Your body is fighting for you every day — and that’s an incredible thing.
Receiving a diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a daunting experience that can cause a variety of intense emotions:
- relief, because you finally have answers for what’s causing your symptoms
- confusion, because you don’t know what that means for your future
- anger, because you feel like your body has failed you
- fear, because it’s a disease that can completely change your life
An IBD diagnosis can make you feel like you’re in a foreign body. In a way, it’s a “new” body that takes time to get used to. There are so many changes that could come with it, like weight gain or skin issues from steroids, sores from Crohn’s disease, excessive weight loss, and in severe cases, major surgery.
Every emotion that you feel after getting an IBD diagnosis is completely valid. It’s OK to be angry at the world and think, “why me?” It’s OK to be angry at your body. It’s OK to feel like your body has failed you.
There’s no right way to come to terms with learning you have a bowel disease, but there are some strategies that might help you do so — and to learn to love your body along the way.
It’s easier said than done, but acceptance is an important part of taking control over your body when you feel your diagnosis has a hold of it.
A chronic illness isn’t something that can be accepted in a day, but when you have the correct diagnosis, there’s no going back. From that moment on, however, you can choose where you go with it.
Coming to terms with your diagnosis is a good way of making peace with your body, and the first step toward moving forward with your life.
Hear me out: Lists can be a great resource when it comes to affirmations.
Make a list of all the things you like about yourself, not just physically.
Really take a look at who you are, and point out the things that make you a good person. Then, make another list of all of the things you want to do despite having an IBD diagnosis.
Keep both lists on your phone, the first to take out whenever you’re feeling down, and the second for when you need motivation. Sometimes, it can be that little lift you need to get you through a bad day.
Whether that’s perfecting a makeup look, curling your hair, treating yourself to the dress you’ve wanted for ages, or getting a new tattoo or piercing, don’t let your diagnosis stop you from doing the things that make you feel confident.
Beyond cosmetic things, if you have always been an avid runner or gym enthusiast, don’t let your IBD stop you.
Yes, things might be a little different and if you’re flaring, you’ll have to take it easy, but don’t let your illness stop you from doing the things you love. There are always ways to work around it.
This is both a great way to meet other people going through a similar thing as you, and also a way to help boost your self-esteem.
There are lots of Instagrammers out there with both IBD and stoma bags, who dedicate their account to self-love and helping others feel more confident.
When you’re having an “I hate my body day,” it can be so lifting to see someone with your illness living their best life. Not only is it motivating, but it’s also reassuring to know that it is possible for you, too.
Don’t compare your life to others on Instagram — that’s an easy way to feel terrible about yourself. However, if you’re following helpful accounts that encourage you to love your body, chronic illness or not, take in the words and try to remind yourself of them when you’re struggling.
Talking to a therapist is a healthy way of looking after your mental well-being, opening up about difficult thoughts and emotions, and getting a reality check.
It’s always good to speak to someone you trust, but sometimes it can be difficult to talk to friends or family who either don’t get it or say the wrong thing. They try their best, of course, but a therapist is trained to help you and will do it with professional approaches.
It may help you to open up about how IBD has affected you, both physically and mentally, and how it has made you feel about and toward your body.
It’s both a relief and a chance for someone to help you manage these thoughts, and teach you techniques for dealing with them.
Self-care doesn’t just mean a bubble bath or a bar of chocolate (though both are great ideas). It’s also about making healthy choices, saying “no” to things you don’t want to do, and not beating yourself up.
One form of self-care is challenging your negative thoughts. Every time a negative thought enters your mind, try to counteract it with a positive one.
Rest when you need to, and remember that you are living with an illness, so you need to take extra care of yourself, and take it easy when your body tells you to.
Sure, you have IBD. But it is a part of you, it is not all of you. It can be hard to remember that when you’re in the middle of a flare-up and you feel like your disease is ruining your life, but you have your own identity beyond your chronic illness.
Don’t forget all of your likes and dislikes. Don’t forget the things that make you happy. Don’t forget all of the wonderful things you have done, and still do. Don’t forget your passions. Don’t forget everything that makes you, you.
Self-love takes time and can be hard to conquer. There will be days where you feel down and want to hide from the world. It’s unfortunately a normal part of living with IBD. But loving your body can also become a normal part of it, too.
Your illness is not your identity and you are worthy of loving your body. While it can feel unwell, it is also doing a great job of keeping you here with us. It’s fighting for you every day — and that’s an incredible thing.
Hattie Gladwell is a mental health journalist, author, and advocate. She writes about mental illness in hopes of diminishing the stigma and to encourage others to speak out.