To my best friend: Watching you fight your illness saved me from mine

To my best friend Emma,

It’s been a crazy 3 years. When I first met you, your attitude was undeniable. Sassy, sarcastic and a little judgemental. It was inevitable that we’d be friends. We weren’t always the closest but you were the only one there for me when I needed you the most.

I’ve been ill for a long time now. My days are long. Hard. And for the most part, dark. I cry when no one is watching. I’m happiest when I’m helping others. If I focus on the broken pieces of other peoples’ lives, the less I have to deal with my own missing jigsaw pieces.

My smile isn’t always genuine. My advice can sometimes be hypocritical. My ability to overthink every situation and create situations that will never happen make it difficult for people to stay. But you’re still here and for that, I’ll never be able to thank you enough.

Depression isn’t easy to deal with. I push people away because I’m scared of letting them see me.

All of me. I’m so scared of being alone but too scared to let anyone in.

When you became ill, it was a difficult time for me. I’ve never admitted this but at the time, my depression got really bad. I constantly worried about if you were okay and my head would go round in circles. I knew deep down that everything was going to be okay but what would I do without you?

What I didn’t realise was that, the whole time I watched you courageously and defiantly fight your illness, you were saving me from mine.

Worrying, stressing and overthinking everything made me see that for all the days that were long, hard and dark, I’m not alone. Even in your hospital bed, hours after life saving surgery, you were still texting me asking if I was okay.

Whenever I was visiting YOU, you wanted to ask about ME! For all that I am scared to let people in, you never gave up on me.

How can I worry about being alone when I have someone who cares about my day? Cares about what I’ve eaten? Cares about how I’ve slept?

Even when you were at your weakest, you still cared about making me stronger.

They say everyone has a soulmate. People spend their whole lives searching for their other half. The perfect man or woman. But who said a soulmate can’t be your friend. You’re my other half. My partner in crime. The reason I’m here at this moment writing you this letter.

So, Emma, thank you! Thank you for being there. Thank you for supporting me in everything that I do. Thank you for listening.

Thank you for putting up with my over-dramatic responses. Thank you for believing me when I tell you ‘I’m fine’ (even if you don’t think I am or know that I’m not).

Thank you for understanding when I say I don’t want to talk about it (and then forcing me to anyway).

Thank you for never giving up on me. Thank you for being my soulmate. Thank you for being my sister. Thank you for making me smile. Thank you for being you amazing sassy, sarcastic and judgemental self.

Thank you for being the best best friend I’ve ever had.

But most importantly, thank you for saving me. Every single day.

With all my love,
Your depressed best friend x

11 things people who have never had sex want to know

I’m 25 and I’ve never had sex.

I’m not even ashamed. I’ve never got close to it even happening so I wouldn’t know any different.

I’ve never really had ‘the chat’ or participated in any sort of conversation surrounding ‘sex’ and the ins and outs. It makes me feel slightly uncomfortable as I don’t want to pretend I’ve done something I haven’t just to fit in.

Like many who have never experienced sexual intercourse before, I have a lot of questions.

Here are 11 things people who have never had sex want to know.

1.Is it really worth it? 

I guess that my only experience of ‘sex’ happening is either pornography or the dramatisation of sex on a TV show or in a movie.

It’s made to look fantastic, like the characters are having the best time ever. I guess my notion of sex is slightly warped due to never having sex. I like the idea of it, but would I enjoy it?

2. Does it hurt? 

Seriously I’ve always thought about this. Surely it hurts the first time for both parties? Pornography makes it look easy, but is it?

I personally don’t enjoy pain so this puts me off slightly. If it’s painful, why carry on?

3. Is there preparation involved? 

What is foreplay? Is it someone teasing you like you’d tease a dog with a bone? How do you prepare yourself?

A shave of the necessary areas, a decent shower? There’s so many questions!

4. Is there such a thing as no strings? 

You always hear people say ‘It’s just sex’ – but what exactly is ‘just sex’?

There is always an obvious attraction to someone if you want to ‘do the deed with them’.

So can sex ever be no strings? Will someone get hurt?

5.How do you know if someone is really having an orgasm? 

How can you tell? What’s different about someone faking one? Can you tell if someone is faking an orgasm?

6. What is squirting?

This is a genuine question. I’ve heard the phrase ‘I made her squirt’ once or twice in my life time, and it just sounds really unsavoury.

7. Does penis size really matter/can you break your penis? 

Well does it? Can a penis be too big? Will it hurt? In extreme cases, can your penis ‘snap’?

8. Sex toys… do they really spice it up? 

I have never owned a sex toy but see people talk about them frequently. Does using a sex toy really spice things up? What makes it so different?

