To say life can be difficult with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis is an understatement. There are times when inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can take over a person’s life, not only physically but mentally too. Because we are taught at such a young age to not discuss what happens behind the bathroom door and anything associated with it, many IBD patients have trouble talking about their disease and symptoms.
This can leave us feeling extremely alone, and even though we might know that we aren’t, we distance ourselves for a variety of reasons. We don’t want to be a burden, we don’t want to bring down anyone’s mood, we don’t want to have people adjust to us, and more. With all of these thoughts going through our heads, the mental battle with an IBD is often harder than the physical battle.
As patients, we need to try everything we can to learn how to deal with our disease, and hopefully do what we can to not let it control our lives. This includes doing what we can to deal with our disease in a more proactive way on the mental side of it as well. And one of the best things about working on the mental health side of IBD, is that when a breakthrough is made, the physical side of the disease can get better.
So what can you do? How can you take a more proactive approach to your mental health with IBD?
For years, mental health professionals have worked with their patients to change their mindsets through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The principle is, if you change your mindset, you will change your life. But that isn’t always possible. In fact, many situations, particularly when it comes to IBD, are so complicated or challenging that attitude adjustments alone won’t solve the problem.
There is a fairly new kind of CBT called dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, which approaches mental health challenges a little differently. It’s a multistep approach that goes beyond trying to change a patient’s mindset and involves a psychosocial approach, working on how patients interact with others when emotional situations happen.
First, the patients must accept their problem, or in this case, disease. Understanding that these are unfortunately the cards that have been dealt and accepting that life will be different can make living with the disease much easier. Acceptance is something many IBD patients struggle with, but when acceptance is achieved, incredible things can happen.
Second, the patient must take a proactive approach to creating steps to change their lives for the better. When a patient looks at their disease and where their life has taken them, they can probably easily define some things that they can work on. Once they list a few areas they want to make improvement in, actions can be taken.
This can be a road map for accepting Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. The idea is, by taking positive action steps while accepting the disease at the same time, can yield even better results and massive change in a patient’s life, in a much shorter time than just changing their mindset.
Next time you’re feeling a little down, having a flare, and thinking life can’t get any worse, think about what you’ve been through, how it’s made you a stronger person, and then accept your disease while beginning to take positive action. You might be amazed as to where it can take you.
Brian Greenberg was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 11. His freshman year of college, he began a roller coaster ride of flares, hospitals stays, major surgeries, and more, with brief breaks of good health. After having an ostomy surgery 6 years ago, making it permanent 3 years ago, he is happy with his quality of life and enjoys helping others with their health journeys. When his health cooperates, he enjoys triathlons, hiking, climbing, skiing, and more.