Everyone needs people they can count on. That’s especially true when you have a long-term condition such as ulcerative colitis (UC). Your “squad” of friends, family, and loved ones can make your day.
Still, it can be a big challenge to hang out with friends, date, or be intimate when you have diarrhea and other symptoms.
Fortunately, you can still keep up rewarding and loving relationships, even when you don’t feel well.
Let Your Friends In
Megan Starshak was 18 and headed to college when she learned she had UC.
"I was still learning about the disease and didn't know what to tell others," says Starshak, who is now in her early 30s.
As a result, she spent a lot of nights at home while her friends noticed that she never seemed to want to do anything fun.
"People would say, 'Join us when you feel better.' It was like they thought I had a cold. They didn't understand that I was dealing with a chronic illness," she says.
Come clean with your close friends. Or at least let a few friends know the details of your condition. Chances are, they’ll want to know more so they can support you better.
"It's good to have someone in your corner who can tell others, 'Look, Megan has a serious illness, and today she's not feeling well,' " says gastroenterologist Aline Charabaty-Pishvaian, MD. She directs the Center for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases at Georgetown University.
It's nice to be able to count on a pal who might be willing to give up an occasional night out in order to spend time with you when you need it.
"Looking back on my college days, I wish that I had been more open and let people in on what I was going through," Starshak says.
Ways to Deal With Dating Jitters
It's up to you whether you want to make your digestive health a topic for your first date. But you shouldn't wait too long to bring it up.
"Your date may feel confused and insecure if he doesn't know what's going on, and you're canceling engagements because you don't feel well. Or you're distracted when you're together because you're concerned about having a mishap," Charabaty-Pishvaian says.
Ways to Deal With Dating Jitters, Continued ...
Digestive problems may not be sexy, but a medical condition like UC isn’t something to be ashamed of, either. It helps to have a sense of humor about it, Starshak says.
"I could tell my dates which stores or restaurants had the cleanest bathrooms and which places to avoid," she says. "It may sound like a weird conversation, but it gave them a glimpse into the seriousness of my problem -- 'Hey, she really does have to use the bathroom a lot!' -- without me having to go into too much graphic detail."
When Starshak and her boyfriend started to date several years ago, she used a fundraiser for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) as an icebreaker.
"I was biking in a charity ride, so I gave him a CCFA brochure and told him, 'I'm raising money for this organization because I have colitis,' " Starshak recalls. The information in the brochure, including the link to the CCFA's website, gave him a background to start asking questions.
Stay Close to Loved Ones
Treatments you use to control colitis can cause other problems, like acne, weight gain, and fatigue. That can affect your sex drive and your self-confidence. And you probably don't feel in the mood when you have a flare.
That's OK. Open communication with your partner is key. Let him or her know when your self-esteem needs a boost. Try other forms of intimacy when you don’t feel well, such as a foot rub or cuddle time on the couch while watching a good movie.
Take advantage of the times when you do feel better to shower your partner with affection.
Remember, there is give-and-take in every relationship. When you're sick with UC, it can seem as if you're doing more of the taking. But you can return the attention when your health improves.
Be sure to let your friends and loved ones know how much you want and appreciate their support.