9. Is sex really better without protection? 

Sexual health is so important, so why do many advocate sex without a condom? I’ve heard lots of people say ‘it feels better without a condom’ or ‘he doesn’t like wearing one’.

10. Can sex cause damage if practiced incorrectly? 

I’m serious, for both males and females can this cause long term damage? How do you move on from that? The fear of this makes me never want to have sex.

If something goes wrong and the worst happens, will it scar you for life?

11. STD/I’s: Should I be worried? 

Chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital warts, genital herpes – the list goes on.

How do you know when you have contracted a sexually transmitted infection? Do you even know?

What does this mean for long term sexual relationships? Does this affect your confidence?

Words by James Conlon

I understand why people with IBD fear they’ll never find love – because I’d feel exactly the same

Over the past couple of days there’s been quite some backlash over a couple of articles from people who suffer with Inflammatory bowel disease – and because of their diagnosis, fear they’ll never find love.

Now, this backlash has come from other sufferers of IBD, who feel that IBD should not be a defining point as to whether someone finds you attractive or not.

Both opinions are totally valid – and both should be accepted as such.

But, while you may not feel IBD should be a defining factor as to whether you find love, you have to accept that there are some people with the diagnosis that will feel the opposite way. Because that’s just life.

And, I have to admit, I totally understand where these people fearing their love-lives will be affected are coming from.

When I was first diagnosed with Ulcerative colitis after having emergency surgery, I was scared. Even though I had my boyfriend beside me, I was terrified that he would look at me differently. That he’d act differently around me – or whether he’d just not want me at all.

I was scared that my IBD wouldn’t just affect me, but him too – and in some cases it did.  Not the IBD, but having to watch me suffer, it killed him.

And I thought all of this while actually having a boyfriend – so I can only imagine what goes through a single person’s head when going through the same thing.

The diagnosis of Crohn’s or Ulcerative colitis can dramatically affect your confidence.

Because there are so many symptoms that can be incredibly debilitating, including the frequent need for the toilet and awful fatigue – before any surgeries – a person can only fear that this may be too much for someone else to cope with.

Also, most people with IBD are not worried about the ‘attractive factor’ but whether they’ll be a burden on another person with all of these symptoms that come alongside the diagnosis.

While many IBD sufferers, including myself, have proved this wrong – with loving partners who don’t just see past the IBD but don’t even count it as a factor of your personality, you have to remember that when you’re dealing with symptoms and surgery alone, a whole heap of negative thoughts run through your mind.

Yes, it is very important for people to know that IBD will not affect your love-life.

Because unless they’re total arseholes, nobody is going to judge you on your illness. For most people, it’s not going to be the first thing they look at. The first thing a person who is interested in you will see, is you. They will see how beautiful you are, how funny you are. They’ll pick up on your cute little habits and comment on the things they love about you.

IBD will just be a small factor that perhaps sometimes will rely on them giving you some much needed attention and a hot-water bottle.

Sure, they may have to miss out on a few dates or even decide on staying in if you simply don’t feel like getting out of the house – but don’t crucify those who don’t yet have these experiences and therefore fear the worst.

Words by Hattie Gladwell

9 things you should know about being in a relationship with someone who has an ostomy

There is a lot of fear regarding dating when you have an ostomy.

When you’re single, some may worry that going into the dating world is going to be harder than for those who don’t have an ostomy.

But that couldn’t be any further from the truth.

Here are 9 things you need to know about being in a relationship with someone who has an ostomy.

1. Do NOT worry about bag leaks.

Unfortunately, they can happen. And when it does happen and you’re sharing a bed with your partner it can be so frightening and somewhat embarrassing, especially if it happens during sex. So please be understanding and realise that it isn’t their fault and it can’t be helped. Clean up and help and just act like it isn’t a big deal… because it actually isn’t.

2. It isn’t a big deal

Be supportive and don’t make having an ostomy a huge deal. But also don’t avoid the subject either. Just be there for your partner when they need you the most.

3. Sex is no different

I think people assume sex is going to be so difficult and that people with ostomies can’t do it or can’t enjoy it as much – but everything is totally normal if you both allow it to be. The majority of us ostomate females think ‘Oh i need bag covers or a ‘sexy’ wrap to cover my ostomy’ – but when it gets down to it you’re so comfortable with your partner you really do not care for those things.

4. We need privacy in the bathroom too

Please don’t go into the bathroom straight after! Pre warning! Nothing is more annoying than when you empty your bag and someone comes in straight after then complains about the smell.. hello we did warn you! Did you expect it to smell of roses? FYI – the bag itself does not smell, but remember what’s coming out when we empty it.

