Having lived with ulcerative colitis (UC) since 2017, I thought I knew the ins and outs of managing a chronic condition.

But then a global pandemic hit — and it changed everything, teaching me important lessons that will serve me the rest of my life.

Here’s what living through the COVID-19 pandemic taught me about managing UC and living with a chronic condition.

I’ve always ordered my medications at the last minute. (Shh… don’t tell my doctor.) That procrastination really bit me in the butt during the pandemic, though.

I take a medication that has to be filled at a compounding pharmacy. While I used to get away with ordering a refill right as my current supply was running low, COVID-19 made things take a little longer than usual. That meant I had to go a few days without my medication — yikes!

It all worked out in the end, but I learned my lesson. No more last-minute medication ordering, that’s for sure.

Many people who were worried about exposure to COVID-19 at a doctor’s office simply pushed back their regular appointments. That’s not always an option for folks with chronic conditions like UC, though.

Throughout the last year, I learned to keep in touch with my doctor over email so I could get the care I needed without venturing into the office too often.

Ask the staff at your doctor’s office whether there’s a way for you to communicate with your doctor via email or through an online portal. It’s a lot more convenient than calling, plus you might be able to skip an in-person visit to the office.

Living with a chronic condition means I’ve needed to be even more careful than my most cautious friends during the pandemic. While some people felt comfortable going shopping in stores or working out at the gym, I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks.

At first, it was hard to explain to my friends why I couldn’t join them in activities they considered “COVID safe.” But I realized that putting up hard boundaries was necessary for my health and well-being.

Remember: You don’t have to explain the reasons behind the decisions you’ve made for your health (and the health of others), regardless of whether we’re in a pandemic.

Taking strict precautions (like wearing double masks or face shields or declining invitations to some activities) can feel awkward when so many others are letting their guard down.

The pandemic taught me not to care about what others thought of me, though. My health comes first, and if that means disappointing my friends sometimes or wearing medical masks when others are focusing on trendier choices, so be it.

I always tell my friends, clients, and people in my life that other people’s opinions of you are part of their truth — but they don’t have to be part of yours.

With so much going on during the pandemic, it’s easy to feel like your symptoms or flares don’t take precedence.

However, it’s always important to talk to your doctor about flares right away. A flare could be a sign of a complication that needs to be addressed.

I learned to set my guilt and feelings of being a burden aside to make sure I stayed as healthy as possible during this tough time. And one thing that helped was remembering that care teams that truly care about their patients want to hear about how they’re doing.

Being chronically ill, I didn’t feel like my life changed that much during the pandemic. I rarely went out on the town or ate at restaurants because of my dietary restrictions. Plus, most of my friends live in other states, so it already was tough to see each other in person.

The lack of human connection got to me after a while, though. Even though I used to take pride in myself for enjoying my own company, living alone with a chronic condition in the middle of a pandemic became a bit too much alone time.

I learned how important it was to stay in contact with friends virtually. While I still love my alone time, I realized I can also prioritize the connections in my life. You need your people in order to get through this!

For people who aren’t as entrenched in Instagram as I am for my job, it can seem strange to make new friends on the social media platform. But truly, Instagram friends can become real life friends, and it’s the best.

Around 90 percent of my best friends are people I’ve met through Instagram’s chronic condition community. It’s a different kind of bond when two people are vulnerable and share their experience living with a chronic condition, and eventually come together and form a friendship.

Because the pandemic forced me to rely solely on virtual connections, I’ve met so many more new friends with chronic conditions through Instagram. It makes my heart happy and helped me weather the challenges of living with UC over the past year.

Being not only chronically ill during normal times but also during the pandemic, I learned a lot about my own strength this year.

From navigating a move to a new home — completely on my own for the first time — and running my business to keeping my physical and mental health in check, I learned how to be self-sufficient when I need to be.

If you, too, live with a chronic condition, you probably know that managing it during a pandemic is not easy. But you’re even stronger than you could ever imagine, and I’m so proud of you for continuing to put yourself first each day.

Natalie Kelley, the founder of Plenty and Well, is a chronic illness mindset and lifestyle coach and the host of the Plenty and Well Podcast, based near Seattle. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2017 and pivoted her health and wellness blog to discuss life with a chronic condition. After a life-altering flare-up in 2018 and a hospital stay, she realized her purpose ran deeper and obtained her holistic health coaching certification. She now offers personal coaching and a group program, The Path to Empowered Acceptance, which helps people find acceptance, confidence, and joy on their health journeys.