How to Support Someone with UC or Crohn's This December
When a friend or loved one is diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease, it can be challenging to know what to say or do — especially if you don't fully understand the ramifications of IBD. Since December is Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Month, I thought I'd offer practical advice about how to support a friend or loved one living with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's.
1. Understand what Crohn's and UC are
First, you need to understand that Crohn's and colitis rank as the 2 most common types of inflammatory bowel diseases. They can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening health issues for those suffering from them. No cure exists for either disease, and these digestive problems affect the body in other ways because of widespread inflammation.
If a loved one is diagnosed with Crohn's or ulcerative colitis, learn as much as you can about the symptoms and what it's like living with it. The more you know and understand about the wide-ranging ramifications of IBD, the more comfort you can offer a person.
2. Know that it's emotional, too
Second, understand that UC and Crohn's not only affect a person physically, but also emotionally. Sometimes I think the mental aspects of my UC are more challenging at times than all the incessant running to the bathroom.
How do you get someone to understand that being anxious about having an accident in public is worse than constant diarrhea? Or that getting sad and depressed because the gut hurts so bad you can't be on the move as much as someone who doesn't have UC? In other words, sitting on the couch curled up with a heating pad can wreak havoc on a person's mindset.
And understand they may need to cancel plans
Instead of judging or criticizing someone for not meeting up with you socially, find a softer approach. Offer words of support and comfort when someone you know is sad or anxious. Offer to join them on the couch and watch a movie instead of going out publicly.
And never get upset if your loved one needs to cancel plans. The unpredictability of UC and Crohn's make socializing difficult. So be understanding when they back out of dinner or movie plans.
3. Just listen
Third, offer to listen with love and kindness. Since I've lived with UC for more than 3 decades, I sometimes wish someone would just take time to listen as I vent my frustrations over gut issues.
No, I can't eat what everyone else can eat, and that upsets me. In addition, I can't always do adventurous activities for fear of angering my colon. Sometimes it's annoying when I can't pack "light" for a trip because I just might need extra clothes if I don't make it to a restroom fast enough. And it's also embarrassing to sit in a restroom for long stretches of time because my gut holds me hostage in restroom stalls.
It just helps for someone to listen without judgement and without trying to "fix" my problems. Just simply say, "I'm here for you. Tell me all about it."
4. Encourage them
Fourth, offer spontaneous encouragement. Whether via text or a handwritten note, sending words of encouragement when someone least expects it feels super nice. Knowing that someone is thinking about me helps lift my spirits and reminds me that I am stronger than this disease. More importantly, notes of encouragement let a person know they are loved.
5. Offer your support and helping hand
Fifth, offer to lend a helping hand. From personal experience, I can tell you that there are some days that I physically feel "less than" because I hurt so bad. Whether grocery shopping, cooking, or cleaning house, there are some days I just wish someone would take one chore off my plate.
Having someone say, "Here, let me do that for you," shows love and demonstrates how much you care about the person with UC or Crohn's.
6. Ask about their UC or Crohn's dietary restrictions
Sixth, ask the person with UC or Crohn's about their dietary restrictions. Take it from me, it's no fun not being able to eat what others can eat. In a social setting, it helps if a host asks what my food restrictions are.
Those living with IBD must be careful about ingredients used in food dishes. Food sensitivities are no joking matter. It determines whether we will spend the day in pain or not. It makes it more enjoyable when someone poses the question, "What food is safe for you to eat?"
7. Offer to go to appointments
In addition, volunteer to take your friend or loved one to appointments. When it comes to colonoscopies, for example, I am always in need of someone who can drive me to and from the procedure.
Or just offering to be at an appointment to supply moral support sends the message that your loved one matters. It is also helpful to have another pair of ears to listen to a doctor's advice and medical plan in case I become overwhelmed and don't hear all the physician’s instructions. Being present helps alleviate stress during potential stressful appointments.
8. Make sure they get proper screenings
Finally, know that your friend or loved one with IBD may be at risk for colon cancer. Research shows that people with IBD are twice as likely to develop colon cancer compared to those not living with IBD. So, make sure your loved one takes their medication and signs up for routine screenings. As my GI recommends, he says that people with IBD need a colonoscopy every 2 years. Be sure your loved one stays on track for cancer screenings.
Supporting someone with UC or Crohn's is all about understanding
In the end, show your love and support by asking what your loved one needs. Each person is different with different challenges. Some people appreciate help more than others. So, talk to your friend or loved one to find out exactly what he or she needs.
Understanding fatigue, gut pain, and easy access to restrooms is a great place to start helping your loved one. Also, remind them how heroic they are in battling the daily pain and struggles associated with colitis.
Crohn's and ulcerative colitis are diseases that no one wants. Because no cures exist, it takes all involved to help navigate the rocky path just a little bit easier. Remember, just showing up and offering love and support goes a long way in the eyes of us who hurt.
How do you support a loved one with UC or Crohn's?
How do you support someone with UC or Crohn's disease? And how can you raise awareness for your loved one? Leave us your ideas and suggestions. You never know when your advice just might help someone else.
"I don't want my pain and struggle to make me a victim. I want my battle to make me someone else's hero." –Unknown
How open are you about being diagnosed with IBD?