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5 Tips I Wish I Had on Coping with Crohn’s in High School

I’m an admin of a few Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis support pages and groups on Facebook. Every year around this time, you’ll start to notice an uptick in questions and posts about teens coping with inflammatory bowel disease in school. Some of the posts are from parents, while others are from the teens themselves. Without fail, there’s always one post that resonates.

This particular post came from a teen with an IBD expressing her fears about not having a teacher who will issue a bathroom pass in time.

Been there. It was my freshman year and I was in an intro to nursing class. The teacher, a nurse, made me wait for a student to come back before releasing me. I sat there for what felt like an eternity. My body alternated between threats of passing out in a cold sweat, extreme nausea, and potentially messing myself. Finally, after the student returned, I bolted. I didn’t return until well after the next class had begun. I was beyond embarrassed.

So, here are 5 tips that I wish I had to help cope with having IBD in high school.

Tip #1: Maintain Friendships

During my middle and high school career, I had quite a few extended absences. Each time I came back to school from one, I had this awkward feeling as if I no longer fit in with friends. Rejoining my friends during lunch or breaks between classes made me feel in some ways as if I was the new kid at school, even though I had known some of them since early childhood.

Mostly, it was all in my head. If you really get down to brass tacks, whenever I was too ill to attend school, I abandoned them. Muted if you will. If anyone called, I rarely picked up. I certainly didn’t call them back, either.

Social media and text did not exist back then. For those unfamiliar with the 90s, I owned a beeper and we communicated in numeric blocks of code. I really did “123” some of them, but I didn’t express it when I was out. Had there been social media and texting, I think transitioning back into school life would have been easier. So, use your tools and keep connected with your friends. They are your people if you will let them.

Tip #2: Back-Up Clothing

Keep an extra set of clothes in your backpack or locker, and your car if you have one. I considered this a mind game. I knew the backup pieces of clothing were there. Gratefully, I never had to use them. Also, I really liked having a separate go-bag in the car to keep spare clothing and cleanup gear. This was a safety net for whenever that, “oh no,” feeling hit while out and about. There was comfort in that rolling backup plan.

At the very least, keep a sweater or jacket in your backpack. If something were to happen and you need to make a (un)graceful exit, just tie it around your waist and jet.

Tip #3: Educate Your Educators

Getting to know the Assistant Principal in charge of student affairs is a start. Have a chat with them about your condition (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis), and how it may affect your time in the classroom along with potential absences.

Make sure your teachers know you may need to just walk out of class without saying a word. Have a plan to get notes on what you’ve missed and that assignments are communicated. Also, it doesn’t hurt to ask if you can leave a digital recorder running at the teacher’s desk.

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation has a guide to help educate your educators ( It’s a little lengthy. I endorse copying and pasting parts that will aid your AP, counselor, advisor, and teachers as you see fit.

Tip #4: Bagging Your Backpack

There may be a time that you’ll miss the end of one class and a new one begins. Since your class will leave and an entirely new group of people will enter the room, you will need a plan on where your bag and belongings should move to. Establishing a place will help minimize disruption when you retrieve them.

Remember how I mentioned that teacher who made me wait? When I finally returned — my class was long gone and a new class was halfway-completed.

Tip #5 Get a Permanent Restroom Pass!

If your school doesn’t have one yet, have them make you one. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are protected illnesses under the ADA. Therefore, you can leave for the restroom without pushback.

An admin at the school created a permanent bathroom pass for me. We used yellow passes specifically for restrooms. In red marker, you saw “PERM BATHROOM PASS” at the top in big red marketed block letters. It was readable from a decent distance, too. One of the secretaries laminated it so I didn’t have to keep asking for a new one.

I waited far too long to speak up about my needs, and wish I had a list like this to rely upon.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Julie Marie Palumbo moderator
    6 months ago

    This is a great article! I love these tips and agree with each one–especially the permanent bathroom pass!

    I have a pass and it has helped me in public situations so many times. It’s awesome 🙂

    –Julie (Team Member)

  • judyjo2011
    7 months ago

    I was diagnosed with UC at age 16, in 1961. No social media; not even a juvenile/teen section in hospital. I was in hospital for a month: took two full weeks to diagnose; no colonoscopies then; wide awake for barium enemas. Was where there was an open bed (cardiology) with a lot of old sick people. Never heard of IBD or UC. Out of school for a three months. Catholic school; strict. I survived but it was not easy. So glad there is social media; websites for IBD now especially for young people. Not an easy disease for anyone but for young people, really, really hard.

  • thedancingcrohnie moderator
    7 months ago

    Couldn’t agree more. So sorry you had to go through that during a time where resources were limited for you. You are certainly a warrior.

    I often think about kids who have to go though this illness during school. I really can’t imagine. I was diagnosed after I graduated college, and in terms of timing, I’m pretty thankful.

    I hope you are doing well these days.

    Always dancing,
    Elizabeth (team member)

  • thedancingcrohnie moderator
    1 year ago

    I was diagnosed after my school years, so I can’t imagine dealing with IBD symptoms in high school and college. These tips are awesome, and I know so many teens and college students will be thankful for reading this. Thanks for sharing!

    Always dancing,
    Elizabeth (team member)

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