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How I Got Comfortable Enough to Make Jokes About UC

If there’s one chronic illness that lends itself to some solid (or maybe runny?) jokes about bodily functions, it’s inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). I’ve seen my fair share posted on the socials, and I’ve made my fair share of jokes around friends living with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis (UC). After all, I’ve lived with the latter for 20 years, so in my humble opinion, I feel I’ve earned the right to make light of my condition … in moments where it feels appropriate. And with some company that can receive it.

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But let’s back up; I wasn’t always this way. When I was diagnosed in 2001 at the young age of 14, I had no clue what I was in for. I barely remember the doctor’s words, and all I knew and really cared about was that these large pills kept me in “remission” (another new word to add to my now-lengthy IBD vocabulary). When I got to college, I experienced my first flare-up, and that was definitely not a joking matter. I was dangerously ill, dropping weight quickly, barely eating or sleeping, and going to the bathroom 40+ times a day. Sometimes only blood came out. Once we got that flare under control, I started to seek out additional support for myself. I wanted to actually meet other people living with UC like me, and I wanted to get more involved in the community. I joined Team Challenge, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s endurance training and fundraising program, and my world opened up to so many different walks (and runs) of life all commiserating over the same darn chronic illness. I had found my people.

Between those early years and now, I’ve gotten sick again, battled fluctuating body-image issues, asked for help with my anxiety and depression, gained friends, lost friends, written articles on IBD, given speeches on IBD, attended events to fundraise for IBD, run races for IBD, and done so many other fulfilling things for myself. I kind of on accident branded myself as an “influencer” in the IBD community. People started reaching out to me on Instagram, via email, at group events, or over the phone … all wanting some advice and uplifting words from a fellow UC warrior. 

Many times, I found myself at a crossroads. I’ve since entered a place where I’m very, very comfortable talking about every single aspect of the UC experience and even putting a humorous twist on my story. Some might call it a coping mechanism, but I actually call it light-hearted and relatable. I’ve sat through so many doom-and-gloom meetings and seminars and groups and speeches; I felt the space and conversation needed some tender loving care when it came to lightening the mood a bit.

But how do you know when it’s time to joke and time to be serious? How do you know when jokes will offend and when they’ll make someone laugh really hard? How do you know which parts of the experience are OK to poke fun at and which ones are off limits? The answer is that it depends on the person, the diagnosis, and the event. When I started to find that balance of making them laugh, cry, and feel hopeful all in the same correspondence, I realized I had found my niche. I could be a face of IBD that’s struggling, thriving, laughing, and crying all at once. I could be a person who can hold the space for the serious and also dish the LOLs in the right company. 

If you’re reading this and thinking, Chronic illness is no joking matter ever, I 100% agree with you. Making light of any chronic illness in a way that harms or belittles someone’s experience is never OK. However, making light of some of the isolated moments that happen as a result of IBD, after I’ve given myself space to process them emotionally, is OK. I poke fun at myself to let others feel comfortable with approaching their own experience with a new lens. We all spend so much time living in the darkness of diseases that sometimes a good chuckle is way overdue. Do you agree?

If you’re scratching your head at what things I like to share in a funny way, here’s my go-to list:

  1. One time I was riding my bike to office hours with my college professor, who had decided to fail me after I walked out of the final (well, RAN out of the final) to use the bathroom. I had an accident on campus and debated just showing him my pants to prove my innocence.
  2. Don’t let anyone fool you into spending all those hard-earned pennies on anything more than one-ply toilet paper. Your bottom will adjust.
  3. The most uncomfortable time with UC are those first six months of a new relationship, when you’re desperately holding in gas on literally every date.
  4. On that note, couples who don’t fart in front of each other … I will never understand.
  5. People know IBD as a bathroom disease, and I agree. It definitely is, but half the time I don’t even make it there.
  6. One time I had an accident walking back to my apartment in college. I walked in the front door, you know, ready to beeline to the shower. Of course, my roommate had her entire group of mentees over watching a movie. I “stepped in dog poop.”
  7. Whoever invented rompers clearly doesn’t live with IBD. 
  8. If we’ve ever talked on the phone, chances are I was pooping with you on speaker and mute at one point during the conversation. Yes, this goes for work calls too.
  9. You don’t have TP in your car at all times? 
  10. I’ve been more bloated than what my stomach looked like during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

At the end of the day, it’s always OK to laugh it off. Sometimes it’s all we can do in those moments where we want to scream. And sometimes the side effects are just really, really, really funny. 

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