The way you let ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s, or any other chronic illness affect you depends on how you see yourself.From the 1st till the 7th of December is Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week. Most people probably haven’t heard of it. I hadn’t even heard of it until a few months ago. But since it is something less talked about I thought I would do some educating.

During my first year of university, I vividly remember reading an article from the Daily Mail. I know, I know, but stay with me. The article was about a man who out of nowhere developed a chronic disease that affected him in ways he never anticipated. At the time, I remember thinking to myself rather selfishly ‘I’m lucky I don’t have that.’ Partially because the man had to give up carbs.

The reason I so vividly remember this article is because at the same time, unbeknownst to me, I had also developed the same disease. It wasn’t until 7 months after reading the article that I would be formally diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease where your immune system decides ‘fuck you man’ and starts to attack your own large intestine. This can lead to weight loss, horrible stomach pains, as well as other digestive problems. It affects around 146,000 people in the UK and has no cure which is what makes it a chronic disease.

Ulcerative colitis and the other IBD called Crohn’s disease, is sometimes known as an ‘invisible illness.’ This is because other than possible weight loss, other symptoms occur internally. On the outside you  might look perfectly fine – the peak of health even – but inside you know you’re trying breathing and distraction techniques in an attempt to ignore the agonising stomach pains.

Having an ‘invisible illness’ can lead to some undesirable situations. One such situation is having to show a Pret a Manger employee a card that proves you have IBD so you can use their toilets – without having to buy something first. It might not seem like a big deal, but it’s a little embarrassing to tell a random stranger that you have an irritable bowel. You also sometimes get the ‘well, you don’t look sick.’ No, Brenda. I don’t look sick, but would you like to see my intestines?

“The way you let ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s, or any other chronic illness affect you depends on how you see yourself.”

Another thing about ulcerative colitis; it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. There’s not one specific diet that all colitis sufferers can follow to keep symptoms at bay. Instead, each and every person is different – some can eat junk food like it’s going out of fashion and suffer no consequence, whereas others just have to lick a cheeseburger and they suffer the wrath of the unforgiving stomach cramps. The man in the Daily Mail article, Jonathan Benson, seems to have luckily found a diet and exercise regime that has allowed him to have no symptoms for years but that diet probably wouldn’t work for everyone.

 

Some sufferers can find themselves not going to the doctors for a long time since some of the symptoms are quite embarrassing and as British people, we don’t seem to like talking about embarrassing things. But obviously talking to a doctor is the best thing for you; even talking to friends can help, although I know a lot of people wouldn’t want to talk to their friends about their digestive problems. Thankfully, I have some awesome friends who don’t mind having a chat about our bowel movements over a cup of peppermint tea. If that seems weird, then people need to be weirder.

A great quote about chronic illnesses I remember reading once was ‘do you see yourself as a sick man who is sometimes well or a healthy man who is sometimes sick?’ The way you let ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s, or any other chronic illness affect you depends on how you see yourself.

1-7 is Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness week. Visit https://www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk/ to find out more.