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Crohn's Advice Column

Staying Connected With Friends Isn't Always Easy

Relating to Your Well Friends

I sat wondering how clean the restaurant bathroom might be. How dirty was too dirty? Could I wait until I got home? "Do you have a tissue?" my friend asked, jolting me back to reality. "I think I do," I replied, relieved to rejoin the conversation. I reached into my purse and, with a dramatic flourish of the hand, produced—a hemorrhoid wipe! We laughed as I found the promised tissue for her. The conversation moved to the missed gossip and news of the last few weeks. Fatigue set in and I said good night, feeling like I was leaving just as the fun was about to begin.

Living a life divided

I would speculate that after your very first flare, when life got turned upside down, your re-entry into the well world was divided. Coming back to friendships as a person living with Crohn's disease, you have one foot in the world of health and the other in the land of illness. The border between the 2 changes depending on how you're feeling. (Read more about Crohn’s and your emotions in the Fall 2010 issue of Crohn’sAdvocate magazine.) Although your friends may not always realize this at first, it's important to help them understand how you feel. Remember, they are your friends—they want to know and they want to help you.

Crohn's disease is often invisible or happening behind closed doors. No pink or yellow bracelets acknowledge our daily survival and triumph. While so much of what defines friendship is mutual experience, you now have to deal with many things that your friends don't. It can be very uncomfortable, even if a joke about bodily function is always good for a laugh. This new difference in your life is something your friends probably won't understand right away. Their well-intentioned misunderstanding is something we must try to allow for and gently correct. Just as you need to be kind towards yourself and allow yourself the emotional space you deserve, be kind towards your friends who want to help but may not always know how.

Take the space you need—you deserve it

Whether you have a friend with Crohn's disease or you yourself suffer from it, think for a moment about the kind of language that encircles your experience. Words like bravery, optimism, and positivity come to mind. Maintaining attitudes like these is undeniably a goal in the emotional healing process, but this goal may sometimes make us put pressure on ourselves. We often don't allow ourselves to experience our fear, grief, and anger. We are all susceptible to admiring the sick person "you'd hardly know is sick." We think occasional tears or sad moments can be tolerated as passing moments of necessary release—but sadness is another story. To be clear, I am not recommending depression. But I am recommending that you allow yourself the emotional space you need for the healing process, and that you give your friendships that breathing room as well.

All of us are the same people we were before we got sick, but now we are also people living with Crohn’s disease who are forever changed and forever changing. Although I can offer you no prescription or formula on how to re-engage in your friendships, I can offer the words of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: "All right. Life is sad. But if there is love, see how beautiful life can be."