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How IBD has Amplified my Empathy

Having become chronically ill nearly a decade ago, I’ve learned so much about how I process disease, hardship, and other challenges in life. Having symptoms that for years had no name and no treatment plan, I was often met with doubt and skepticism from family, friends, and medical professionals. This had a significant impact on my mental health and changed the way that I was as a person, a patient, and later, an advocate. I’ve also learned the ways in which I respond when people I love are faced with these situations and the ways that have both softened and strengthened during my life with Crohn’s disease.

Empathy in illness-related circumstances

The last few years specifically, I’ve realized how much having IBD has amplified my sense of empathy for others. I find that in illness-related circumstances, I hold space in my heart and patience in my words for others that may be in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, or in the room next to me at the infusion center. I look softer at others wearing masks in public places or waiting to pre-board a flight due to medical necessity. I try hard to offer advice or guidance or wisdom or even just love to friends who are fighting new battles, whether short or long term because I also live in that space. Space where people stop knowing what to say or do or how to help or even how to be your friend when you are Chronically Ill.

Knowing how to take action in hard times

Right before the holidays, a close friend of mine received a very scary diagnosis. One that could unpredictably be fatal. She is a single parent to two young kids, and this news shook their whole world. While I felt filled with grief, anger, and pain for my friend and her family, I immediately felt mobilized to take action. I helped set up a financial fundraiser for her, made lists of things she would need, might want, and would maybe feel embraced by, and went to work. I wanted more than anything to take care of her, to show her that our friends loved her so hard and that we would do anything we could to support her from afar.

She has handled every moment since her diagnosis with unbelievable grace, and in turn, has taught me so very much about this process. Namely, how to accept help and generosity without feeling a weighing sense of guilt. During the years that I was most sick, my family and friends went out of their way to make sure I was fed, shopped for, warm, and feeling safe in whatever ways they could. These acts, while selfless and incredibly kind, sometimes made me retreat because I felt like I couldn’t possibly offer them anything in return.

Saying thank you is enough

In holding a mirror up to show me my own actions, my friend has taught me that sometimes, simply saying thank you is enough. That paying it forward, in small and sporadic ways, is enough. That being a good person, with a good heart, means that you deserve good things. And when life and health give you circumstances that are so much less than ideal, the universe tries to send you the people that you need to stay. To hold on. To keep fighting.

There are a lot of really hard lessons that IBD has taught me, but it’s also had some beautiful impacts too. IBD has softened my heart and made my empathy stronger. It’s made me into a better friend, and a better person, and I am forever grateful for these things.

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

Comments

  • thedancingcrohnie moderator
    2 months ago

    Beautifully said. I too have loads more empathy than I did before my diagnosis. The way I look at anyone with illness has totally changed.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Always dancing,
    Elizabeth (team member)

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