10 Tips for Ensuring Your Significant Other Can Handle Your IBD For the Long Haul

This article is sponsored by Healthline. Thoughts and opinions are my own.

Dating is complicated. Dating can be stressful. Dating can force you to get out of your comfort zone.

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One of my first photos with my husband, Bobby.

When you live with a chronic illness, dating can be downright daunting. When should you bring up your IBD with a significant other? How can you navigate the ups and downs that come along with your illness? How can you reach a sense of comfort when you need to run to the bathroom or cancel plans?

There’s not only one correct answer to any of those questions. But, as a woman who was diagnosed at age 21, who is now 35 and married with kids, I’m happy to share what worked for me. I recently led a Live Chat on Healthline’s IBD app about this topic. The main areas of concern revolved around significant others failing to grasp the severity of the disease. It’s difficult to fault what can sound like shortcomings, but being a caretaker isn’t easy. Not everyone is cut out for it.

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Celebratory post- colonoscopy cheesecake!

And that is ok.

Here are my top 10 tips for educating significant others—whether it’s dating or marriage about what your experience as a patient is like.

  1. Bring your loved one along to doctor appointments.

Oftentimes, people have no clue how severe and debilitating IBD is. Let your partner hear it from the horse’s mouth (i.e. the doctor). By sitting in on appointments, not only is it a source of support for you, but a chance for them to ask questions, listen to the discussion, and hear about all that goes into managing your chronic illness.

  1. Have a social worker or counselor speak with you both so that you’re on the same page.

Oftentimes a loved one isn’t acting maliciously; they just don’t know how to cope with what life with IBD entails. Talking with a professional gives you a safe space and an even playing field to ‘air your dirty laundry’ and gather advice about actionable ways you can improve your relationship.

  1. Communicate when you’re in pain—don’t sugarcoat or downplay your symptoms.
    If you’re hurting, say it. IMG_7446If you’re struggling, tell them. The more you keep your mask on and your wall up, the more your partner will think you have everything under control and that your IBD isn’t much of a “big deal” in your life.
  2. If your feelings are hurt—articulate why. Resentment leads to stress and can activate symptoms. Be brutally honest and open. You can’t expect your lover to be a mind reader. By bottling up your frustration you may take out your anger in a big way, when an issue could be solved and nipped in the bud before it becomes bigger than it needs to be.
  1. Connect with fellow IBD patients on Healthline’s IBD app.

Whether it’s a live chat, reading articles, or matching up with fellow patients, Healthline’s new IBD app is a space where we all get you. We’ve all been there. We’re all standing ready. Ready to lift you up. Ready to answer your questions. Ready to listen to you vent and share advice. Advice that can make a major impact in your most personal and important relationships. Because at the end of the day, you want someone who loves you for all of you, and that includes your IBD.

  1. Share blog articles and social media posts from fellow IBD advocates that may be able to articulate what you’re going through.

Sometimes as patients, we’re going through so much but it can be difficult to put into words. While each person’s disease presents uniquely, chances are we’ve gone through similar experiences. If you read an article that resonates or see a post on social media that hits close to home for you—share it. This is an easy way to casually show the person you love that this is what you’re going through. A simple email with a link to an article—works wonders.

  1. If you want your person by your side at procedures and during hospitalizations, say it.

During the live chat, there was some discussion about fiancés and husbands not going to procedures or being by the bedside during the hospitalization. That a put a lot in perspective for me, as my husband has never left my side when I’ve been hospitalized (not even for an hour) and has gone to every colonoscopy.

Photo by J Elizabeth Photography www.jelizabethphotos.com

Photo cred: J. Elizabeth Photography

I’ve never had to ask. Bobby just does that because he wants to. If you want your significant other there, tell them. The disease is isolating enough, the last thing you need is to be lying alone in the middle of the night with your racing thoughts and the beeping machines.

  1. Be with someone who you can be vulnerable with.

IBD isn’t pretty. There are days where we’re cooped up in the bathroom. There are times we’re in the fetal position for hours. If you feel at ease at your worst with your person, that’s a good sign. Recognize how you feel when you’re at your lowest point and at your best. Pay attention to how they respond when the going gets tough.

