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How to Break the Ice When Disclosing IBD to Friends

When you live with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), nothing feels more awkward than being with a group of friends that has no clue what you’re thinking: Where the heck is the bathroom?

Honestly, I wonder at least once a day what life is like when you’re not obsessing over toilets. Do people actually live like that? When you’re surrounded by people, it suddenly feels like the biggest, loudest thought in the room. You want to focus on the conversation and fully engage, but 50% of your attention is toward the line forming at the door toward the back. 

Or maybe it’s another scenario — you’ve been struggling for months with unexplained symptoms, and no one knows what’s been going on. You finally have a diagnosis that explains it all, and now it’s time to disclose to the people closest to you. You want to, but the words escape you once you’re sitting down to do it: What will they think? Or ask? Will they even care? Will they even understand? The internal questioning is endless… perhaps the loudest query is, Why not just keep it to myself?

Well, first of all, please don’t keep it to yourself. It’s always up to you when you want to share with someone, but a life with IBD is really isolating if you don’t find that support network.

Second of all, especially when it comes to close relationships — especially romantic ones — I do understand the hesitation on when and how to share your news. It can feel like an uncomfortable conversation, especially if people don’t know what IBD is (although they can probably gather from the name). 

If you’re ready to break the ice but not sure how to crack it, here are some suggestions to consider:

  1. Dedicate a place and time to talk. Having a set time on the calendar can help you have a goal time to prepare for.
  2. Reference past events that are related, if you’re comfortable. For example, “Do you remember that time where I used the bathroom several times at your house?” Relate what you want to share to a time that they may have noticed but didn’t ask about.
  3. Prepare for questions. Chances are that people have at least heard of IBD, Crohn’s, or ulcerative colitis, so they have a basic understanding of what it means. Still, people may still ask clarifying questions to be able to best support you. 
  4. Consider talking about it during movement. It can often be easier to talk about hard things when our bodies are moving. Exercise releases endorphins that can help people feel safer to discuss more. Ask a friend to go for a walk, or, if you’re unable to walk right now, pick something low-key to do at home.
  5. Ask for what you need. Pretty simple, right? But maybe not easily done. However, you’re choosing to tell this specific person or group of people for a reason, which means they mean something special to you. Chances are that you mean something to them too, so if there’s a way they can support you, let them know.
  6. Keep it informative but brief. One of the biggest sources of social anxiety for me is not having an out during a lengthy conversation. That in itself makes me feel like I need to go to the bathroom. When talking about your diagnosis, share what you want to share and find an appropriate time to change the subject when you’re done. This gives you an out to take a break and gives your friends an opportunity to process what you’ve said.
  7. Be honest. I’m a big proponent of being honest and open but not crossing over into venting when it’s not appropriate. Sometimes breaking the ice about IBD should just be about that: breaking the ice to pave the way for future discussions. Be careful not to fall into venting that may overwhelm the audience who just got this new information.

If you’ve recently shared with loved ones, what tips would you add? Please share your advice in the comments.

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