By Erin Ard
Recently, I've been learning about the many strong women who have made a difference in this world. Those who have lead movements, progressed research, fought their adversity, spoke their truth, and lived their life with passion. In honor of #WomensHistoryMonth, I've been trying to find what this means for me. A single, white, cisgender woman with a voice, a mild physical disability, and a latent identity. What do I have to say?
I've been doing a lot of reflecting lately about what I can offer the #IBD community. I've been trying to think of what tips and/or tricks I live by that could make your day to day life easier. I explored my reflections but I sadly couldn't come up with many. Then I was kindly reminded of something. Though I have lived this fight with Crohn's for some time, I am still amidst my own journey. I might not have the answers because I haven't resided long enough in this level of comfort, which seems to grow every day. I am still figuring out how to catch up from the emotional setbacks Crohn's disease has caused for me and it's okay if you are too. Welcome friend! We can figure this out together.
In truth, I have had a lot of interesting experiences I could speak to, but today I will settle on one I've learned a lot about lately. #Dating.
While this topic might not be central to the life of an IBD patient, it has the potential to really impact our self-esteem and mess with our emotions. I can't say I have extensive experience with dating or have ever made it to the "sweet spot" (when you get past the "What are we?" stage and finally make it official). However, since I've been out of the game I've been using time to learn. I've subscribed to a few newsletters and watched way to many "How To" videos! How to get the man of your dreams, How to not push him away, How to get him back, How to.. How to.. It sounds silly, but it has been SO eye-opening! What was a topic I had zero input in, I now have a LOT to say about.
It's a little humorous how much we struggle over the little things in dating that should be easy. For instance, figuring out how to say the right things or act a certain way to keep someone's interest. I've realized the less we worry about these trivial things, the more successful we could be. You might be thinking, worrying "less" is easier said than done, but shouldn't being our natural selves rather than putting on a façade be the easy part?
This is just one of the many revelations I've had recently about how intuitive the dating world is and how easy we can make it work in our favor. As a woman with Crohn's disease I've had other challenges to contemplate, like how to talk about having a chronic disease to someone I barely know and how to phrase positively so I don't look like damaged goods. Because in reality, we have all learned tremendous strength with having IBD so there is no need for anyone to think this about us.
IBD is a multi-facetted disease that touches many parts of our life. It impairs some of our basic every day functioning, like being able to sit for extended periods of time without needing to use the bathroom. Personally, Crohn's disease has transformed how I go about my day. I've had to make necessary changes for my health, learn to accept my limitations as they are, or find the motivation and means to push past them.
Well, here it is my little ladybugs! Here is what I have learned about dating AND dating with IBD.
First, open up about your IBD when you feel comfortable.
Opening up about your life with IBD can get pretty personal and you might not want to get too personal too quickly. If your date asks you questions about having IBD, be honest, but don't feel pressured to divulge all your deep emotional baggage. Ultimately, deciding when you should talk about life with IBD is up to your comfort level. If you are comfortable with someone and trust their compassion, then feel free! Getting close to someone emotionally is all about balancing each other's efforts. If they give a little, you give a little and vice versa.
Opening up about your life with IBD is different for everyone. Some people are entirely comfortable with airing out their experiences, while others may be hesitant. Some people dwell on the negative, while others would rather focus on positive. It may be easier for others, but we don't need to criticize ourselves for how behind we may feel. Rather we should accept where we are, honor how far we've come, and progress at our own pace.
Second, cancelling a date doesn't have to be a headache if you are charismatic.
Dating is stressful enough and when you add IBD into the mix it can get complicated.
Imagine this: You met someone who seems perfect! They are family-oriented, charming, sensitive, and cute. You are really excited about getting to know them so you set up a date. You talked them into touring the art museum downtown and getting ice cream afterwards. But, you wake up the morning of feeling a little off. Maybe that handful of popcorn at the movies last night wasn't the best idea.. You forgot how much popcorn can set you back and you've been reaping the consequences all morning. So, what do you do?
When you have IBD, situations like this can happen often. This has happened to me quite a few times since I always forget how much my body loathes popcorn. Although my dates were never this adorable!
So, say your date doesn't understand your situation and you aren't comfortable with sharing that part of you yet. If the person is as great as you make them out to be, then they will understand if you need to cancel. Even so, there are ways to cancel a date that won't reflect poorly on your interest. Here is my personal tip, whether you decide to tell them the truth minus the details (you aren't feeling well) or make up a believable excuse (you have an assignment to finish), be cute about it! Tell them you won't be able to do tonight and add something playful, like Hey, I don't think I can meet tonight anymore. Any way we can reschedule for Thursday? I promise I'll make it up to you ;)
This way you still convey interest, make the cancellation pleasant, and give them something to look forward to - seeing your cute self :) If you have to cancel many times, it probably won't continue to work in your favor. You have to figure out what you want to tell the person. If they don't respect that some actions are difficult for you, then they probably weren't the one for you anyways. You deserve someone AS amazing and understanding as you.
Third, it's all about being confident.
If you think about it, what kind of personalities are YOU attracted to? Those who seek out gratification for their insecurities or individuals who are comfortable with themselves and radiate positivity?
Here is my personal tip on getting started with confidence. Practice talking about how IBD affects you. Have this conversation with yourself, open up, be honest and focus on what value it has brought to your life. For me, having Crohn's has brought me closer to my family and friends, it has taught me strength and perseverance, and has given me a purpose. Since being diagnosed I have focused on my overall health and sought out knowledge to help others be healthy and embrace their whole self.
The notion of confidence became more inviting for me once I realized it can be learned. Being confident is an attitude and it is relatively easy to implement if you are proactive in changing your mindset.
I hope this article can help shift your perspective of dating with IBD to a positive headspace. If you take one thing away from this, I want you to know the key to successful dating is knowing and appreciating yourself. Once you learn how to do this, all of the tedious details we tend to wrap ourselves in won't seem as unmanageable. I can't say enough about how the simple act of being compassionate with myself has helped me grow. I hope to become as strong as the women I've been learning about this month and to pass this strength to all of you.
Each of us is strong in our own way. IBD challenges us to be even stronger.