I was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease when I was 19, after undergoing emergency surgery to have my large bowel removed.
I have ulcerative colitis – a form of IBD that affects the lower part of your digestive system, including your colon. The other main type of IBD is Crohn’s disease, a form that affects your entire digestive system including your mouth.
As someone who suffers from ulcerative colitis, I know first-hand how hard living with the chronic illness can be.
It can be draining, both physically and mentally. It can leave you in horrendous amounts of pain, heavily medicated and unable to leave you hospitalised or unable to leave your bed for days.
While both men and women can suffer from the condition, as a woman, there are a few things I’ve noticed that are gender specific – ranging from both medical help to everyday embarrassing conversations.
Here are 11 things you’ll only understand if you’re a woman who lives with inflammatory bowel disease.
1. Doctors may take you less seriously
Because one of the symptoms of IBD is stomach cramps, some doctors might try to fob you off with ‘Oh, it’s just women’s troubles!’ despite you knowing the difference between PMS and a problem with your bowels. Another symptom is bleeding from the rear – but amazingly some doctors still don’t understand that you know the difference between blood from your rear and blood from your genitals.Who knew?
Another symptom is bleeding from the rear – but amazingly some doctors still don’t understand that you know the difference between blood from your rear and blood from your genitals.Who knew?
2. You have more ‘comfy clothes’ than the average woman
While most women like to get into their favourite pyjamas when they have their period, because of the extensive bloating, you’re in your comfies every other day.
Because let’s face it, IBD ladies – you feel six months pregnant from bloating due to a flare way more often than your cycle.
3. It can be a little embarrassing when it comes to using the public toilets
Okay, guys always seem to be able to go for a number two when in the public toilets.
But you can just hear the sighs of disgust in a women’s bathroom when someone accidentally makes a noise that doesn’t sound like a number one. So using the toilet in full force because you’re in a flare? Not ideal.
4. And that goes for toilet conversation, too
A guy can get away with laughing about his own farts but suddenly a woman talking about her bowel habits is ‘un-ladylike’. Excuse me?
5. You’ve been offered more Juice Plus than anyone in your friendship group
Because women will target female sufferers and explain just how amazing the ‘natural ingredients’ in the capsules are for ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Yes, people really do this.
6. You own so much high-waisted clothing you may as well open your own store
Some people with IBD undergo ostomy surgery, where part of their intestine is brought out to the abdomen to release waste. This can either be done to give the rest of your digestive system a bit of a break or whether you’ve had part or all of your bowel removed. When you have an ostomy, you practically live in high-waisted clothing. It’s secure, supportive and trendy.
It’s also great for those who haven’t had surgery and are just attempting to use their clothing to make their bloating a little more discrete.
7. ‘You’ve lost so much weight’ is no longer a compliment
I once lost so much weight due to an IBD flare that people were genuinely concerned for my well-being.
Others, of course, saw it as something to congratulate and would tell me how much weight I’d lost. But to me, it wasn’t a compliment. The weight was dropping off unintentionally and I was looking ill.
You’d never congratulate someone’s ill health – so why congratulate the poor weight that comes with it?
8. And ‘You’ve put on so much weight’ can be even more of an insult
Yes, I have gained three stone – but that hasn’t helped by the copious amounts of steroids I’ve been on in order to get my health back on track.
If I didn’t take these steroids, you’d be commenting on ‘how much weight’ I’ve lost. It’d be a lot easier, and a lot nicer if you just didn’t comment at all.
9. Comments such as ‘I get that pain too!’ are a regular occurrence
When coming from someone who genuinely gets it or who also has a chronic illness, fine. But coming from someone who is describing everyday period pain in comparison to IBD symptoms – I just can’t take it.
No, your period is not the same as my colon being covered in ulcers, I’m sorry.
10. You become more of an understanding person
Sure, it’s annoying to have people compare standard symptoms to your illness, but you do tend to become a lot more compassionate of other women – especially when it comes to having time off of work for stomach cramp-related symptoms.
11. You’re an incredibly strong woman
You deal with bloating, cramps, fatigue, bleeding and some not very nice bowel-related things on a daily basis. You gain weight, you lose weight, you trial a series of medications to get it steady. You undergo surgery, infusions, injections – you’ve taken every tablet under the sun. You deal with inconsiderate people, judgemental people and people who simply don’t understand. You put up with so much, but somehow, you’re still here, fighting strong.
And if that’s not the definition of ‘inspirational’, I don’t know what is.