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Crohn’s and Colitis: More Serious than Poop Jokes

Just a “poop disease?” Absolutely not! Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are serious illnesses wrongly stereotyped as simple tummy troubles. 

Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative colitis are serious diseases; Why joke about it?

Patients who have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the two most common IBDs being Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, are often seen making poop jokes which only fuels the misconception that IBD is to IBS as water is to H2O. Are we a big part of the problem when it comes to the way others understand our illness? I get why so many patients use humor; it’s easier than getting real with another person about what is actually going on with our bodies. For a lot of people many of the symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease are not easy to talk about. 

A good sense of humor can be a great tool to have when it comes to coping with a serious chronic illness and there is nothing wrong with a little laughter along the way to help you get through it. I actually do think there is a time and place for these things which I will discuss here later. 

Normal “poop issues” do not result in needing your entire large intestine removed

IBD is way more serious than it’s misconceptions and here is why:

Disease. Disease that causes [often] irreversible damage to the digestive tract via inflammation. Inflammation is our immune system’s reaction to harmful stimuli causing swelling, redness, and pain. Usually inflammation is a good thing; a process in which it protects us from injury and infection and helps us heal.

In a healthy person the process of inflammation would stop after it protected the body from harm and helped heal it. In people living with IBD the inflammation does not shut off and the result is open sores (ulcers) and bleeding in the intestines until the overactive immune system is brought under control. If the intestinal inflammation is left untreated then serious complications and irreversible damage occurs. 

The longer intestinal inflammation is active the risk of damage increases -> strictures, fistulae, hospitalizations, surgeries, and disability become more likely. 

Visualize it

I’ve used this example in another post. Let’s say that your childhood best friend is riding her bike and you’re on her handlebars. Next thing you know you’re on the cement and your knees are seriously injured.

Have no fear, it’s your immune system to the rescue! Your body reacts by protecting you from any harmful stimuli that may have gotten in the wounds and then helps heal them. Your knees becomes swollen, red, and inflamed. Once the immune system has finished it’s job the inflammation turns off and you start to heal – a scab forms, the redness and inflammation go away, and you are left with a scar. 

This is similar to what happens in the digestive tract of someone who has IBD. The immune system reacts to perceived danger with inflammation and the intestinal wall becomes red, swollen, and inflamed. 

Except the inflammation does not shut off even though there is 

no threat in the bowel for the body to be fighting with inflammation. It just keeps going causing ulcers and bleeding that can lead to even worse damage like rupture of the bowel, fistulae, fibrosis, and more. Most patients with IBD go through repetitive cycles of inflammation and healing unless their disease is mild or controlled with medication and/or surgery.

Usually inflammation stops after what triggered it resolves but in IBD inflammation continues, causing destruction

Just how Serious is IBD?

Here are some of the uglier things that Inflammatory Bowel Disease can cause. They are not easy to talk about but it’s important people are aware of them so that the stereotype of IBD being just like having IBS or the flu can stop. 

Not as Simple As Just Poop, Right?

Not as simple as just poop but also not easy to talk about. These things can make a person feel humiliated and cause them to isolate themselves. It affects self-esteem and body-image and so much more. Yes, at times people living with IBD have lives that revolve around the bathroom but there is more than that going on.

So why all the bathroom humor?

Would you feel comfortable telling someone that you have a tunnel connecting your rectum to your vagina so that when you pee or just sit there poop is seeping out of it? NOPE! Would you want to tell someone about the blood loss you are seeing every time you use the bathroom or tell them about the accident you had in your car 

picture of jesus with the words 'holy shit' over him

last night when you didn’t make it home fast enough? It’s easier to joke and minimize those things all down to “poop stuff.” Life with IBD is hard! 

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis affect our bowels and the way they function. Tests to diagnose and treat IBD primarily involve butts and poop. IBD-related surgeries often alter how our bodies get rid of waste. Yes, a lot of IBD has to do with butts, poop, and use of the bathroom. For many patients these things can rob you of your dignity and can feel down right humiliating at times. We are taught that they are gross, dirty, and something to feel ashamed of and so we feel gross, dirty, and ashamed.  

We make fun of ourselves and joke about our symptoms because it feels easier sometimes, especially if you are young or newly diagnosed. Who wants to tell their friends how many fingers they’ve had up their butt? I’m sure none of my non-IBD friends have gone to the bathroom and stood up to stare at a toilet full of blood or have been teased in school for having had an accident. It’s not easy to talk about. It just isn’t! 

So we use humor to explain things to others or sometimes because you just have to laugh. You have to laugh or else you’ll cry. 

We laugh. We laugh so we don’t cry. We tell poop jokes, butt jokes, and spread bathroom humor because it’s easier. We make fun of ourselves to get through the more difficult times. We laugh…

Yes, a lot of #IBD has to do with butts, poop, and use of the bathroom. For many these things can rob you of your dignity and can feel humiliating at times. We are taught that they are gross, dirty, and something to feel ashamed of and so we feel gross, dirty, and ashamed.  

Misconceptions about IBD: Are Patients Part of the Problem?

IBD is no laughing matter. It’s serious and people without it can’t understand that if the only thing we talk about is poop. I see IBD Facebook groups and pages, Twitter and Instagram accounts, and personal blogs focusing on these things, and ONLY these things, way too often. When we do this we are sending people the wrong message. We are basically telling them to associate our disease with IBS, the flu, or food poisoning. If the people who are living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease do nothing more than create stupid bathroom humor accounts then we have no one to blame but ourselves when others in our lives don’t get it.  

So many complain that people do not understand how serious IBD is but they can’t understand if you are unable to talk about it correctly. Instead of focusing on bathroom humor focus on the why. Why is because of disease. It’s because of inflammation and what that inflammation is capable of doing. 

illlustration of poop emoji with a sign above it that says 'so tired of this shit'

Things like accidents, urgency, and so forth happen because of damaging inflammation in the digestive tract and that is just the beginning of a very complicated disease.

with that said, i do think Bathroom Humor Does Have It's Place

I do feel like there is a time and a place for this type of humor and I do not want to completely discredit it’s importance. There are two things I like to think of in regards to things like this and that is awareness and support. When I think of awareness I think of it as something I want to share OUTSIDE of the IBD community so that I can educate the general public better. When I think of support I think of something that is shared INSIDE the IBD community. 

I think bathroom humor is a good thing for patients to laugh about amongst each other from time-to-time. It is nice to know that others have gone through things that you have and it feels good to share those stories and relate to each other and not feel so isolated. The first day of Camp Oasis each year us counselors sit around and tell hilarious true stories about our lives with IBD and I swear it’s the hardest laugh I have all year. The kind where tears are strolling down your face and you can’t catch your breath. Life with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis sure puts you in shitty situations. Literally! 

It’s just that these poop jokes and the focus on the bathroom does little for awareness. People associate things to things they are already familiar with and if we are constantly just talking about the bathroom they associate IBD with IBS, the flu, a tummy ache or food poisoning and do not understand the serious underlying disease that comes with it.

Sara

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