  1. When the red flags are waving feverishly in front of your face, don’t be afraid to walk away.

Listen to your gut. You know deep down if you constantly feel like a second thought or if your partner repeatedly lets you down. If they make you feel guilty, less than, or put off by your patient experience, time to say buh-bye. Trust me, you will count your blessings in the future.

  1. Take them along to local Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation events. IMG_8059

By attending local events you’ll be able to connect face-to-face with fellow couples and families living your same reality. You’ll discover how much you have in common right away. This also enables your partner to have someone who “gets” what it’s like to be a caretaker. Set up a double date or a time to hang out outside of public events.

Reflecting on two years of marriage with IBD

Two years ago today, I married the love of my life. The man who has been by my side through multiple hospitalizations, flare-ups, surgery and day-to-day management of my Crohn’s disease. Prior to walking down the aisle, we shared vows during our “first look.” Here are a few lines from my vows:

photo by J Elizabeth Photography www.jelizabethphotos.com“You’re an incredible partner—you’re my rock when I’m sick and you know how to lift my spirits when I’m down. You have a way of easing my worries and bringing me clarity when I’m uncertain. Each day spent with you—is an extraordinary blessing. I feel so incredibly lucky that God brought us together and chose you to be the one person among millions who lights up my soul.”

When you battle inflammatory bowel disease, it’s a big part of your relationships. As a family, Bobby and I focus on one another, our son and managing my disease. It’s a team effort. It’s comforting to know that when I’m not feeling well or going through a difficult part of my disease journey, that I can lean on my husband for strength and support. Just this week, I was struggling with symptoms. Countless bathroom breaks. Relentless gnawing cramps that bothered me for hours. My husband always checks in on me—lightly knocking on the bathroom door to make sure I’m ok. Texting me while I’m stuck in there, bringing a smile to my face with funny emoji’s and sweet talk.

It’s the little things. The day-to-day management that many do not see and that can be easy to take for granted. Our caretakers, our main sources of support and comfort do so much—effortlessly. IMG_0324_1At times, living with a chronic illness and being the one who doesn’t feel well, can bring about guilt. It also brings out the best in us. When I’m vulnerable and need a boost, I see my husband rise up to the challenge, time and time again. I’m constantly reminded I chose to live my life alongside someone who has more compassion in their heart than I knew imaginable.

Tonight, I’ll give myself a Humira injection. Tonight, my husband will stand in front of me like he always does, cheering me on and holding onto our son, so I have a focal point of inspiration. Each injection, as I stare intently at my guys, I tell myself I need to be strong for them. I tell myself I need to do all I can to stay healthy and out of the hospital. I tell myself anything is possible with them by my side.

So, as we celebrate two years of marriage and nearly five years together, I reflect on how far we’ve come as a couple, as a family and how our love has grown as a result of my illness.

Oftentimes it’s life’s hurdles that provide the greatest perspective, the strongest insight, and the clarity that you’re exactly where you need to be in this life and that your disease is a part of you, but you are so much more. IBD does not need to rob you of love. It does not need to prevent you from getting married. And it certainly does not need to stop you from finding your fairy tale ending.

Addressing compassion fatigue as a patient advocate

Every hour of every day we live with inflammatory bowel disease. Once you hear the diagnosis, it’s a part of you… every. single. moment. of. your. life. That alone—feels isolating and scary. When you decide to share your personal patient story publicly, you open yourself up to a world of support. Natalie-7As a patient advocate, you also become somewhat of a confidante and voice of reason for your peers in the community.

While it’s incredible to be able to connect with those who live your reality, there are times it can feel overwhelming. Personally, as a patient advocate, who’s battled Crohn’s disease for nearly 13 years, I consider myself well-versed on the topic—but, all I know, are my own experiences. IBD presents differently in every person. Part of being a patient advocate is showing support for others living your same reality. The girl in the UK who was recently diagnosed and nervous about heading off to college. The young man in Nebraska going through a bowel resection surgery. The kindergartner receiving her Remicade treatment.