5. Don’t make a situation awkward

‘Fart noises’ at meals out or when eating… yep, sorry that wasn’t a ‘fart’ that was my bag. Oops. When eating, sometimes our bags don’t stop making these weird noises. It’s quite funny if you get the humour side to it all. Don’t just ignore it, try to make light of it. There’s nothing more awkward than knowing people are purposely avoiding talking about it.

6. Meeting the parents can be interesting

When trying to explain to your partners parents on exactly how you go to the toilet.. yes out of my stomach… in to a bag…weird right? Of course, they’re just interested – don’t get defensive or take it personally. It’s nice that they want to ask questions.

7. Don’t let there be an elephant in the room

When having a family meal, make sure there is no elephant in the room and that your family are aware (if your partner is okay with that) about their ostomy and if it makes noises or that they want to leave the table to go toilet it’s no big deal!

 

8. Be sensitive and understanding of dietary needs

Be sensitive towards your partners dietary requirements. Some people with bags struggle to eat certain foods or can’t digest them.

9. It’s okay if you don’t want to look at the stoma

It’s really no big deal! This is not offensive in the slightest, it just means you see it the same as going to the toilet – which really, nobody wants to see! But if you do want to look at the stoma that’s great – whatever you’re comfortable with.

While there are minor differences when it comes to dating someone who has an ostomy, they can still do all the things any other person can. The only major difference between you and your partner is the way you go to the toilet.

Remember to show them that you know that. There’s nothing more comforting than understanding, acceptance and support.

Words by Danielle McCormack

What you should know if your best friend has Inflammatory bowel disease

If they’re your best friend, then of course you know everything about them that there is to know.

There’s no denying that, or the fact you are one of the biggest factors in their life to most likely give them the drive and motivation to fight through their illness.

But unless you are a sufferer of Inflammatory bowel disease, there are a couple of things you won’t know.

I’m not talking secrets or other things kept from you, I’m talking a few things influenced by the illness that may have had somewhat an impact on things that have happened in the past – and may happen again in the future.

I’m talking the fact that you probably mean more to them than you’ll ever know. You are what keeps them going. Your constant commitment to your friendship is comfort to them that you’re not going anywhere. They appreciate that more than you’ll ever know.

You keep them grounded. When their illness gets too much and their symptoms keep them bed-bound for a day, you’re a reminder of all the times they’ve been able to leave that bed to enjoy life.

You make them feel safe. With Inflammatory bowel disease comes the fear that people are going to walk out and leave due to not being able to cope with the stress of unpredictable flares and trips to the hospital.

You’re the one consistent thing that they’ve always had. You’re the one thing that keeps them going.

While for others, their ‘best friend’ may be the person of whom they have the most fun with, the best nights out with or the person they argue with the least, to them, a ‘best friend’ means someone who will stick around no matter what.

Because of this, your best friend, who has Inflammatory bowel disease, will feel guilty. They’ll feel guilty because they fear that they cannot offer you what you offer them.

They can lend an ear, offer advice, but they will not be able to drive over to your house at 3am because a boy broke your heart if they are in the hospital with a nasty flare. They may not be able to be there for you as physically as you are for them, and that scares the hell out of them.

But because of this, they will try extra hard to be there for mentally. They will sit and listen to you pour your heart out for hours if it means creating the same impact as would be created with them driving over to you.

They will put your needs before theirs, because your happiness is what matters to them most.

Your best friend who lives with this chronic illness wants to thank you for all those times you’ve said ‘It’s okay’ when they couldn’t join you on a night out or for dinner. They want you to know that while you were disappointed, yet understanding, they were laying in bed holding back the tears.

Holding back tears because they so wanted to join you. They so wanted to have fun. They so wanted to bask in your being and simply forget about the illness for a few hours.

When your best friend is not flaring, they appreciate the time spent with you more than anything. They cherish those times where it’s just you and them. Two best friends; enjoying life the way it should be.

Though they know that those times won’t last for ever – the comfort that they will come back, because you’ve promised never to go anywhere – makes all the injections, all the steroids, the countless medication, the surgeries and the recoveries worth it.

Why? Because they know that at the end of it all, they have someone to recover with. You.

Words by Hattie Gladwell

Why I fear that my Ulcerative colitis diagnosis has made me unlovable

I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, a form of Inflammatory bowel disease, five years ago.

I was never the stud around school, I was always the odd one out – the one that nobody fancied.

I was an easy target. I think that’s why people used to bully me.

That was before my diagnosis of UC.

I’ve always dreamed of the perfect relationship but never actually been in one, weird right?

Since my diagnosis I’ve found it increasingly difficult to open up to any potential love-interest about the disease.

