Have you got ulcerative colitis, or know someone who has?
While the above sounds like the start of an infomercial, I can assure you that it’s not.
Ulcerative colitis (UC) is, is a form of chronic bowel disease that affects (and inflames) your rectum and colon.
The disease produces ulcers in said areas, resulting in bloody, loose stools and painful diarrhoea, stomach cramps, weight and appetite loss. And if left untreated, it can be life-threatening.
So that’s the pleasantries out of the way.
I’ve no shame or embarrassment in saying I have UC and have had it for around 11 years, since the age of 21.
It’s not a pleasant thing to have throughout your 20s but one key thing about living with UC is accepting you have it and to not feel coy about discussing it.
After all, everyone excretes – it’s as natural as breathing – so why the sheepish attitude to talking about bowel disease and poop?
But coping with UC is not simply about managing the disease, it can severely affect your mental health too.
For example, anxiety and depression are heavily associate with having the illness.
Here are seven ways that UC can affect you, and how you can effectively deal with them.
You’re overwhelmed by the diagnosis
It’s very easy to come out of hospital after a diagnosis, with all sorts of meds and lifestyle changes to consider, but there’s nothing in place to address the thoughts running through your head.
It’s a massive bombshell to be told that you’ve an incurable disease, which you need to take pills for, for the rest of your life.
There’s very little mental health assistance during this time of your life. Or at least there wasn’t when I was diagnosed back in 2006.
In fact, not a word was uttered in terms of discussing inner feelings with a counsellor or professional, which left my anxieties and personal thoughts to fester.
Get in touch with Crohns & Colitis UK – they’ll provide some good support and tips on coping with the disease.
It’s too easy to fall into a depressive mindset with UC, especially if your health has been poor for a lengthy period of time.
‘Why me’ or ‘or ‘I’m never gonna be normal and healthy again’ are phrases you’ll notice floating around your thoughts.
The way I see it is, there’s zero point dwelling on or getting upset over how you’ve been singled out.
You haven’t been – UC is more common than you’d imagine. It’s also not a world away from IBS, which loads of people have.
I often come across people who tell me their uncle, or parent, or sister has UC so don’t convince yourself it’s only you suffering.
Yes, you will be OK. You’re having a bad spell, you’re on medication but time and medication will aid your recovery.
You’re worried about other diseases
While it’s true that having UC can increase the risk of getting a number of things including anaemia and bowel cancer, you need to remind yourself not to spend your days worrying about what might happen.
The reality is, if someone – anyone, for that matter – gets cancer there’s nothing the person could’ve done to prevent it.
Similarly, there’s no point worrying about things like going out shopping in case you’re hit by a bus.
My point is, with UC, you cannot spend your life worrying about scenarios that may never even happen.
Remember: flare ups are exacerbated by stress and worry, so do everything in your power to lead a stress-free, well-paced life.
And that does include both your job and personal life.
You’re worrying about how you look
Running to the loo, dehydration, a lack of appetite, and general apathy can take its toll on your body – both on the inside and outside.
When I emerged from hospital after my diagnosis, I’d lost over two stone and wasn’t in the best shape.
Try not to panic about weight and feeling physically good about yourself.
The more you begin to eat – and assuming it’s the right kind of healthy and diet-appropriate foods – the sooner you’ll notice that weight go back on.
Combining it with exercise and gym work, you’ll be feeling good about yourself within months.
You worry about going out
UC sufferers can be serial worriers, especially when having off days or suffering from a flare up.
Unlike people with regular bowel function, when we gotta go we gotta go – sometimes within seconds – so going out can prove stressful when you’re not 100%.
Make sure you know where the loos are and plan your journeys to cover yourself.
If you know there’s a loo nearby then that halves the anxiety in itself.
You’re embarrassed about going to the toilet so much
You’re having a bad week and you’ve dashed to the toilet half a dozen times and it’s not even mid-afternoon.
You know why? It’s because you have a disease and that’s not your fault.
Denying yourself the right to pop to the toilet, constantly beating yourself up for needing to go or upsetting yourself because you have the disease is counterproductive.
Also, when you’re having a flare (and there’s blood and mucus), the old saying of better out than in applies.
You’re ill, which is making you feel even more ill
Everyone’s different and there will be times when you’ll be feeling physically ill, which will affect you mentally too.
Think about it: when you’ve had a cold or the flu and your body’s on the brink, it’s affected how you felt too.
But even when ill, I find going to the gym and keeping fit helps – as does doing productive things around the flat.
You know that euphoric moment you exit the gym a sweaty, tired mess but you feel good about it? Well getting into an exercise routine can really help here.
Working out your abs and core can strengthen the muscles in and around the affected areas and actually benefit you in the long run.