Since my bowel resection surgery in August 2015, I’ve been able to manage my disease with daily medication and a biologic injection. Luckily, I’ve felt well most of the time since then, and haven’t been hospitalized since my surgery. That being said—when friends (many who I’ve never met) and strangers reach out—through email, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, texting…you name it…round the clock…desperately asking for advice and support…my heart sometimes starts to ache with stress.

I want to be sensitive with how I word this article, because the LAST thing I want is for people to stop reaching out when they need advice or support. Photo by J Elizabeth Photography www.jelizabethphotos.comWhat I do want—is for people to recognize what compassion fatigue is…and how as chronic illness advocates and caretakers we need to be mindful of how we’re feeling and internalizing the struggles of those around us.

The overwhelming nature of compassion fatigue

When people ask me about my diagnosis, my bowel obstructions, my surgery… it draws a great deal of emotional energy, and at times, can open up proverbial wounds. I’m happy to share my patient journey with transparency and honesty. But, day after day, year after year, these conversations can be a burden. A burden because I truly worry and care about each person I talk with. Even if I’m feeling well and in remission—the disease stays top of mind and I start to question my own well-being and health.

Like everything in life, finding balance and making time for self-care is paramount. The IBD family is a fantastic community of support. I am just one piece of the advocacy puzzle. It’s all about maintaining that balance in a healthy way, recognizing when the fatigue is taking over—and knowing when to take a breath and step away. I’m much better able to connect with people when I’m recharged and energized. If I’m at the end of the rope all the time, I simply don’t have anything to give, and everyone loses.

blog photoI offer support from the bottom of my heart, but as a mom and a wife, I do need to recognize when it’s time to unplug and take time for myself. When my baby naps each morning—I spend that “break” on my computer writing articles about IBD, participating in Twitter Chats, and talking on the phone with those who want to hear about my patient experience.

Recently, my husband said we should start a new rule in our household, no phones after 8 p.m. I was thrilled with the idea. So often when we put our son to bed we resort to hanging out on the couch, with the TV on and phones in our hands. Much of that “free” time I used to spend responding to messages from those seeking IBD support. Sometimes you just need to put down the phone and recognize how important those right in front of you are. The people who are by your side every single day. Your family. Your caretakers. Show them the love and the attention they deserve. Nurture the relationships that matter most to you. Be present in the moment.

Compassion fatigue ebbs and flows. Like anyone who battles fatigue from IBD, some days I feel like I can take on the world and spend all my free moments on the phone or responding to emails. Other days it takes A LOT of effort for me to email back someone who I’ve never met and discuss why I chose Humira, how my pregnancy was with Crohn’s, etc. Time is precious. I absolutely hate not responding almost immediately to everyone who reaches out, but please be patient with me.

IMG_0535As part of my self-care and disease management I need to de-stress, so I don’t put my own health at risk. This article is painful for me to write—I can’t stand admitting that I am struggling to do it all. But, compassion fatigue has been something I’ve been feeling for a few months. I want to be the best advocate for others and do all I can to make a difference and show there’s so much life to be lived outside of your disease. I want you to see how much you can thrive with this disease and all that you can accomplish. I want to be the person I needed the day my world turned upside down when I was diagnosed. I want to be all the things. But it’s not possible. It’s not fair to me, it’s not fair to you.

My call of action to you

When you reach out, if it takes a few days for me to respond—don’t think it’s because I don’t care or won’t reply. I will. If you have questions about why your prednisone is making you feel a certain way or how to do a colonoscopy prep—check with your GI first. Oftentimes many questions and concerns are covered extensively on blogs and in articles—a simple Google search may give you all the information you need. Lastly, know my concern and wish to help is genuine, but there’s only so much of me to go around.

