What I learned about dating with an ‘embarrassing illness’ — Scope | Disability forum
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What I learned about dating with an ‘embarrassing illness’

Cher_Inactive Posts: 4,414

Scope community team

Please note: in this blog I use slang words for faeces.  This is to better reflect how I speak about my condition in everyday life and follows the NHS drive to cut down on medical jargon (which you can read about here). 
If you find this language offensive then please avoid reading.  

Imagine the scene

You’re sat in a cinema on a much-anticipated first date with your current crush of choice.  It’s the early 2000’s, a ‘should have gone straight to VHS’ rom-com is screening and all the while you aren’t really paying attention.  

Instead, you’re doing your best to appear effortlessly cool, nonchalant and not greedy with the pic and mix.  Why? On the off chance your date happens to glance your way.  

It’s working.  The chemistry is there.  You feel it.  It’s electric.  Will you get a cheeky snog at the end of the night you dare to wonder?  Then, it happens.  Your stomach has other plans.  


Wind passes loudly through your colon, just as Adam Sandler falls silent on screen.  Oh. My. God.  He’ll think I’m disgusting. Where’s the toilet?!

The person in this story was me, on my first date with a lad who would go on to become my first boyfriend.  We aren’t together now, and I look back on these dates and those that came after, with a mixture of emotions.  Amusement because no matter what age you are, farting remains funny; with a bit of sadness thrown in about how I coped.  I’ll explain.

What was my illness and why was it so embarrassing?

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease as a late teen.  

Crohn’s Disease is a kind of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), that along with Ulcerative Colitis, results in a person experiencing many different gastrointestinal symptoms.  For more information on the full spectrum of IBD symptoms, please visit this NHS webpage.

However, for me these gastrointestinal symptoms were the exact opposite of what I, as a self-respecting teenager hoping to nab my first boyfriend, wanted.  

• Chronic, explosive diarrhoea – tick.  
• Noisy colon with frequent farting – tick.
• Spontaneous need to go to the toilet quickly or **** myself – tick.
• Steroids that gave me hamster cheeks plus an insatiable appetite for any food, preferably carbs, every 15 minutes – tick. tick.

This wasn’t how my foray into the world of dating was meant to be.  These were bodily functions that I should be able to control.  I’d been raised in a society where only babies could legitimately poo themselves and get away with it.  And, in what film did the girl who got the guy break off mid-clinch to have a dump?  

These were unchartered waters and I tried my best to navigate them rough seas.

A couples hands held together

How did I cope with dating and IBD? (a guide of what not to do)

I tried to become the girl in the film.  The healthy, glowing Drew Barrymore to goofy Adam Sandler.  I hid my Crohn’s the very best that I could.  

I sat in agony in that cinema, tensing my stomach worried that if/when I relaxed my steely grip the next “grrrrrphhhhhhhhh” would announce itself.  And he, my date, wouldn’t be impressed.

I lied about colonoscopy appointments, said I was doing things with my friends, to make myself seem more normal to him.

I apologised about putting weight on, would go hungry rather than eat and was embarrassed about my moon-face; worried he wouldn’t find me attractive.

I layered loo roll on the water in the toilet to mute my poo splashes and craftily turned on the tap to drown out the noise so he wouldn’t hear.

Have you spotted my dating method of choice?  Yes, I acted exactly how I thought he, and the others after him, would want me to be.  

I pretended to be a person without IBD.  

What have I learnt?

Now, some twenty years later, it’s clear where I went wrong and what I learned as a result.  Back then I:

• believed myself to be not good enough because my body was unruly, leaky and loud.

• unfairly dragged my body kicking and screaming through hoops to fit in with what I believed men wanted.

• didn’t put my own needs, wishes and desires first.  

• was ashamed of my identity as a disabled person.

Never again.  

These realisations all bring me here, to my words of advice for anyone dating and living with an ‘embarrassing illness’ like IBD.  

Please from the get-go be you, in all your loud bellied glory with any prospective partner, no matter how hot they are (even the really, really hot ones).  Know that your IBD isn’t embarrassing, it never has been.  The only thing embarrassing is people’s stigmatised views about those with different bodies.  Trust me when I say, there’s nowt as strange as non-disabled folk.  Lastly, don’t get trapped in thoughts about what your date thinks of you.  Spin it and ask are they good enough for you? Those hidden battles you face every-day, they only add to your worth.  

Have your say:

  • Has your dating history been impacted by being disabled?
  • Have you ever tried to hide an impairment from a prospective partner?
  • What advice would you pass onto other people navigating the dating world?
Talk to me in the comments below :)
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  • romla
    romla Member Posts: 6 Listener
    Hi Cher! 
    Thank you so much for sharing your experience of when you were younger. I found it great to read and acknowledge that there are more of us struggling to bring disability into dating. I've got similar expereinces written down in my diary from a few years ago - such as saying im happy sitting in the same place for hours because i'm too anxious to ask my date to help me off the ground (I hadn't told him about my disability yet) or being confused about whether to tell someone new about my disability through text or in person.
    I'm still only 21, so have much to learn about myself but my advice to others would be to recognise that someone with a bad attitude towards disability is not someone you deserve in your life. It is tough to tell people about your disability as you may fear they view you differently, but their reaction is very important in determining who they are.

  • Cher_Inactive
    Cher_Inactive Posts: 4,414

    Scope community team

    edited December 2020
    Hello @romla

    Ahhh thank you for joining our lovely community and sending me a reply!  I think these are very common experiences that just don't get spoken openly about much, with disabled people expected to go along with what's 'normal' (shudder) for the non-disabled majority and keep quiet.  It can be daunting to assert yourself and express your needs but when you do, it's so liberating!

    To say you are 21 you sound very savvy and wise  :)  Do you feel more confident now you are a little older in being yourself with people?  
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  • romla
    romla Member Posts: 6 Listener
    I definitely do feel more confident within myself compared to when I was about 15/16. Despite anxiousness, I've been very lucky to have had good relationships that have helped me grow. Having a hidden disability can make it harder for the person to understand despite how willing they are, so articulating is very important. I've realised confidence is a very endearing thing, so to have it surrounding disability is uplifting and can also help the other person in understanding you and any requirements you have.
    But still, I recognise this can be difficult and we all have bad days.

    Thank you for saying I sound very savvy and wise. I actually just had a telephone interview with Adrian where I mentioned seeing your post and being very happy to see the topic spoken about openly and wanting to increase, then I realised I have the ability to tell you this happiness myself :blush:
  • WestHam06
    WestHam06 Member, Scope Volunteer Posts: 1,393 Pioneering
    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us @Cher_Scope, it was really informative and brilliantly written :) Thank you. 
  • Cher_Inactive
    Cher_Inactive Posts: 4,414

    Scope community team

    @WestHam06 I appreciate that feedback!  I'm glad you enjoyed reading it.
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  • Marrybrown
    Marrybrown Member Posts: 12 Listener
    Great info! thanks!
  • Ross_Scope
    Ross_Scope Posts: 5,464

    Scope community team

    Great info! thanks!
    Glad you found it helpful :) 
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