I’m confident talking about it to most people. I just get really scared when anyone crosses the line of ‘more than friends’. I fear that telling them would change the way they look at me, as though they wouldn’t just see it as a diagnosis, but instead as ‘baggage’.

I’ve never really felt accepted for who I am so why would someone accept me if I’m ill?

It sounds so ridiculous, I know, but these are the thoughts that plague my mind constantly.

I’ve never really gotten close to even dating anyone because of these thoughts.. Sure, I’ve spoken to people I find attractive, even flirted and felt as though we were above that ‘friendship level’, but it’s never gone anywhere. It’s never stuck. I don’t let myself get too attached because I always expect the worst outcome – and therefore it’s prevented me from ever knowing what it feels like to be loved – or even just liked as more than a friend.

I’ve always been a nervous person, even before my UC diagnosis. Especially when meeting people.

Personally for me I don’t see any sort of attractive qualities about myself – why would anyone find me attractive? What do I have that makes me ‘special’?

Looking back over the past five years my confidence has grown in talking about my illness to most people, even strangers. But I talk about it on a different level –  a more educative level as opposed to opening up about the way my own symptoms make me feel.

I guess deep down I just know that UC is not something that everyone has, or even knows about, so would they be disgusted by it? Would they think less of me?

When I openly speak to people about my situation and tell them I’ve never been in a relationship before, never had sex (out of choice may I add), I expect them to laugh.

It sounds pretty sad that a 25-year-old hasn’t ever experienced love or any sort of passionate affection.

Ulcerative colitis once managed to totally destroy my confidence in myself and my body and I’m still building that back up. It destroyed any sort of hope I had of finding love as to be honest I’ve never really felt good enough for anyone – not just romantically.

I have always struggled with my confidence, and my UC added to that struggle. In fact, it pushed me so far down that it made me feel as though I was constantly fighting a losing battle. A battle to finally see some good in myself. I assumed I’d always feel alone and unwanted.

If I’m honest it made me feel less of a man… not that I was much of one anyway.

But I know that many people who suffer with IBD have happy and fulfilling relationships. I know there are people out there who will love you for you, and accept you – and your diagnosis’s – for what they are.

I know that my insecurities lie within the years of bullying that have influenced the way I feel about myself.

I know something might happen someday. But with the way I’ve been treated and and made to feel over my adolescent years,  it’s hard to believe that I will ever be accepted completely.

Words by James Conlon

How seemingly endless tragedy has turned my life around for the better

Adolescence for me was depressing and quite traumatic.

I was bullied in school for being gay and put onto antidepressants in my early teens. Once a week I would have the day off school to go to a psychiatric unit for therapy.

When I left school I became involved in hard drug use and over the space of a few months, I became very unwell eventually being diagnosed with Schizophrenia. It’s a very isolating disease. Friends stopped calling me. Lots of people made fun of me.

I think the worst thing about being mocked for mental health problems was that I was still the same person so I could tell that everyone was talking to me in a condescending way.

Eventually, I managed to get some sort of normal life together but drug use became a coping strategy for me. But unfortunately, I got so ill that I committed a serious and uncharacteristically violent crime and was sent to a psychiatric hospital indefinitely.

I remember sat in that hospital wondering what the fuck had gone wrong in my life to make a peaceful, caring guy into such a monster. I was ashamed.

After 5 years of engaging wholeheartedly in therapy, I was discharged to a rehabilitation unit. Within weeks I was crippled with stomach pains and throwing up constantly. After some time I was sent to A&E where they diagnosed Ulcerative Colitis and said I had Toxic Megacolon. If I didn’t agree to a colectomy and an ostomy bag I would die within a few days.

I guess I had no choice, but the trauma of getting used to my new situation was difficult.

Again it was a case of picking up the pieces and moving forward.

I met Fred a few years later. I had just finished recording my album. He was one of the most beautiful people I’d ever known. Caring, sensitive yet never afraid to be blunt with his words. I respected him for his honesty even though sometimes it hurt a little. I loved him but he was not happy with his life.

He killed himself in 2015. I found him in his flat sealed in plastic. He had suffocated himself. I’m still not completely over it but I didn’t want this piece to be about ‘woe is me’.

I feel fearless when it comes to love.

Life is far too short and far too important not to open yourself up completely to another human being so both of you can feel truly valued. I still love him and I miss him. But I do feel I can love again without feeling like I’m betraying what I had with him.

Life is hard and I’ve been reading the posts on this site feeling totally inspired with the beauty and strength that so many people seem to show. We all have our ups and downs but somehow life always works itself out.

Trust that life will only make you suffer temporarily. Our scars cut deep but are a badge of honour for our strength.

After the rain comes sunshine.

Words by Simon Lewis