I’ve been in the hospital bed. I’ve been too weak to walk up a few stairs. I’ve been on 22 pills a day. I’ve sat on a news desk and anchored countless shows while dealing with my disease in silence. I’ve woke up on my wedding day unsure of what my disease would do. I’ve been pregnant and dealt with the fear of flaring while creating a life. I’ve done a lot as a patient and a person. So, when I’m feeling well and trying to enjoy the feel-good days that I have…that can be taken away in the blink of an eye, please understand that I’m here for you, but need to also take time for me.

I’m going to leave you with this quote from Daniel Garza, an AIDS, Cancer and Ostomy advocate. Daniel shared this eloquent description of patient advocacy during the HealtheVoices conference I recently attended in Chicago.

“We all have this fire. We’ve been in quick sand and high tides and made it to the end. Despite the doubts, after everything, we don’t want other people to go through it. We’re the coat we put on the puddle, so people don’t get their feet wet. We don’t care if we get dirty again.”

In closing, allow me to continue to be that coat on the puddle for you, but please have a little patience with me.

Airport reflections: When you spot IBD support from a mile away

I’m sitting at O’hare International Airport in Chicago. Fresh off taking the stage in Des Moines for a patient symposium. And an image of a young couple in the crowd keeps popping into my head. As I spoke, I noticed. I noticed how he squeezed her hand when I talked about love and inflammatory bowel disease. I recognized how he touched her shoulders when I reminisced about how it feels when friends turn their back on you, as you grapple with a chronic illness. As I stood on that stage, witnessing their not-so-subtle interactions, I knew that girl had found someone special.

Each time I speak, and in many of my articles, I refer to my husband, Bobby. natbobbySince the moment we met in 2013, and through all the ups and downs my Crohn’s disease has caused in our lives, he’s been my safe place and my protector. During my speech, I talked about how everybody needs “a Bobby.” A person who sees you for more than your disease. A person who doesn’t shudder at the thought of seeing you at your lowest for days on end in a hospital bed. A person who gets the day to day management and emotional toll chronic illness takes on not only the patient, but the couple and the family.

After my speech, this same couple who stood out to me in the crowd approached me. I immediately told them they had grabbed my attention. I said let me guess—I pointed to the young girl and said, “you have IBD.” IMG_9348Then I turned to her boyfriend and said, “and you are her rock and her caretaker.” They laughed and told me I guessed right. Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to spot this type of support? I was a complete stranger, once in her shoes. Young. Dating. Wondering about my future. Their names are Emily and Kellen.

Ironically, Emily and I both underwent bowel resection surgery days apart in the summer of 2015. Her boyfriend at the time, decided it was too much—and left her. Then she met Kellen. As we joked, “her Bobby.” IBD throws us curve balls, it challenges us in unimaginable ways, but it teaches us, too. One may think of surgery and setbacks as the lowest of the low during the patient journey, but often those moments bring about the greatest highs and crystal-clear clarity. Both about ourselves—what we’re capable of…and about others.

As I was talking to Emily and Kellen it brought tears to my eyes, because I felt so happy for her. IMG_9347Only 22 years old, so much of her life ahead of her. And she’s found the person who looks at her, despite her illness, and loves her for it. The Bobbys and the Kellens of the world are the real deal. If you haven’t found yours yet, trust me…they exist and they are out there.

It was my husband Bobby’s birthday yesterday. The special milestone days always bring out the mushy side in me. I can’t help it. So, as I sit in this airport, and think about how lucky Emily is, I’m also reflecting on how lucky I am to have found my ride or die, who will be with me all the days of my life, just like my illness.

 

“It’s hard being a sick girl in a modern world:” A review of “My Flare Lady”

Meet Kathleen Nicholls. She’s a 34-year-old from Scotland who’s battled arthritis since 2009 and Crohn’s disease since 2010. IMG_20170823_223410_970She’s not your typical patient advocate. She’s an author who uses her sense of humor to not only inspire, but also make you laugh. She says things many of us think, but won’t say. Her most recent piece of work, “My Flare Lady”, is a great compilation of advice ranging from dating with chronic illness to finding self-worth despite the hardships we face on a daily basis. Rather than having a “woe is me” attitude, she’s the complete opposite. She’s incredibly candid and her honesty is what makes her writing so intriguing.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the book:

“When you are told you will be ill for the remainder of your life that feeling hits you tenfold. You suddenly find you are singled out against your will. You’re the sick partner, the sick daughter, the sick Chandler of your friend group.”

