How to Tell Your Friends About IBD

Telling a new friend, or even an old one, about a chronic condition like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can be difficult. It's an embarrassing and personal subject that neither of you are likely to be comfortable with. But if you take time to think about who, why, when, how, and where you will share your problems with your friends, it can bring you closer together.

Two women talking outside on a wicker couch

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Decide Who to Tell

Decide if you do need to tell this person. Every acquaintance and business associate does not need to know. You'll want to know a new friend for a time (at least a few months) before sharing something so personal. Close friends may already suspect or know there is a problem, and are taking their clues on when to talk about it from you. This person should be trustworthy and should be able to keep your condition in confidence if you ask them to.

Think About Why You Want to Disclose

Think about the reasons your friend needs to know about your IBD. Is it because you need to share with someone? Or perhaps you're spending a lot of time together, and they have noticed that you feel ill sometimes? Are they asking questions about your diet, your health, perhaps your weight (if you've lost some)? Be honest with yourself about your reasons.

Pick a Time

Decide if your friend is ready to hear about your problems. Everyone has difficulties in their life. If you tell your friend while they are already dealing with their own problems, they may not be as compassionate as they would during a calmer time in their life. It's not that you're going to burden someone by telling them about IBD. But you have to be considerate of other people's problems, even though you have major ones of your own.

Pick a Place

A crowded, busy restaurant or a movie theater is not the place. You'll want some quiet, private place where the two of you can talk uninterrupted for as long as you need.

Think About How You Want to Have the Conversation

Pick a quiet moment with just the two of you. You may want to tell several friends at the same time, especially if they knew you before your diagnosis. But if you do it one-on-one, you and the other person can give each other your full attention, without the distractions of other people or a group dynamic.

Start the Conversation

Start the conversation simply. Explain that you have health problems, and the condition is chronic (it will come and go). There may be times where you are unable to attend events or have as much energy as your other friends. But also explain that it does not mean that you don't want to spend time with your friends or have fun. You want to live as normally as you can. You may also want to express to your friend that you are not asking them to "do" anything—except to be good listener sometimes.

Only tell as much as you—and they—are comfortable with. Some people with IBD have accidents, some have explosive diarrhea, others have related conditions such as fistulae. But you don't have to tell everyone every little detail. Some people will want to know more than others. If you're going to go on a vacation with this person, they'll likely want to know about the "bathroom problems." If this is a friend from work, they might not want to hear a detailed description of your last colonoscopy.

More Tips

Have some paperwork on hand if they want to know more. Print out a copy of the Crohn's overview or the ulcerative colitis overview for them to read if they like. Groups such as the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America have a wide variety of pamphlets that are written for newly diagnosed patients that may be helpful to a friend who is confused. Don't push it on them, but have it available if they want to know more.

Enjoy your time together! Now that your friends are aware of your illness, you have become closer and can enjoy each other's company.

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