Brian Greenberg is a busy man. He’s no stranger to activities such as mountain biking, skiing, climbing, kayaking, triathlon and more. It’s the profile of an energetic and highly motivated individual, but what makes it more remarkable is that Brian lives with the serious chronic condition Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s disease is just one of many chronic diseases that include diabetes, arthritis, some forms of cancer, kidney disease, and many more. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness results in a range of emotions that include grief, guilt and shame. Attempts at acceptance one day can be followed by anger or dismay the next. It’s a situation that can feel overwhelming and one that is all too easy to lead to stress and depression. A useful coping strategy is to focus attention on the things that are in your control, while accepting there will always be days where this isn’t possible.
By the time he was 21, Brian had been on the receiving end of 13 minor surgeries for infections. By the age of 27, he had two resections, followed a year later by surgery for an ileostomy. In 2014 he underwent a protectomy to make his ostomy permanent.
I know Brian as an IBD Social Ambassador here at HealthCentral. Brian is also founder of the Intense Intestines Foundation and most recently Chronicallybetteryou.com, which aims to help those with chronic conditions get more out of life.
The evidence of Brian’s physical activities is out there for everyone to see, but I wanted to know more about how Brian remains mentally healthy: Below is a Q&A that addresses that question, and more.
HealthCentral: What are some of the most common misunderstandings about Crohn’s that you’ve come across? How do these make you feel?
Brian Greenberg: That Crohn’s disease is just about going to the bathroom more. People don’t understand that it is an inflammatory disease which can impact the entire body. On top of that it’s invisible, so people never know how severe it really is.
HC: When you’re having a bad day, are there things people could avoid saying or doing that might be hurtful, without them even realizing?
BG: “But you look fine” or “Maybe you can just push yourself a little more.” Diseases don’t work that way. There are times when you can push through and there are times when your body just says NO.
HC: How can people close to you make things a little easier on a day-to-day basis?
BG: Understand that this is a roller coaster ride and if you are close to someone with IBD, you are going to ride it also. There are days when we won’t be able to move, followed by a day we feel like superman. We never know how our body will feel.
HC: What are some of the biggest emotional challenges you’ve encountered? How did you overcome?
BG: Not knowing what a day will be like when I wake up is difficult. There are days when I know immediately that it won’t be a good day but I have to try and get my mind and body moving. To overcome this I have a routine that I try to follow every night to set the following day up and every morning to start the day. It jump starts everything for me. I also love to have a goal on the calendar. It motivates and gives me a purpose each day.
HC: In terms of mental health, what advice would you give someone who has recently been diagnosed with a chronic condition?
BG: Track everything and figure out what works and what doesn’t. The sooner you can create a plan of action on how to deal with your IBD, you’ll be on a better path. Figuring out what foods we can eat and what hours in the day are normally good for us are crucial.
HC: What do men living with IBD need to know?
BG: That it is okay to communicate and be vulnerable these days. We are taught that we need to be tough and never talk about our problems. With the internet now and the way stories of adversity are shown on TV, there is no reason to be quiet and bear the weight on our shoulders. Everyone either has something or has someone close to them that has something. It’s okay to talk about your IBD, fellas.
If you have your own questions for Brian you can contact him directly via his own blog site, briangreenberg.me/ask.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.