“Spend time with people who buoy you. Those friends and family who make you feel good about yourself, and are generally able to maintain an optimistic outlook. Those people in your life, if you have them, who radiate positivity and don’t flood you with negative thoughts, are really a priceless balm for a stinging soul.”

“When you are sick and in love your relationship may have a chocolate box full of additional worries to factor in, but it doesn’t have to stop you and your beloved from having a joyful life together filled with hearts, flowers, and painkillers strong enough to flatten an Ox.”

“So when I take medication and I start to play-act all the symptoms it says in the booklet I’ll have against my will; it’s disappointing to say the least. I read the little pamphlet that comes with my medication mostly for a giggle. I like reading aloud the various symptoms I may well encounter; mentally crossing them off and inevitably getting round to “death” in the small print. It’s funny (albeit in a fairly dark way I grant you). But a dark sense of humor tends to fit well with a chronic illness.”

“No sign of active ‘disease’ or current symptoms may encourage a medical professional to gleefully cry ‘remission’ but many patients still experience many ongoing differing symptoms regardless, meaning they certainly don’t feel the benefit of said remission.”

“The idea that even genuine moments of joy can be tainted by the anxiety of what’s to come is disheartening to stay the least. It’s something most people don’t have to consider.”

“It’s hard being a sick girl in a modern world. Therefore, it’s of incredible importance that as women we value one another, educate each other and help one another up instead of knocking each other down. Unlike Chumbawumba we can’t always get back up again so easily.”

“When I get nervous in the hospital I remind myself I’ve been through worse, that I survived it, all of it, an that I am here for good reason. It doesn’t always make me feel joy upon joy when I’m being prodded and probed by relative strangers, but it reminds me to get my priorities in order.”

IMG_20171024_173739_449That gives you an idea of what an incredible resource this book is for women in the chronic illness community. Kathleen’s ability to share her experiences and speak to others to make a difference, inspires me to be strong in my patient journey. Though we’ve never met in person, we’ve been “friends” on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for years. I had the chance to interview her about her latest book. Here’s what she had to say:

What inspired you to write “My Flare Lady”?

“Suffering from chronic illness can be incredibly isolating and it can be easy to get caught up in your own anxious brain, I always aim to write in a tone which feels inclusive and open, I want fellow sufferers to feel they are not alone and our shared experiences can be overcome and maybe even laughed at. I love and cherish women and in living with poor health for most of my life, I’ve always felt a kinship with women in the same rickety boat as my own. I want to inhabit a world where we pull one another up and where women (and men) can feel comfortable in being open and vulnerable with one another on their fears and experiences. It’s so important to know we are understood. “

What do you hope people take away from your book?

I hope readers can take a feeling of camaraderie, a feeling that we are in this together and that there is absolutely no shame in talking openly and honestly.

What type of response have you received from the chronic illness community?

“So far so good! The opinion of the chronic illness is so important to me, so I take away as much positive and negative feedback as I can on board. 20171129_201703People seem to enjoy the humour spattered throughout and find it to be informative and inclusive which is what I’d hoped for! This time round has been nerve wracking again so i try to only dip in and out of reading reviews for the sake of my own sanity/ego!”

Plans for future books in the works?

Yes, always! I’ve been working on a project based around the parallels between mental health and chronic illness and I hope to find more time to devote to that in 2018. I’ve also been playing around with ideas for short stories and longer-form fiction, but inevitably whatever I write always comes back to my diseased body!”

You can purchase “My Flare Lady” on Amazon. Click here to buy it, makes for a great Christmas gift—or a present for yourself. IMG_1002Kathleen is dedicated to helping others feel less alone and afraid in their fight with chronic illness. As someone who’s battled Crohn’s more than 12 years, I can tell you firsthand her words empower me to be strong. I constantly find myself nodding along while I’m reading and even laughing out loud. You can follow Kathleen on Twitter and Instagram @kathfantastic.

