Living with inflammatory bowel disease can be hard, draining, and absolutely debilitating.
There are many types of IBD, with the two most common Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. While Crohn’s affects the entire gastric system, UC affects the large bowel and rectum – but both can have severe and even fatal consequences.
The constant need to use the toilets is not the only bad part. While yes, this is a common effect, IBD can leave you fatigued, sleeping all day and not having energy to get out of your bed let alone get up, showered, and out of the house.
It can be isolating. You worry about needing the toilet when you’re out and there not being one. It panics you out of wanting to leave the house or go further than half an hour away. Your experiences are lessened because your illness is too unpredictable.
IBD makes you cancel plans, letting people down because your last-minute flare has left you chained to the toilet. Your stomach cramps so badly that not even codeine will touch it and you begin to bleed.
You end up feeling as though your body is restricting you from living your life. And often, sadly, it is.
But things are easier when you have somebody by your side who understands that your illness is not your fault – that it’s a part of you that you can’t help.
It’s made easier when there’s someone who wants to be there to look after and support you. That you’re not a burden. That they love you no matter what. That everything is going to be okay.
As an ulcerative colitis sufferer who has been in a relationship during and after my diagnosis, I know how important it is to have a partner who will go above and beyond to look after you.
My partner stayed with me in hospital after surgery, sleeping on a chair and refusing to leave my side. When I couldn’t eat, he drove to four different stores and restaurants to get me my favourite food to help get my appetite back up.
He made me feel great about my body after it was covered in scars, and just two days ago he proved that even after four years together, he’s still willing to look after me, by washing and drying my hair and sorting out all of my medication because fatigue had left me too tired to hold up a hairdryer.
It may have been a small gesture but it was one I hugely appreciated.
You don’t need a partner to deal with IBD. I don’t need my partner to look after me, I can look after myself – as can most other people who live with the illness. But it’s lovely to have someone around who I know will love and care for me through thick and thin.
I know I’m not alone in having a partner who will do this.
And so, to all of those people who are loving and caring for someone with IBD, thank you. Not for loving them, but for not giving up on them.
Thank you for being there when they need you most and understanding that often, due to it being an invisible illness, it won’t always be obvious when you are needed.
Thank you for not walking away when your partner is having a bad day.
Thank you for making your partner feel good about themselves even when the illness takes the life out of them.
Thank you for being a shoulder to cry on.
Thank you for understanding that the illness is unpredictable and can be restrictive – and not getting angry when your partner can’t make those plans you were looking forward to.
Thank you for those times you were willing to stay in with a cheesy movie and your partner’s favourite junk food because you knew they were too fatigued to leave the house.
And finally, most importantly, thank you for making your partner believe that their illness doesn’t make them unworthy of love.
So many people living with the illness believe this. So many convince themselves that their illness will be ‘too much’ for someone to take on. But this is not the case – and those sticking by partners living with IBD are proof of this.
They are proof that there are decent people out there who will love you unconditionally.
They are proof that the illness is just that – an illness. It doesn’t consume you or make you who you are.
They are proof that despite the restrictions, you can still lead a normal, happy life with IBD.
Thank you, to all of those people proving the above. To all of those people who make people like me feel good about themselves when physically they’re feeling at their worst.
And finally, thank you for reminding us all that beyond the fatigue, the pain and the isolation, there is a mountain of love waiting for us. There’s no better light at the end of what once seemed to be a very dark tunnel.