How Ulcerative Colitis Impacted My Friendships
I can't help but wonder what my life might have been like if I didn't have ulcerative colitis. I think about all of the things that would have been different, and then I wonder how much different, or better, my life would be now.
These are simply the raw and honest thoughts that I have when I'm feeling a bit annoyed with my life. Times when the fatigue gets too much, I'm stuck indoors, or I'm laid awake at night. I'm sharing this with you simply because I want you to know that you are not alone.
My friendships early in life
When I was really young, I just mingled with classmates and the children locally. That worked well enough. When I got older and went to secondary school (which I think is "high school" in the U.S.), I never really figured out where I fit.
I moved around, from group to group. I left with very few people I could call friends, and I was glad to see the back of it. People always say that they're the best years of your life. They certainly weren't mine.
Later on, I was the same with people I worked with. A group of us used to go for a drink on a Friday when we finished work, and I had considered them friends.
My friendships after my UC diagnosis
When I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, I was admitted to hospital immediately. One friend visited me in the whole six weeks. Very few checked in. The people I expected to hear from... Nothing! I began to realise that I was just a time filler for some people, and that sucked.
When I finally moved jobs, I was very open about my IBD. My boss had Crohn's, so poop was often a topic of conversation in the office. I had a j-pouch when I started, but during my time there I'd had surgery again to have it disconnected, and then connected again a few months later.
There was a pretty high turnover of staff, so friendships came and went as the people did. Nothing stuck.
Having IBD has taught me a lot of things. I try to avoid stress whenever possible because it's the one thing that seemed to cause a flare. Plus, my mindset was very much, “life is too short.” People that bring a lot of drama and negativity with them are not my kind of people.
They didn't care about my ulcerative colitis
I have cut people out of my life without a second thought. I've had "friends" who didn't even try to understand. Who stopped asking how I am because the answer was always the same.
I have had people ask how I am but not listen to the answer. I have seen them zone out as I am talking. I have had people say “You're still not better yet?” in surprise, despite me explaining that my disease is incurable and lifelong. Many assuming that because I started a treatment a week ago, I should be well again by now.
I have had people make me feel guilty when I have been unable to do something. I have had people make me feel like I have to explain my life choices to them. So, those people had to go. It didn't matter how long we had been friends. All that mattered to me was my stress levels and mental health.
That doesn't mean that I didn't feel hurt by it. I did. I felt very let down by some people, and it made it even more difficult to trust people again in the future.
My friends were moving forward, but I wasn't
I used to think that I just didn't like people, but then I realised that I do, and did, like many of the people I have crossed paths with and had brief periods of spending time with regularly. That is why I spent time with them in the first place.
But life has a habit of continually pushing people forwards, and that often means going in different directions.
I spent many years in jobs I wasn't happy with, because I was constantly waiting for my health to improve, or I was waiting to get surgeries and recovery out of the way. So, I wasn't moving forwards when everyone else was. I was just standing still.
Friendship is about the good and the bad
I've always said that I'm happy to be the friend of any good person who needs one. Many times I have drifted into peoples lives whilst they've been going through stuff, and I have stayed until it's over.
Then again, when they were back on track, back to the moving forward of life, I have drifted back out. Like my purpose was to be there for that one thing, and now my job is done. I thought that made me a good person, but I'm beginning to wonder whether it actually makes me a weak one.
Couldn't I still be there friend as their life moved forward? Was I afraid I'd be jealous? I think the answer is probably yes...
Making friends in the IBD community
It's not all doom and gloom, though. I have made a few friends within the online IBD community, who I genuinely love so much.
Plus, there are lots I'm really fond of and care about. I'm proud of them when they achieve things and it upsets me when life is tough for them. They're the ones that finally restored my faith in people – and friendships!
How open are you about being diagnosed with IBD?