 

10 Tips for those who DON’T have IBD

As Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness week approaches (December 1-7), I thought it would be helpful to share my top 10 tips for those who do not have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It’s my hope that after reading this article, you’ll feel more comfortable approaching family members and friends with these diseases and be able to have  compassionate and thoughtful conversations.

  1. Do not compare IBD to IBS.

This, above all else is aggravating and makes those of us who battle Crohn’s and Colitis cringe and roll our eyes, whether we are doing it in front of you or not. We understand that you are trying to relate to our situation because you think our disease is all about going to the bathroom, but please refrain from making this comparison.

Apple between oranges

IBD refers to a chronic, autoimmune disease, that wreaks havoc and causes inflammation of the GI tract—which can span from your mouth to your anus. Aside from abdominal pain and trips to the bathroom, we deal with a laundry list of other symptoms ranging from chronic fatigue to uveitis (inflammation to the middle of the eye). I’m not saying IBS is a walk in the park, but it’s on a different playing field.

  1. Hold your horses, Beverage and Food Police

hands-2112758_1920Yes, we know that Pumpkin Spice lattes or those peanut M&M’s may not be the best decisions—but every now and then we want to live a little and take a risk. Just because coffee, nuts or popcorn caused pain one time—doesn’t mean that’s always going to be the case. In the end, if what we eat and drink causes us pain, we’ll be the one paying the price, not you. Please refrain from staring at us and questioning every time we put food in our mouths. We get it. No need to question or reprimand us. There’s already an ongoing inner dialogue 24/7 about every little decision we make and how it’s going to make us feel, trust me.

  1. IBD doesn’t need to be the white elephant in the room, talk about it.

If you are hesitant to bring up Crohn’s and Colitis with a loved one or friend, don’t be. It makes us feel like what we are going through matters. By communicating and articulating that you recognize we are battling a difficult disease it doesn’t make our situation feel so isolating. Especially for those of us who blog or share our struggles on social media, it always surprises me that despite all I share and my openness, so many people in my life like to pretend that I don’t have Crohn’s and never, ever, bring it up. If anything that is disheartening to me. I am passionate about being a patient advocate and sharing my journey, obviously I want to talk about it.

  1. Don’t make us feel guilty if we need to cancel plans.

There have been countless times I make plans with friends or when I used to go on dates prior to getting married, where I needed to cancel because I was blindsided by symptoms. IMG_0901Understand that when you make plans with someone who battles IBD, the way we feel can change up to the minute we’re supposed to meet. While I know that can be aggravating, you must be patient and think about what you would do if you had stabbing pains in your abdomen and couldn’t stand straight up as you rush to the bathroom. More often than not, rather then canceling we put a smile on and pretend to feel well. So, the times we cancel—I can guarantee you, it’s a legit excuse and doesn’t make us happy either. I’ve had moments where I was all excited to go out with my husband and meet friends and he would see me walking around putting my make up on with my pants unbuttoned, because I was in so much pain and he had to tell me—we’re not going.

  1. No need to remind us “it could be worse.”

Yes, we are well aware that a lot of people have it worse than us and are battling terminal illnesses. At the same time, many people have it better than us. We understand the severity of our disease and that it can’t be compared to someone battling stage IV cancer. But, before you wake up in our shoes and know what it’s like to live with a chronic, invisible illness that takes management with multiple medications a day, procedures, poking and prodding and facing the unknown of what the next day brings regarding flare ups—please don’t try and pretend you can fathom the struggle.

