Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Crohn's Tips - Part 4: The Emotional Side of Crohn's

Crohn's Tips Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Physical
Part 3: Intellectual
»Part 4: Emotional
Part 5: Spiritual
Appendix: Crohn's Tips: Food

The emotional effects of Crohn's can often be just as devastating as the physical ones, and a diagnosis is scary and confusing for many people. Fear about treatments and outlook, uncertainty about what your future will hold and embarrassment about the effects and symptoms all jumble together and can hit a new Crohn's sufferer hard. This is a challenging disease, made harder by a stigma surrounding bowel diseases that is thankfully starting to be lifted. People are becoming more open and honest about the conditions they suffer with and those around us are becoming more understanding of the various ailments and disabilities that affect their friends, coworkers and neighbours. While Crohn's Disease can hit you emotionally like a ton of bricks, there is good news and hope- starting with the fact that Crohn's is not a terminal disease, it is treatable and manageable and you can still live a happy, productive life.

The first step to dealing emotionally with Crohn's is to gather a support network of loved ones and professionals around you. Step two is to take charge of your situation by learning and following treatment plans. Step three is to make sure you are viewing your situation realistically and not losing sight of all your blessings under the shadow of this new looming problem.

You can do it. There are many people living dynamic and happy lives even with a diagnosis of Crohn's Disease. Take football player David Garrard, he was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease in 2004 and it has not put a stop to his career as quarterback for the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars. You can't get much more active and challenging than football. Stories like his are everywhere. Ask around and you'll often find stories of friends of friends who have Crohn's Disease or Ulcerative Colitis and more often than not, these people made it through their treatments and are doing well. The number one tip for the emotional side of coping with Crohn's is that you are in control of your own frame of mind. You can choose to be dire and depressed or you can choose to be positive and determined. Staying positive also reduces stress and anxiety- big aggravators of the disease.

Here is a list of specific tips and things to think about.
  • Turn To Loved Ones. The people you love are an enormous source of help, support, encouragement and even distraction. Make sure your friends and family know what you are going through and don't be afraid to be frank about your need for a shoulder to cry on, an ear to vent to, or just a encouraging presence. You would be surprised how willing people will be to help you. Helping others feels good and strengthens relationships. You can also stay alert for opportunities when you can return the favour by helping someone during their time of need. Many studies show that individuals with good support networks have shorter recovery times and report less severe symptoms.
  • Socialize. It's so deceptively easy to become a recluse when you aren't feeling well. You try to hide your suffering, fearing the opinions of others, or maybe you're trying to protect loved ones from worrying about you. Maybe you don't want to be a bother or don't want to request that the group eats at a restaurant that you can handle. Maybe you're just miserable and want to be left alone. Shutting the world out is a bad idea. The support of friends and family is vital, and a lot can be said for the welcome distraction and lift that a casual social engagement can involve. Suggest something appropriate to how well you feel, even if it's just a low key gathering at someone's house. At the very least, get on the phone and keep in touch. You don't have to go into details when people ask how you're doing, a short answer will suffice and you can politely avoid any personal questions you don't want to answer. The point is, stay connected. Loved ones are a life-line, in more ways than one.
  • Observe Yourself. Keeping an eye on your own emotions can be a source of encouragement and also help you catch yourself if you start to sink into a depression. I have found that keeping a personal journal is very therapeutic- it allows me to see how far I've come, recall things I've vowed to do when I feel better, catch myself being too self critical, and recall times when I had a lot of fun. It can be very helpful to pour out your feelings, raw and uncensored, to a journal which won't judge you. It can also help you emotionally prepare for things like surgeries or to hash out what's been bothering you. If journaling doesn't appeal to you, try setting aside a few minutes each day or each week for some self reflection. Make sure you aren't losing site of the big picture and all the great things you also have in your life.
  • Live When You Can. One of the most emotionally difficult things to deal with when going through a Crohn's flare up, is how it changes your life. You become physically unable to do the things you want to do or are used to doing, and you lose a lot of your independence and have to lean on loved ones for physical and emotional support. One of the most important things you can do for yourself, is to remember to do all those things you couldn't do, now that you feel well. Repay the kindness others have shown you, get out and move, exercise, vacation, make the most of the times when your disease is in remission or being managed. It's too easy to lament your inability to go outside for a bike ride when you aren't feeling well, and then get too busy or distracted to do it when you're well. Have no regrets, so you aren't cursing yourself during your next flare. This doubles as a physical tip, but the emotional benefits can't be overstated.

NOTICE: My full Crohn's Tips series will be updated and released as a free PDF e-guide soon. Check back to this blog for a post about it's release.

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  1. Hi Bright Side,

    Re: socializing and counting on loved ones: I've found no physical support groups for Crohn's in my area (metro Philadelphia, PA, USA). In lieu of that, I have your blog and a few others that I turn to. I was wondering if you had any outlets (support groups, etc) in Canada? I think it's a shame there aren't more, but I should check with the CCFA.

  2. *sigh* Yeah, one of the first things I did after I got officially diagnosed was I called up my local CCFC chapter contact and asked about that. But no, they don't have any support groups in my city either (but we're much smaller than Philadelphia!). They do have chapter meetings but that is mainly about fundraising and awareness endeavours.

    So yeah, I do find my fellow bloggers to be a kind of support (thanks for your compliment- I'm glad my blog helps!). I have also been trying to organize a private, online chat between my fellow Crohn's bloggers and any other sufferers who are interested, but I only got one person interested (Jenni http://jennisguts.blogspot.com/).

    If you're interested too... I'll start looking into it again. I already had a chat program installed on one of my websites where I can host it- so even people who don't use MSN or whatever can be involved.

    Send me an email... if your interested in something like that and I'll see if Jenni and anyone else would like to join us for a scheduled chat. (brightsideblogger at gmail )

    *hug* I know this is such a scary thing to go through. Sometimes it just helps to talk to someone who REALLY knows what you're going through!


  3. Let me know when and I'll make myself available for chatting to help anyone with Crohn's! Just let me know!
    This is a great post...very important aspect of dealing with Crohn's. Thanks Brighside!!

  4. Hi BrightSide,

    I'll definitely be up for chatting once we have a little group going. I know there are others out there besides you, me and Jenni! Great idea!!

  5. Hi, Any new tips for support groups in N.Y.C. and diet for Crohns? Also, how about the psoriasis and crohns connection.

  6. Hi, I don't really know anything about NYC. But your idea about a post regarding psoriasis is a good idea. I have Chrohn's and my brother has Psoriasis. Also, I have a co-worker with Psoriasis and her brother has Crohn's! So the connection seems pretty common to me. I will add that to list of ideas for future posts! Thanks.