki annex for when I’m an old lady, thank you so much.

4. I am much more emotional

I said I was much braver and stronger earlier. Yet I cry a lot more. And I think the two can go hand in hand.

Here are some fun crying examples:

  • When I was watching Home Alone 2, I cried at the shot of the children’s hospital because I felt so sad that children get ill.
  • When I was watching Full House, I cried when teenage DJ got falsely accused of drinking beer and her little sister said: ‘I believe you’. And just did, because they’re sisters.
  • When I was watching Wonder Woman, I cried about four times because gosh it’s emotional.
  • I cry when anyone else cries, either in real life or on TV.
  • I cried because I was going to see the nurse who scares me (less so since the honest conversation).
  • I nearly cried because a nurse was so kind to me.
  • I nearly cried because a nurse said I’d been through a really tough time and I realised: ‘shit, I have’.

To begin with, I cried for myself. Now my crying is empathetic. Going through a tough time has made me really sensitive to anyone else suffering, because I know how much it sucks and I don’t want anyone else to go through it. Show me a sad or sick person and I’ll probably sob immediately.

5. I’ve reassessed my body image. I sort of don’t care now.

There’s something about being cooped up in a hospital bed, immobile, with a cannula in your hand, that makes you think ‘I can’t believe I worried about wearing a bikini’.

There’s something about not having the energy or inclination to do your hair or put on make up for a month that makes you question ‘what’s really the point in that anyway?’

Now I care much less about the way I look (and I’ll admit I was maybe a bit too vain before). I just care about getting healthy. I want to be able to move again. Not much else matters, other than being happy too!

Two versions of me in 2020, both are great

I used to be quite self-conscious and reserved when it came to my body. In fact, my friend told me a couple of weeks ago: ‘I can’t think of a worse person for this to happen to’. But since hundreds of medical people (only a small exaggeration) have seen a lot of me recently, I am stripped of shame and dignity.

I told this to a nurse recently.

‘Ahh, you can pick your dignity up on the way out,’ she responded.

I shall, Lynne. I shall.


  1. Aileen
    January 16, 2020 / 12:13 am

    Thanks for sharing your story. Hope you get better real quick !

    • nikkimcmullen
      January 17, 2020 / 6:34 pm

      Thank you! 🙂

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