Whenever Serena Ehrlich goes someplace new, she scouts out the location of the bathroom. That's because Ehrlich, 38, a Los Angeles-based salesperson for a commercial wire service, has ulcerative colitis. She developed the disease 12 years ago and has been in remission for the past three. Still, the old habit lingers. "Everyone who has ulcerative colitis will tell you that when you walk into a bookstore, a shop, or a restaurant, that's the one thing you want to know first. It's our rule of thumb."
But there are strategies for getting past the awkwardness to have a good time. Here are some ways to make dating and socializing go smoother.
Ulcerative Colitis and Dating: When to Bring It Up
"UC is not an easy disease to talk about, especially as a young woman," says Sandra Kim, MD, pediatric gastroenterologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "People find it easier to talk about things like asthma, where you wheeze, or a food allergy, where you might break out. But a lot of the symptoms associated with UC -- not so easy."
There's no hard and fast rule about when to talk about an IBD, says Frank Sileo, PhD, a psychologist in Ridgewood, N.J., who counsels young adults with ulcerative colitis.
"All relationships develop over time, and trust has to be there first," Sileo says. "When revealing something so personal, there has to be some level of trust in the relationship. There's no barometer or timeframe of when you have that in a relationship. So you really have to trust your gut -- no pun intended -- that this person is someone you'd really like to share this aspect of your life with."
Broaching the Topic of UC: Just Do It
Megan Nardini, 19, a student at Ohlone College in Fremont, Calif., was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when she was 12 and had six surgeries in one year. She says UC can definitely be a "strange” topic to bring up.
"It's always weird," she says. "When do you tell somebody you just met, 'Oh, by the way, I don't have a colon and I poop a lot?' A lot of people feel really uncomfortable talking about that kind of thing. That's why Crohn's and colitis aren't that well known -- because nobody wants to talk about poop."