IBD support network

Although inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a very personal issue, your family, friends and colleagues are there to support you. Although discussing your illness can be daunting, it is a necessary for all IBD sufferers to build up a strong support-network comprised of family and friends. Here are some things to consider:

A ‘need to know’ basis

There’s no need to post on Facebook that you have an IBD (unless you want to!). But it is a good idea to tell those closest to you, so you can lift some weight off your shoulders. A good yardstick for who to tell would be to ask yourself the question: ‘Is it going to make my life, or theirs, easier if I tell them that I have IBD?’

Your partner and/or immediate family members would normally be the first people to know, followed by close friends you can trust. But there are also those who aren’t necessarily ‘special’ to you, yet whom it might be advisable to keep in the loop. Your boss, for instance, could benefit from understanding your condition, as you naturally spend a lot of time at work.

Essentially, you’re trying to decide if your relationship with that person is dependent on them being privy to your new diet, lifestyle, restrictions and concerns.

Set your personal boundaries

When you tell someone about your IBD, be sure to discuss the privacy of your condition. Are you okay with them talking to others about your condition? Or would you prefer to decide that for yourself? Considering that 1 in 250 Australians aged between 5–49 years have IBD, you have nothing to be ashamed of,1 but you should know that it is a personal issue that doesn’t need to be discussed with everyone you meet.

A sense of humour goes a long way

Being able to laugh at the situation can make discussing your IBD a little easier. Humour is a very useful tactic to cut through awkwardness and misinformation. Yes, your IBD is going to impact your life and, to a lesser degree, those around you. But like anything, being able to joke about it can help alleviate some of the emotional tension you may experience in those early weeks. Besides, everyone loves a fart joke.

Everyone’s different

Be aware that different people will react to your condition in different ways. Some people will be very supportive, while others may need some time to absorb what you’ve told them. And that’s totally OK, we all react to things in our own way.

Join a community

Sharing experiences with others and seeking advice from those who’ve gone through similar situations can help you feel supported and reduce feelings of isolation and stress. There are large IBD communities both online and offline, comprised of patients and their families sharing stories and seeking support from each other. The people in these communities have also been on the IBD rollercoaster. They are willing to share advice or provide a shoulder to lean on if you might need it.

Reference: 1. PricewaterhouseCoopers. Improving inflammatory bowel disease care across Australia. 2013. Available at www.crohnsandcolitis.com.au/site/wp-content/uploads/PwC-report-2013.pdf (accessed 18 July 2017).