Neil -- Life Coach

I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease when I was 14 years old, and am now a twenty-something "graduate" of 3E (previously 3F) and 3C.

Photo: Neil out hiking

I've completed a Bachelors degree in psychology, an Honours Business degree, and an MBA at Laurier University.

Earlier this year I got married, and my wife and I live in the Toronto area, where I work as a Brand Manager in the pharmaceutical industry — for products used in various GI conditions!

Oh... and I've been medication-free for over two years!

If you don't mind, I'd like to offer you some advice and encouragement, based on my experience with IBD.

Family and Friends

Humour will help you through your rough times, and lift you higher when you're well. Your closest friends should know what's going on. If you're missing school and being hospitalized, it's better that your best friends are there for you. And family should always be in the loop. They see you the most, and can help you more when they understand exactly what's wrong.

When it comes to details, it's 100% discretionary. There's some nasty terminology, and you'll know what 16-letter words you'd like to drop in front of certain people. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. I'd always say that "Crohn's is a disease of the digestive system, that can flare up without rhyme or reason, and can bring forth any number of unpleasant symptoms."

The key is to make the most of your good times and fight through the bad times. I'm not sure if better advice exists... when you're feeling great, enjoy your time with family and friends. If you need to be near a washroom, every place has them. Don't be embarrassed: people will understand.

Everyone has problems of some kind, and you just need to play the hand you're dealt. You'll be stronger for it.

Discussing With Others

As I said before, humour is my secret. There might not be anything to laugh about when you're feeling your worst, but it helps to connect with people. They'll laugh WITH you, and you should never worry about them laughing AT you.

Keep your parents informed. It's tough on you, but take a second to think what they're going through too. Their child is suffering, and they're helpless. I doubt there's a worse sensation for a parent.

Roommates, you can give general details to... it may seem like an odd icebreaker, but it's better to let people you're living with know even vaguely what's going on.

Managing School

Know where the bathrooms are. Just duck out quietly, and it won't be a big deal. Everyone has to go to the bathroom, so you're not doing anything out of the ordinary.

If you take a lunch, figure out what foods work best for you. If eating a lot causes you problems, have a small breakfast, pack a small lunch, and eat a good meal once you return home. Or barring that, pack several small snacks that you can eat throughout the day, between classes. A fruit cup, a snack-pack, cheese and crackers, a chocolate bar... whatever works for your body. You need energy to get through the day, so just make sure it doesn't cause you problems.

As for missing school due to illness, I highly recommend letting all of your teachers know that you have medical circumstances that may cause you to be absent once in a while. A school guidance counsellor is a great person to have in the loop, as they can coordinate between all your classes.

If you're missing extended periods of school, there are always options. Continuing education programs allow you to repeat courses to earn a credit or boost a mark. Summer school offers many of the same courses you'd find during the regular school year. No matter how much time you miss, there are always ways to catch up.

If you need a better understanding of the material, ask teachers for extra help or seek a tutor for clarification. When it comes to entry into universities, you can often gain special consideration, if necessary, if you feel that your average is lower as a result of your absences.

Travelling

This varies from person to person. You want to enjoy your time away, but don't over-exert yourself! Traveling is very individualized, depending on where you are and what your typical symptoms are like.

  • Always pack your medications in your carry-on bag (so that you don't lose them), and bring a doctor's note if possible — this can help if airport security has any questions. Since airport travel procedures changed, the first thing I do after clearing security is buy a bottle of water (to avoid getting dehydrated) and a light snack for on the plane. Flight delays happen when you least expect them, so it's better to be prepared.
  • If you're worried about being away from a bathroom for too long, try to adjust your schedule to be near some public facilities periodically. If loperamide (Imodium® and other brands) works for you, it can buy you some extra time to be out-and-about.
  • Dimenhydrinate (Gravol® and other brands) helps if you tend to feel nauseated occasionally.
  • If you tend to experience several symptoms during flare-ups but want to "travel light," multi-symptom products (Pepto-Bismol® and other brands) are available. I always travel with "Pepto," even on weekend trips.
  • If you're getting dehydrated, a bottle of Gatorade® or similar product can do wonders. Better still, a product called Pedialyte® has even more electrolytes. It comes in individual packets that you mix into a bottle of water, so just throw a couple into your carry-on... just in case.
  • Eat what you feel comfortable with, and be cautious of things that you worry will cause you problems.

Social Situations

Pretty much like school. Don't take on anything you're not comfortable with, whether it's overly-strenuous activities or eating certain foods. If you're not feeling well, just tell people straight up that you're "not feeling well." No one's made of steel!

Stress

Stress can make anything seem worse. Time management helps a lot, and will often prevent you from being overwhelmed with your circumstances.

Several times a day, take two minutes or so to think about nothing but your breathing. Take in a deep breath, hold it, and release. Repeat several times. This is a great relaxation technique. I learned about breathing, relaxation, and self-hypnosis from a "Wellness Coach" who was working as a stress management expert for a life insurance company in my hometown.

This technique not only relieves stress — it can also help you cope with your pain or insomnia. Sounds cheesy, but we take breathing for granted... give your lungs a few minutes of your time, and your whole body will thank you.

If school group work or job responsibilities are too much to handle, try to delegate. If you need deadline extensions, explain your situation. People are pretty understanding.