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Two women share a smile at the sinks in a public restroom

How an empathetic stranger helped me through Crohn’s symptoms

The music was loud. My friends were all having a great time in the bar. And there I was. In the bathroom stall. Hurting. Nervous. Upset. Then, I heard someone walk into the bathroom. Oh great. Just what I need. That awkward moment where both people have to go, but just sit there in silence. This wasn’t your typical bathroom experience though. Out of nowhere, the woman said her stomach was bothering her and that she was in the same boat. She said she would use some bathroom spray for both of us and not to worry. She proceeded by going without any shyness whatsoever.

Grateful for someone understanding Crohn’s

At first, I was caught off guard, but so incredibly grateful for the olive branch she just extended. For one of the first times since being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2005, I felt understood and unashamed. I followed her lead and rather than sitting in the stall so I didn’t have to show my face, I walked over to the sink while she was washing her hands so that I could thank her.

We smiled at each other and she apologized that her stomach was bothering her. She was an employee of the bar. She said she wished they had separate bathrooms so people didn’t have to go through what we did. I told her not to worry at all and that I had Crohn’s disease. These “going in public” rendezvous are never a choice for me because I simply can’t help it. I thanked her for being so open and for making light of what is often a stressful situation for those of us in the IBD community.

The bathroom aspect of Crohn’s is nothing to be ashamed of

This happened days ago and the interaction is still fresh in my head. It’s made me think. It’s made me feel grateful. If only more people would stop making the bathroom aspect of Crohn’s something to be embarrassed about. Everyone poops. Some people just poop more than others. This empathetic stranger probably didn’t think anything of her actions, but they impacted me.

Years ago, I would have tried not to go in public. Years ago, I would have never told a stranger I had Crohn’s disease. Years ago, I would have cowered in that stall until I was the only person in the bathroom. But I’m not that girl anymore. It’s time we stop being apologetic for our diseases and how they make us feel. It’s time we stop hiding behind a bathroom stall and keeping to ourselves. We all know Crohn’s is much more than a bathroom disease. But, we also know, it’s also a huge part of it.

Using a public bathroom when not feeling well

Thank you to the stranger who made me feel comfortable in my own skin, who gave me a knowing smile in the bar later that night, and who reminded me that so many people, not only those with IBD, know how it is to deal with public bathrooms when you’re not feeling your best. Rather than judging or saying ‘it smells in here’ out loud (yes, I’ve heard people do that before!), lighten the situation and be a good fellow human.

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.


  • jamieschmal
    3 months ago

    Funny timing… I was just in a sorta similar situation last weekend. I was at a bar and had to ‘go’. As much as I didn’t want to use the public restroom, there was no holding it. So I went in and immediately walked in on 2 girls chit chatting in the bathroom, the way girls often do. They weren’t using the toilet or washing their hands, they were literally just standing in there talking. So I went into the stall and closed the door, but I immediately panicked. (Public bathrooms are often a place of panic attacks for me. Not that anyone LOVES a public bathroom but having Crohn’s definitely makes it worse.) I knew I had to go so I had to do something to make myself more comfortable and less embarrassed. So I did – I opened that bathroom stall, peeked my head out and simply told the girls something along the lines of… “I know none of us really enjoy using a public bathroom so I just wanted to give you guys a heads up… I have to go #2. I’m sorry, but I just wanted to warn you”, with a bit of an awkward yet charming laugh. Announcing the thing I was embarrassed about made me feel less embarrassed because it was no longer ‘the elephant in the room’. I took something that’s taboo and put it out on display (not literally, of course). I did this without first considering how the girls would react so I felt pleasantly surprised when the girls laughed (with me, not at me), expressed their understanding and gratitude for the warning, told me “you do you” and gave me peace and privacy as they left the bathroom. I felt an immense sense of relief and returned gratitude and all of my anxiety quickly dissipated. I did my business, washed my hands and left the bathroom thinking, “what a wonderful world it would be if we could all just make ‘pooping’ something that’s NOT a big deal”.

  • gpalmarella moderator
    3 months ago

    Thanks for sharing this story @jamieschmal! Isn’t it funny how we get so worked up and then once it happens, it ends up being totally fine? This is a good tip to just come right out with up in the beginning, especially since they didn’t really need to be in the bathroom anyways. -Graceann (Team Member)

  • crystal.harper moderator
    3 months ago

    It’s amazing how a small, seemingly meaningless statement can mean so much to others. It just goes to show how big of an impact our actions can have on those around us and I’m glad this one was a positive one!

  • Julie Marie Palumbo moderator
    3 months ago

    Wonderful, uplifting story, Natalie! It is great to hear that there are people out there who just get it and reserve judgment during our most vulnerable moments.

    It is also refreshing to read a story that gives us hope as opposed to be left feeling frustrated with society and our disease. Great job!

    –Julie (Team Member)

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