Updated: Mar 21, 2021
Asthma, Diabetes, Arthritis…these are chronic illnesses with which we’re all familiar. We probably know someone living with one of these and may have even talked with friends or loved ones about how their illness affects them. Another chronic illness is Inflammatory Bowel Disease, also known as Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis.
What makes this illness different from others, though, is that it can feel embarrassing to discuss since it affects a part of our body we don’t often talk about openly. The bowels!
While we know from the delightful children’s book “Everyone Poops” that our gastrointestinal tract is nothing to be ashamed of, it still isn’t the easiest conversation topic.. Because of this many people find themselves struggling with the shame, embarrassment, confusion, and sadness all on their own. In addition, this illness can be confusing to those unfamiliar with it, as it can be an “invisible” disease. On the outside, we may look like the picture of health, so it can be hard for people to truly understand the kind of intense pain and crippling sickness we are feeling on the inside.
I’ve had Crohn’s for 18 years so I’m quite familiar with it, and I can tell you without hesitation that it is not only a medical illness that affects the body –it affects mental health just as significantly. I’ve always been comfortable opening up to people about my struggle with this illness, but I know from talking with my clients that this isn’t true for everyone. When we don’t feel we can share our story with people around us our world can become even smaller. Since this is an illness that often necessitates staying close to home, it can be so easy to fall into isolation and despair.
We’ve all heard it before, but it’s important to remember that stress is so detrimental to our bodies generally, and can absolutely exacerbate IBD. That’s why it’s so important to allow yourself to open up and talk about your feelings. Just as medication helps control the physical symptoms, there are resources available to help control the emotional ones. Whether it’s individual therapy or support groups in your community, please reach out and talk to someone. It will make the difference between just living with this illness and thriving with it.