If you struggle with embarrassing chronic illness symptoms due to a condition such as Crohn’s disease, these tips can help you deal with them and the difficult emotions they can trigger.
Chronic illnesses and disabilities can be difficult to deal with at the best of times. It can often feel as though you’re juggling a variety of symptoms that are conspiring to make your life harder, whether that’s social overwhelm, aching joints, or debilitating fatigue. As if to add insult to injury, there are some symptoms that can be embarrassing, especially if you are adjusting to life after diagnosis.
My own experiences have made me reflect a lot on how ableist society can be. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2014 after 10 years of diarrhea and fatigue.
My first embarrassing experience came at a sports center. I and my family were going to watch the local basketball team and, before entering the arena, I had a sudden and desperate urge to empty my bowels. You can probably guess the rest. Despite rushing to the bathroom at breakneck speed, I didn’t make it in time.
Five awful minutes followed where I tried my best to clean up in a toilet cubicle I could barely turn around in, but the mess was all over my trousers. However much I scrubbed them with water there was an unmistakable stench that just wouldn’t go away. There was no way I could watch the game and, tearful and ashamed, I told my husband and son to cheer on our team as planned but I needed to go.
The journey home was by public transport and, with my face blotchy from crying and a lingering odor following me, it was one of the most awful trips of my life. Once I arrived back at the house it was fine – my practical brain clicked into place and after a shower and washing my clothes, everything felt less horrific.
Bowel urgency is a major symptom of Crohn’s disease, so I have had to deal with it since, too. However, my uncomfortable experience (in more ways than one!) taught me a few key lessons which I wanted to share about coping with embarrassing chronic illness symptoms.
Be prepared to prevent or deal with embarrassing symptoms.
The Boy Scouts’ motto will stand you in good stead if you have an unpredictable chronic illness or condition. As someone with Crohn’s disease, being prepared means carrying spare underwear and a packet of wet wipes in case of any accidents. If you have painful joints, you could wear braces or compression wraps as a precaution. For people who rely on medication in emergency situations (such as those with severe allergies) carrying your medicine with you and informing those around you of where it is and how to administer it is a must. Hopefully, these plans will never need to be used, but it is always better to be one step ahead than floundering.
Make adaptations to prevent or address embarrassing chronic illness symptoms.
It can seem unfair when your chronic illness or disability affects how you live your life, especially if others around you don’t need to plan in the same way. Adjusting your lifestyle can take many forms. Personally, I know that my bowel struggles when I drink coffee, so I only indulge when at home, at a friend’s house, or near a public convenience. If you struggle with weight bearing, you may decide to use mobility aids such as a wheelchair or walking stick when you know you’ll be moving more than normal. For those with hearing impairments, choosing a bar without background music instead of one playing the latest chart hits could be a reasonable adjustment. It isn’t always possible to make adaptations, but if you know it is going to make your life easier it is worth considering all options.
Own your embarrassing symptoms.
This is something I’m still working on myself, but learn to accept your symptoms – even the ones that cause embarrassment. Practice telling people about your condition and how it affects you, including on your worst days. Your closest family and friends may see this firsthand, but others don’t necessarily understand. This is the ideal opportunity to educate. If you don’t feel able to talk openly, share videos from organizations or YouTubers who have the same condition. There may also be celebrities living with the same illness or disability, which can be a great way to prove to yourself and others that your condition needn’t negatively impact your success and worth.
Even if you have lived with a condition for many years, there will still be days when it can get you down, however hard you try to keep a positive mindset. If you are struggling, be gentle with yourself – tomorrow is a new day.
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