It’s natural to develop anxiety in a variety of situations with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. You begin to have questions that begin with “What if…” and in a short amount of time, that list of what if’s can grow so long that you end up staying home to avoid any potential difficulties.
But there’s a problem with that — and it’s that, it’s how people socialize these days, so if you stay home, you risk alienating yourself. Before you know it, that one time you stayed in becomes five, 10, 20 or more times that you’ve avoided going out. We do that because it’s easier. Staying home is safe and comfortable.
At the same time, missing out on being with our friends is a real bummer. We see photos or check-ins on social media — it’s hard to see those updates knowing that you could have been there. Eventually, those feelings can overwhelm and sadden you. It’s not healthy to cut yourself off from socializing.
What can we do?
We have to step out of our comfort zone and eat out with our friends and family. The keywords I used are “friends and family.” These people know what you go through and tend to handle your Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis in a similar way that you handle it. You just need to have the confidence to know you will be OK. This can be challenging, but we need to allow ourselves to grow and learn how to deal with our disease.
This means that if you are confident, secure, and open about your inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), your friends and family will likely be supportive and do what they can so you are able to join them. If you are upset, depressed, and closed off about your IBD, they won’t know how to help you, so it leaves them little opportunity to include you comfortably.
When you go out to eat with IBD, remember that you don’t have to dive head first into an uncomfortable situation. You can start slowly and ease your way into it — going only to places you want to with the people you want. Here are a few easy tips to follow when going out with IBD:
1) Surround yourself with understanding people: If you are like me, you have different friend groups, some of which you are closer to than others. Start with the friends you are closest and most comfortable with. These are the people who will be happy that you are out with them at all — they can be very encouraging.
2) Be open about what you need: When you begin to go out with the people you’re comfortable with, be open about what you need. This might be a certain type of food that you can tolerate and a place that has accessible bathrooms. The list of what you need might be longer than just those two to start, but share what you need because there are always restaurants to go to.
3) Plan your day: Everyone with IBD has worried about going out to eat, so what do we do? We don’t eat. If we don’t eat, there is less chance of pain and less chance of needing the bathroom. But we don’t need to starve ourselves for the entire day. If you are going out for dinner, plan your meals for the day and make sure you eat food that you know works with your system. If needed, take anti-diarrhea medicine on an empty stomach before you go out. It works best taken an hour before you eat.
4) Ease your way into going out: You don’t have to sit down for a five-course meal with your friends the first time you go out. Start slow and build up your confidence. Maybe go out for a frozen yogurt or something small first, then move on to appetizers, before graduating to a dinner that you are confident about.
5) Learn to say NO: A big problem with IBD is that everyone thinks they understand it. We’ve all heard “Oh, that’s like a stomach bug right?” Wrong. No matter what anyone says or thinks, you know your body better than anyone. If they offer you a piece of food, to share a plate, or anything else, you can say no. Eat what you are comfortable with and say no to anything you aren’t.
6) Ask for the bathroom location early: Every restaurant has different bathrooms. I’ve even been to men’s bathrooms that don’t have doors on the stalls, which is especially nerve-wracking when you go to the bathroom with an ostomy. Do some research, even if you have to go to a restaurant and check out the bathrooms ahead of time. The last thing you want is to run to a bathroom that only has one stall and a long line. Or worse — not knowing where it’s located. Suggest a place to eat that has good bathrooms but also isn’t overly crowded.
7) Be mentally prepared for anything: Something I’ve learned is that adversity makes you a stronger person and, if you can, deal with the worst situations with strength and grace. Everything will be OK. I’ve been out in public when I’ve had an accident before my ostomy or a leak after my ostomy surgery. It can be HORRIFIC. We just have to take a deep breath and deal with the situation as it unfolds. I’ve had to walk up to my friends and tell them, “I’m really sorry, we need to go now.” You know what they’ve said when that happens? “OK, let’s go and get you taken care of.” Be calm, handle the situation, and then regroup once you have the time to reflect and figure out what happened. Once you have done that, hopefully you can fix the problem and enjoy the next time you go out.
8) Don’t miss out: Even if you have a bad experience, it doesn’t mean that it will happen every time. You only live once. You don’t want to miss out on living this life and being with your friends and family. Learn from mistakes, problem solve, and continue to go out.
In the end, we need to do what is right for us. If you are flaring, not feeling well, and in pain, just be open about it and let those around you know that tonight isn’t the night, but that you will be joining them next time you feel up to it. However, if you are feeling well or even just OK, it might be time to figure out a game plan and venture out, even if it is just for a little while. Who knows. In time you might just realize that going out and eating with friends is more doable than you thought.