Significant Others and IBD
Even though I started having a few issues with my gut in high school I was fortunate that they didn't affect my day-to-day life. I dated, traveled, went out with friends, did what I wanted when I wanted, ate what I wanted to eat, and generally lived life thought-free.
In my mid-20's I started having a few more gut symptoms pop-up. I couldn't drink more than 2 or 3 alcoholic drinks at a time without risking being up all night on the toilet. And there were times when I'd be struck with overwhelming abdominal pain and nausea that prompted my doctor to prescribe Compazine for me. While it helped the pain I had a very bad reaction to the medication that landed me in the emergency room.
Pretty much, my gut issues were infrequent blips on the radar screen of my life and I just didn't think much of them. That is until about a year after I got married at age 29. If you've read my book, Living with IBD & IBS: A Personal Journey of Success - www.ibdandibs.com - then you know the story I'm about to tell. But for those who haven't read the book, it boils down to this: after being married for a year and moving from Washington, D.C. to the mountains at Lake Tahoe I started experiencing terrible bouts of diarrhea that would last for days and days. I lost my appetite, I lost huge amounts of weight, and all the travel and hiking and road trips and dinners out and journeys with friends became more and more difficult to participate in.
My husband became convinced that us being married was causing the problems and therefore, he must be the problem. It all came to a huge head when I got so sick during a trip to the Caribbean that I could barely get on the airplane to go home. My husband was frustrated, scared, and concerned, but as can happen in times like this he got angry and told me to figure out what was making me so sick or he might actually consider leaving the marriage.
I loved my husband and I knew he was not the cause of my gut issues. But, I did agree with him that the problem was out of hand and I needed answers. When I got back to the States the first thing I did was make an appt. to see a gastroenterologist. Within a month, after many tests, I had the answer I didn't want, but did. I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, just like my dad, and with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, like my mom. I wasn't happy to be diagnosed with a chronic disease, but I was happy to be able to prove to my husband that he wasn't the cause of my problems. Over the next months I learned how to live with my illness. I changed my diet radically, as well as my job, and my lifestyle.
No matter what kind of relationship you're in - dating, living together, or married - changes like this will affect both people. So, while my husband didn't necessarily have to change his diet he did for me. And when my gut would act up when we were trying to go out or travel or have sex, he was able to be more patient because he understood it wasn't him.
The biggest thing we learned from my having IBD and IBS was to communicate well each other. That doesn't mean I sit around all day telling him exactly how I feel, how many times I've pooped, or what it looked like. But what it does mean is he knows that we may have a few false starts when trying to leave the house for a social engagement or a hike or just a walk around the neighborhood. We've learned that the day before, the day of, and the day after any kind of travel tend to be hard on me. So, he is helpful without being overbearing.
We have learned to build in a lot of grey space into our lives. Instead of living in a "yes I can" or "no I can't" world, I, and therefore, we, have learned live in a place of here's-the-plan-but-it-might-have-to-get-altered-or-changed-slightly-at-the-last-minute.
I've heard all too often about relationships that have broken up because one partner can't deal with the other partner's IBD or IBS and how it has affected both of their lives. And there are days when I feel guilty that my husband is now living with someone that he really didn't marry. I didn't have IBD when we were dating and now I do. I realize that it's not just me, but also he, who has had to change our lives immensely. I make it a point to talk about this with him. And typically, when I bring this up and ask him how he's feeling about things he gives something like the following answer:
"I know how hard this is on you and I wish I could make it all go away, but I can't," he might say. "And I also see how you work to live a good life despite the restrictions the IBD can put on you. If you were just to give up and not try, then I might not be so happy. But, you don't give up. You work hard at it every day. And we do many of the things we used to do, just a little differently. And who knows, someday I might end up sick with something that affects your life too. So, it's all give and take."
That's what a relationship is, what a marriage is. It's give and take. Respect. Communication. Never taking the other person for granted.
I love my husband. He is patient, maybe to an extreme. He is caring, because he loves me. And, he is understanding, possibly because he had cancer when he was 18-years-old and knows that everything can change on a dime whether we choose it to or not. I appreciate my husband and all the help and support he gives me and I make it a point to tell him that often. I also make it a point to ask him how he's doing with all my IBD stuff. Because even though he doesn't have to truly care for me physically on a daily basis he is, in a way, a caregiver. So I never forget that IBD doesn't just affect me, but it affects him as well.
I don't doubt that dating with IBD or IBS is difficult. But, there are caring people out there. And when you find that right person who loves you with all your good points and your bad points you'll know it. Any relationship is hard. And IBD and IBS just make a little bit more so. In an odd sort of a way my husband and I both agree that my having IBD and IBS has actually made us stronger as individuals as well as a couple simply because we don't take life for granted anymore. We treasure every good day, week, month, and year.