  1. Surgery is not a cure for Crohn’s

According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, unlike ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease cannot be cured with surgery, except in some instances where only the colon, rectum, and anus are affected. If the diseased portion of the intestine is removed, the inflammation can reappear adjacent to the site of the surgery, even if that part of the intestine was normal prior to the surgery. IMG_8476The primary goals of surgery for Crohn’s disease are to conserve as much bowel as possible, alleviate complications, and to help the patient achieve the best possible quality of life. Sure, you may go into surgical remission or be given a “fresh start,” but that disease will always be a part of you. When I had my bowel resection surgery in August 2015, they removed 18 inches of my small intestine—a decade of disease was taken from body. Of course, as I healed, I felt better and still feel a lot better nowadays, then I did prior to the surgery. Regardless, I live with Crohn’s every day and those symptoms are still present quite often. About 23-45 percent of people with ulcerative colitis and up to 75 percent of people with Crohn’s disease will require surgery. As I type this, I have stabbing pains in my stomach. I felt completely fine when I started writing this.

  1. Questioning medication decisions

So often people seem to think they have MD after their name, even if they haven’t taken one medical course in their life. Yes, we are aware, there are a ton of commercials on TV that list all the possible side effects for Humira, Stelara, Entyvio… you name it. IMG_0234Normally when we hear those commercials, if they don’t pertain to us, we may kind of laugh and wonder who in their right mind would take a medication with all those risks. For those of us with IBD, we oftentimes don’t have a choice. It’s a high risk with a high reward. Quality of life has to come first. I know before I got pregnant with my son, there were multiple occasions where friends would question my decision to be on Humira. Once you are on a biologic and your disease is this severe, you don’t have a whole lot of options. Don’t you think the risk of new and worsening heart failure and being immune suppressed is already a worry we deal with as it is?

  1. Fading to the background and disappearing when we need you most.

One of the “perks” of having IBD is that you quickly get to see who your true friends are and who has a compassionate heart. fullsizerenderSadly, the people who you think you are closest to often seem to disappear when you’re in the hospital. Rather than focusing on getting better, your mind may race and you may feel hurt that so and so hasn’t even called, texted or visited—even though you know they saw your post on social media about your most recent hospital stay. If you’re questioning whether you are going to bother the person or if you think it’s not your place to reach out—please change your mindset. It’s the people who reach out when you’re at your lowest point that you realize are worth your time and energy. IBD is isolating enough as it is, please be a good friend and show us some love when we’re going through a flare. If you were hospitalized, would you want radio silence from every person who matters to you?

  1. Don’t be afraid to find humor in the struggle.

Timing is everything when it comes to humor, but don’t feel like you need to be all doom and gloom with us. We are the same person we’ve always been, and more often than not we may make light of the situation as a defense mechanism. I was recently on a call with fellow Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation volunteers and casually introduced myself and said, “I’ve had one surgery, just 18 inches of intestine removed”… I said it as a joke, and the people on the other end laughed and said “just?”…because they get it. There’s no need to always think of IBD as a negative, in time, we come to realize it helps define the people we become.

  1. Please don’t push the “diet that heals”, homeopathic remedies on us

If there was one diet that worked wonders for those of us with IBD, we’d all be on board. There would be no need for medications and tests and hospitalizations. So many people inquire and ask, “have you tried the FodMap diet? What about SCD? What about Paleo?”…the list is endless. I tried going Paleo a couple years ago and almost ended up in the hospital. If you find a diet that works for you or someone you know, that’s fabulous. Unfortunately, every single case of IBD is different and there isn’t one way to help “heal” us all. If anything, this can be very confusing for newly diagnosed patients and their caretakers. It can put people in harms way if they follow your recommendation and decide they no longer need medication. Please be mindful of your words.

If you read my articles, you know I always focus on the positive and like to lift people up. My husband saw me writing this and felt it was a bit of a Debbie downer. Photo by J Elizabeth Photography www.jelizabethphotos.comI apologize if you feel that way, but I hope it has the opposite impact. I hope it brings you clarity and that it made a light bulb go off so that you know how to navigate your friendships and relationships with those who battle IBD. This week is a time to bring awareness about Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, it’s a time for these diseases to be in the spotlight. This week, and all that follows, please be gentle with your words and be the type of support you’d want in return.

For more information about this year’s Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week, click here. It’s time we all speak up. Stand up. And stand together.