Getting Through Major Milestones With Crohn’s
Life in your 20s and 30s is packed with all kinds of changes, from new jobs to new romantic relationships. All these first-time experiences can be both exciting and stressful for anyone—but especially when they come on the heels of a Crohn’s disease diagnosis. “When we assume the worst-case scenario, we often feel more anxious,” says Amanda Hyne, L.C.S.W., an IBD social worker at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Try to reframe catastrophic thinking by examining the facts and reminding yourself that you’ve dealt with challenging situations before,” says Hyne. Read on for more expert advice on making new things—after a Crohn’s diagnosis—less nerve-wracking.
First Job Interview
Keep in mind that you don’t have to disclose everything about your health from the get-go. Just like any interviewee, focus on your skillset and what you bring to the table. And remember that finding a new job is a two-way street: “Get a feel for whether this company is a supportive environment for you,” says Megan Riehl, Psy.D., clinical health psychologist and assistant professor in gastroenterology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Questions Riehl says to consider asking during the interview include, “Is there flexibility for time off...or flexibility to work from home?”
First Day at a New Job
“Even if your symptoms are well controlled, it’s normal to feel a little anxious,” says Riehl. “If you’re symptomatic, make sure to bring things that make you feel comfortable.” Stash a bag with wipes, a clean-up kit, Immodium, and a change of clothes in your office, desk, or locker.
And don’t forget to take care of yourself too. “Get adequate nutrition and rest, and pace your schedule before and after work—hold off on intense workouts and rain check happy hour during that first week to really get a sense of where you are physically and emotionally as you start the new job,” recommends Hyne.
Having this medical procedure for the first time may be stressful, but remind yourself that it’s worth it. During the non-surgical procedure a camera passes through your mouth and throat to examine your digestive tract. “Nobody jumps for joy at the thought of an endoscopy, and it might be a bit uncomfortable—but it’s another step toward getting you better and getting you answers,” says Riehl. She suggests asking your doctors lots of questions beforehand, so you feel prepared and less anxious about what to expect. Then go easy on yourself. “Don’t plan to be doing much that day,” Riehl says. “Just make yourself as comfortable as you can.”
First Visit to a New Restaurant
Make sure to check out the menu before you go—or get takeout—and have a few options in mind of dishes you might like and are able to eat. Once you’re there, alert your server if you have allergies or restrictions so you can feel more confident once the food arrives. Hyne recommends creating healthy boundaries and practicing asserting them. Tell the friends, family, or coworkers you’re dining with upfront that you’re looking forward to dinner but can’t stay out for drinks afterward or tell them beforehand that you’ll need to leave by a certain time. “Boundaries can help you enjoy the experience without overexerting yourself,” she says.
Most people don’t offer up a deep dive into all their personal details on a first date, and you don’t have to either. But telling your date that you have a digestive condition and have to be careful about what you eat may help you feel more at ease. Recommending a restaurant or other destination where you know you’ll be comfortable is another smart step, says Riehl. “Don’t forget: If the person is worth your time, they’ll be understanding and compassionate about your condition.”
First Dinner Party
A little openness goes a long way. If you have specific dietary requests, tell the host or offer to bring a special dish yourself. If you’re not feeling well the night of the party, don’t be afraid to be honest, says Riehl. “Sometimes you can’t control things with your health, and that’s okay,” she says. “Ask if you can adjust plans, or just call it a night early if you’re really suffering with fatigue. Allow yourself the flexibility and try not to let yourself feel guilty.”
First Time Traveling
Traveling, even a long distance, can be totally comfortable with Crohn’s if you do a little extra prepping. If you need to bring meds with you, talk to your gastroenterologist about how to appropriately bring them on a plane, says Riehl. Or if you’re driving, give yourself time for breaks and stops, and bring an emergency kit if you’re concerned of a bowel accident.
Try to avoid catastrophic thinking, suggests Hyne; remind yourself that even if your worst-case scenario occurs, you are capable of problem solving in the moment. She recommends calming your nervous system with deep breathing, which can also help prevent exacerbation of Crohn’s symptoms.
First Serious Relationship
It’s important to remember that regardless of their medical status, everyone has quirks and baggage that they bring to a romantic relationship, says Riehl. “This is going to be one of the things you have to introduce to a partner. Try to be open and honest and not to hide symptoms—and you’ll likely find your partner is interested in how they can support you.”
If you’re still struggling with your diagnosis and how to communicate your condition with others, Riehl recommends working with a GI psychologist, who can help you work through your relationship and also provide your partner with advice about how to be supportive.
First Time Living With a New Roommate
“You want to feel safe in your living space, especially if you need to use the bathroom—which is often a shared space—frequently,” says Hyne. She suggests coming up with an elevator pitch about your condition and getting comfortable saying it, then talking openly with your roommate about what Crohn’s disease is and what facts you want him or her to know. “By being upfront, you can help your roommate understand what to expect, prevent assumptions from being made, and receive support when needed or in an emergency,” she explains.