With the turn of every new year, there’s a predictable pattern. People start making their New Year’s Resolutions and plan to begin their new activities (or stop the old ones) at the turn of the year on January 1st. Many of the resolutions center around losing weight, eating better, stopping smoking, or exercising more. However, are these the things that people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are most concerned with? Better health for those that live with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis might include resolutions that go beyond the focus of what healthy people consider at the start of a new year. I have some suggestions for those that live with IBD who are looking to make resolutions for themselves this year.
- Acknowledge Your IBD. IBD is something you have, not something you are. However, you still need to accept the diagnosis as a part of your life. This doesn’t mean tolerating the inevitable flare-ups and letting them run your life. What it does mean is knowing that periods of active disease will come and go and that IBD needs to be proactively managed throughout your lifetime. You deserve high-quality care and you and your physicians should be working together to create your path to remission. The reality of IBD is unpleasant at times, there’s no denying that, and it’s better to acknowledge this part of your life and work towards bringing yourself to overall better health.
- Be Kind To Yourself. It does seem odd that we need to be reminded to be gentle with ourselves. Practicing self-care and self-compassion is going to be a larger part of your life than it is for those who don’t live with chronic illness. Living with IBD is hard. It’s good to admit that and get it out in the open. Now that the difficulty has been named and known, it’s time to let your inner voice be the one that treats you gently. You didn’t cause your IBD. You don’t give yourself flare-ups. You are doing the best you can with a difficult diagnosis and remember to tell yourself that from time to time.
- Stay On Your Treatment Plan. People with IBD have a bit of a reputation for not sticking to their treatment plan. The reasons for this are not hard to understand: the medication options we have available to us come with drawbacks. Insurance snafus are real and it’s easy to forget to take medications when they are dosed several times a day. Nutrition is a minefield of misinformation and patients often find themselves navigating diet without the help of a dietician. Whatever your treatment plan is, you are going to give yourself the best chance of success if you stick with it. We all have the times when we lapse on diet or exercise or forget to take a med, but that’s the time to remember my #2 resolution above, forgive yourself, think about resolution #1, and get back on track.
- Keep Your Appointments. It’s super tempting to skip doctor appointments. Who really needs another colonoscopy, right? When you’re feeling well, especially, not seeing a doctor sounds like a really good idea. But consider this: when you’re feeling well with your IBD, that is the time to address other issues such as mental health, sleep, sexual health, and career or school concerns. Your physicians can help you with so many more aspects of your life than medications. Every appointment is an opportunity to grow in your knowledge of IBD and to better your quality of life. When you think about it like that, keeping those appointments seems like a chance to create more space for living the kind of life you want and deserve.
- Tell the Truth More Often. Do people ask you how you are because you live with IBD? And do you say “fine” when you’re really not fine? Do you sweep some symptoms (like feeling depressed or experiencing incontinence) under the rug when you see your doctors? It’s time to come clean. When friends or family ask you how you’re doing, let them in so that they can better support you. When your doctors want to know how you’ve been feeling, that’s the time to get the help you need and deserve. This isn’t complaining: it’s making space for the realities of living with IBD and allowing your village to really see what your needs are and to help you address them. We can’t fight our IBD alone, it’s just too big for one person by themselves. You’re doing a great job, but you deserve support and it’s time to let those who care about you supply it.