Handling "Regular People" Sickness as an IBDer
Last updated: June 2023
Given that living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can truly wreak havoc on all aspects of a person's body and life, I am never sure how to handle "regular people sickness," for lack of better terminology.
Fighting off a cold with Crohn's or colitis
I have been suffering from a bad cold for about two weeks now. I am not complaining, TRUST ME, but I haven't exactly been taking the necessary steps to care for myself properly and it led me to this topic. To be blunt, I don't consider seemingly minor things like a cold, sore throat, sinusitis, body aches and soreness, fatigue, etc. very seriously.
I know that is because I have dealt with things like organs being removed, ostomies, invasive tests and procedures, hospitalizations, blood in my stool, intense postoperative pain, abscesses, fistulas, being septic, almost dying – I could go on and on. Most of us have dealt with many or all of these serious, serious issues!
Sickness is all relative
It is all relative and only natural for those people who have suffered from a truly devastating chronic condition to look at other "illnesses" or "issues" as being irrelevant and something that doesn't require much attention. It is also not uncommon for those people who have not experienced anything worse than a cold (lucky!) to feel like the world is coming to an end when they are sick.
As we all know, our experiences have a profound impact on our perception and actions. It is the same thing with those of us who deal with insomnia or painsomnia day in and day out. It becomes just something we have to handle, as opposed to those people who usually get a decent night sleep. When they have an off night, most cannot function and are very irritable.
Pushing myself when I am able to
I push myself way too hard if I am not in a dire position with my health. I have the mentality of: I have to miss out on so much for real issues, why would I stay home instead of participating in something I know I will enjoy and/or really need to do just because of something minor?
While I understand that mentality and do know many people who suffer from Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis think along those same lines as well, it can be a dangerous way of looking at things to some degree. By "dangerous" I mean, it could have negative repercussions for your health in many different ways.
If we don't take the time to nurse ourselves when our body is giving us signs, that isn't very fair to our bodies. Most of us have been through so much with our IBD that our bodies need special care whenever we are ill. I don't mean we need to run to the doctor for every ache and pain but we also shouldn't continue to put demands on ourselves that can be detrimental to our body while it is either trying to heal or fight something off.
Pushing ourselves will only prolong sickness
Not only will this prolong the time it takes for your body to get back to your "normal" but it can also impact other areas of your life and health. For example, many people who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease are on some sort of immunosuppressive medication.
Given that, if a person who has had a severe cold for a decent amount of time continues to push themselves to go to work, do things outdoors, miss out on much-needed sleep because of the pressure they feel to not let others down, etc. then that severe cold could turn into something far worse.
Or, it could last 3 times as long as it would if a person was to take the couple of days needed to lay low, drink plenty of fluids, get as much rest as possible, and try not to think about all of the things that can be attended to when the recovery period is over.
Take time to rest and ask for help
I know that is easier said than done given many of us have children, family obligations, work, financial pressures, errands/chores, etc. Doing the best we can is all we can strive for and sometimes, even the smallest things might help. You never know.
For example, instead of feeling the need to cook your family an amazing home-cooked meal on a day when you aren't feeling well, either do something easy, ask for help (if possible,) order something inexpensive, or buy something pre-made at the store that you know your family enjoys.
It may make you feel guilty or like you are taking the easy way out, but sometimes, that is necessary. And it isn't forever: remember that! Plus, who knows? Maybe if you took the time you normally would to cook and rested instead, it could speed up the healing process or put less stress on your body? I am just using a very simple example here to make a point :)
Extra stress on the body when sick
Putting harsh demands on your body when it is fighting some sort of infection or virus can also cause a lot of stress. I know a lot of people who suffer from Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis swear that their symptoms are exacerbated by stress, even though stress does not cause IBD. Stress isn't good for anyone, as we all know, and can have a hugely negative impact on the immune system – even in an individual with no other health problems. So, think of what it could potentially do to someone whose body is already working on overdrive to get through each day.
I don't bring this up to scare any of you. I hope you know that. We all should do what we feel is best for our minds and bodies. We are all individuals and what works for some, may not work for others, and that is perfectly okay.
I also know that given those of us who have been through a lot with our IBD have spent far too much time cooped up at home or in the hospital and want to make the most out of life when their chronic illness isn't wreaking absolute havoc. I completely get that and that is my mentality too.
The importance of self-care
I just wanted to highlight this because it is something to think about and something I have been struggling with a lot over the years. It is hard for me to balance it all. I hate putting myself first when it isn't a serious issue (even then, it is a difficult thing for me to do) but I really know I won't be good to anyone else in my life if I don't take care of myself- whether it be a serious health issue or a seemingly minor one.
What do you think? Can you relate at all? Do you try your best to carry on and ignore it when you are suffering from something not IBD related? Or, are you someone who has recognized the importance of taking care of yourself - whether it be something simple like a cold, or something serious like an abscess?
What has been the most helpful for managing IBD symptoms?