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Written by: Milly Welsh
Published: January 2009

A few years back when I started gardening, I decided to start some tomatoes inside from seed thinking that it would be neat to start the process from the very beginning. I was told by some more experienced gardeners that in order for my tomato plants to reach their fullest potential, I would need to make sure I didn't make the growing conditions too easy for the plants. They needed to be "hardened off", either by running a fan on them indoors or putting then outside on a windy day. If you don't "harden off" your seedlings, they typically don't do as well when you transplant them into the ground.The seedlings literally need to struggle in order to become bigger, stronger plants. I really love this concept because I feel that it can be applied to not only plants but to people as well. Very often it's our struggles in life that can be the launching point for our greatest successes. My connection to this notion comes from a time in my own life where I feel I was "hardened off.” Although this experience is ugly and a little personal, I have decided to share it in the hopes that it will help someone going through a similar situation.  I also believe that it is a good example of how life’s misfortunes can help to facilitate our greatest achievements.

Almost six years ago I was a college student just finishing up my last semester at school. I was excited to start my real adult life and I could have never imagined the turn it would take. Since I was no longer enrolled at school, I knew I was about to loose my health insurance. I was concerned, but at a healthy 23 years old, getting health insurance wasn't that high on my priority list. It was about a month later that I began to feel ill. It started with some mild abdominal cramping and a fever. In the beginning it seemed like a small stomach bug that would run it's course and go away. Unfortunately, it didn't go away, it quickly got a whole lot worse.

The pain became so excruciating that I could barely eat or sleep, but I dealt with it for almost a month because I didn't have the money to see a doctor. As time went on I realized the situation was a lot more serious than I had initially thought. When I started to notice blood in, well a place where blood shouldn't be, I knew I had a real problem and I finally went to see a doctor. Sadly the care one gets with no health insurance isn’t very good and the doctors at the urgent care clinic quickly brushed me aside after a few tests. Since the doctors had told me nothing was wrong I endured another two weeks of hell.

The pain I experienced at this point was unbearable and on top of that, the loss of blood and the lack of eating was making me dizzy and disorientated. I had lost 25 lbs off my already slender 115 lb frame in less than two months. I started to realize that if I didn't do something I was probably going to die. I finally did what I should have done in the beginning and went to the hospital. The news wasn't good. They explained to me that I had a severe case of Ulcerative Colitis and that although they were going to try some medications first, at some point I would probably need my colon removed.

I had never heard of Ulcerative Colitis before and I was shocked that at my age I could be diagnosed with a serious chronic condition. Additionally, the idea that I could loose a major organ in my body was extremely alarming. I started taking a few different medications and initially I started to feel a little better. My next problem became affording the medications. One was almost $400 per month. Though I hadn't even come close to recovering, I needed to work extra shifts at the restaurant I was employed at to help cover the cost of the medications. I also had to start paying on the medical bills I had racked up at the hospital.

A short time later I started to notice that the medications were no longer working the way they had when I began taking them. I desperately didn't want to have surgery so I embarked on mission to locate an alternative way to manage my disease. All along the doctors had told me that diet had nothing to do with my illness, but that just didn't make sense to me. How could a disease that affected the intestines not have anything to do with eating? The first thing I did was Google Ulcerative Colitis and diet. I quickly found a dozen books that had information or tips on how to eat with Ulcerative Colitis. I bought and read many of those books. With each book I read I picked up useful tidbits of information, plus I gained a greater understanding of my illness, nutrition and how the human body works. Despite this none of the books to this point was the fix that I had been looking for. The book I saved for last was entitled "Breaking The Vicious Cycle" by Elaine Gottschali. I specifically saved this book for last because the diet outlined in the book called the "Specific Carbohydrate Diet" is extremely strict and it would take away all of the foods I so dearly loved to eat. By the time I read this book I was frantic to find anything natural that would help control my disease so I decided to give it a try. I gave up wheat, corn, rice, sugar and a lot of other foods I loved eating and started to adhere to the strict diet outlined in the book. It was definitely hard to get used to and it was also difficult at times to locate many of the items that the diet recommended, but I stuck with it. To my surprise I quickly started to see results and within a few months of beginning the diet my disease went into remission.

Six years later I am happy to report that my Ulcerative Colitis is completely under control. I no longer take any medication; I manage it solely through diet. I was able to keep my colon, start my own business and have a child (with another one on the way), all things I consider a great success! Looking back, I realize that my illness helped me to develop skills that have been useful in every aspect of my life. I learned not only to trust my instincts but that through research and perseverance you can often find solutions to even the most difficult problems. After going through the process myself and seeing how others have also created success out of difficult situations I have come up with the following conclusions about "hardening":

  • Being tested is good - people who are never tested seldom learn what they are capable of.
  • Once you have been through a real ordeal you become a model for others that provides hope and inspiration in tough times.
  • Life is never easy but the hardest solutions and the most work usually results in the greatest benefit.
  • Dealing with adversity can harden people in a good way if you see life as a journey and not an effort.

I hope that in sharing my story that you will be able to look back in your own life and see how your struggles in life have made you who you are today. Also if you know anyone with IBD (Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn"s Disease), please feel free to pass on this article to him or her. Doctors don"t often support diet as a way to treat IBD but I"m living proof that it can work.

Milly Welsh

Milly Welsh

Milly Welsh is the Priority Learning webmaster and Owner/Operator of Zebralove Web Solutions, a web development company located in southern Maine.
Zebralove Web Solutions