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Why These 4 Assumptions About Inflammatory Bowel Disease Are Wrong

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Labels are hurtful, especially if you are chronically ill, and it is important to be aware of the way you see us.

1. “You’re a slow walker.”

I can guarantee you we are doing our best to not hold up the crowd behind us. It hurts to walk sometimes, especially with certain conditions like multiple sclerosis or fibromyalgia. So, stop giving glares to people who, by limping, are “blocking you.” You who stand behind us only see a faceless back. You don’t see us wince or grimace when we walk. Therefore, you are in no position to judge. Just know we’re doing our best to move as fast as we can. Bear with us.

2. “You should try these top five foods that will totally cure your illness.”

Thanks for the advice, but this is misguided information. Fruits and veggies cannot single-handedly defeat chronic illness. It’s just impossible to only use vitamin A supplements to “cool the fire” (as one ad said) inside of me. That’s just ridiculous. There is a reason why so many medications have been developed. You’re disruptive. Going to the bathroom is medically necessary for me, so I need to go. And no, I am not meandering the halls when I make a trip to the toilet because diarrhea does not allow me the luxury to dawdle.

3. “You need to overcome your illness!”

In life, we like to overcome obstacles and be done with them. Unfortunately, chronic illness is meant to stay forever, so there is no overcoming. It is a lifelong learning process, hence the word “chronic.” Disease never leaves me; there will always be more hurdles to leap over. Even though I wrote about my disease triumphantly on my college essay, that was far from the case. It is really more of an emotional semi-triumph. There are many unanswered questions left. For example, how am I going to manage my inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in college? Will it ever come back again?

4. “You look fine to me.”

“You’re not sick, so stop faking it.”

I asked a gym teacher if I could use the bathroom while running laps one day. He assumed I was “fine and just slacking off,” so he told me to keep running. Trying to catch my breath, I nodded quietly and tried to keep running. Moments later, we both realized I was far from fine. A simple acknowledgment would have avoided the chain of embarrassment that followed. Everything happens inside of me, so it is unacceptable to assume the status of my health. Most IBD symptoms like abdominal pain and ulceration are invisible. Just by looking at my face, you see none of that. In fact, assumptions are problematic because you may be denying the truth. I am sick. As I have mentioned before, IBD has grave complications, such as depression and peritonitis. So, please do not draw conclusions about me from my look.

A version of this article was previously published on the author’s blog.

Photo by Lui Peng on Unsplash

Originally published: July 10, 2019
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