How to Talk to Your Friends About Your Ulcerative Colitisby Jackie Zimmerman Patient Advocate
Living with a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis (UC), a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), can lead to a lot of embarrassment and, in turn, isolation. That’s why it’s important to keep your support network intact. But sometimes, talking to your friends can be daunting. I’ve put together some helpful tips on how to talk to your friends about your UC, all while keeping your dignity, privacy, and your sense of humor.
Sharing About UC: Keep It High Level at First
Remember how overwhelming it was when you were first diagnosed? Let’s not do that to our friends! When you first start talking to your friends, keep your explanations at a high level so they can understand what’s going on without getting all the nitty gritty details. Hopefully, in the future, you can talk to your friends as much as you feel comfortable, but in the beginning, it helps to make sure your friends aren’t overwhelmed with information so they can understand more easily.
Give Friends the Facts About UC
When I first tell people about my UC, I keep it as factual as possible. It’s easy to get emotional, but when this happens, your audience focuses on trying to make you feel better rather than understanding your condition. Telling someone about your UC is not only a chance to share an intimate part of your life but also a chance to educate and spread awareness. True friends will be there to support you emotionally in the future, but knowing the facts first will help them to better support you.
Treat Close Friends Like Family
When you have a friend you feel comfortable and confident sharing your story with, I’d suggest treating them more like family. What I mean by that is to allow them to feel the magnitude of your diagnosis. Illnesses happen to a whole family, not just one person. Allow close friends to feel sad, anxious, or confused. While your diagnosis is ultimately about you, remember that your friends care about you and this information will likely impact them too. Allow them time to process it.
Don't Be Afraid to State the Obvious About UC
Just to cover your bases, I would make sure to point out to your friends that UC is not contagious and they cannot “catch” it from you. When you’re giving them the facts, you can try to dispel some of the false information about UC while you’re at it. In my opinion, the most important UC myths to debunk would be that there is a cure for UC, you got UC from what you ate, and that it’s “just a pooping disease.” Busting these myths upfront will help your friends better understand your experience.
Be Honest About Your Emotions
While it may help to first share your high-level and factual account of living with UC, that doesn’t mean you then have to lie or hide how it makes you feel on an emotional level. In fact, I think you should be as honest with your friends as you want to be once they understand the basics. Tell your friends if things have been difficult for you. Most importantly, tell them how they can help you.
Learn to Be Vulnerable With Others
In being honest, you are also going to need to be vulnerable. Sharing information about your UC experience can make you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed even among the closest friends. My advice is to lean into those feelings. Tell your friends if it’s hard to share this information with them and let them know that you trust them and your friendship, which is why you’re taking the time to explain your life with UC to them.
Ask for Help When You Need It
My biggest piece of advice is to ask for help when you need it. I spent the first few years after UC diagnosis adamant about doing things on my own, and I really wish I hadn’t. Asking for help can range from “Will you grocery shop for me?” to “Can you just sit on the couch next to me without talking?” When we share our stories with friends, the main thing they want to do is to help. Give them the chance to feel like they are making your life a bit easier in a time when you may feel helpless.
Encourage Questions About UC
I would not only anticipate questions, but I’d encourage them. This goes hand in hand with being willing to educate your friends about your life and UC. Given the subject matter, many people feel uncomfortable asking questions that they feel are too personal, so if you’re comfortable with it, give your friends the permission to ask you questions without judgement.
Try Not to Let Negative Reactions Get to You
If your friend doesn’t react the way you hope, try not to be offended. They may just not know what to say, or they’ll come around in time. But if they don’t, it’s OK to be sad about the loss of that friendship. Just remember: The purpose of telling friends about UC is to build a support team for when you need it, and if a friend bails when you explain your diagnosis, they shouldn’t be part of that team anyway. Consider this a gift to future you, and move forward with those who truly support you.