If you ever live in a dorm or have roommates, you are bound to face that most dreaded of experiences for a person with Crohn's disease...the shared bathroom. This article will help you find the words to talk with your roommate about this disease and what it means for you, without your having to hide your suffering or make excuses for many trips to the communal bathroom. (Read more about living with Crohn’s in college in with Crohn’s in the Fall 2009 issue of Crohn’sAdvocate magazine.)
Breaking the news
For most of us, it’s not easy to tell a near stranger that we have a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. There’s no icebreaker that begins with "Hi, my name is Ann. By the way, I have Crohn's disease." Maybe in a perfect world, you’d arrive at your new dorm room and notice your roommate’s browser open on Crohn's & Me. But like most "perfection," perfect moments don't usually exist.
So in the absence of such a perfect situation, what can you do? Well, some moments may be better than others, so just trust your ability to judge those moments. Think about why it is useful to talk to your roommate, and then consider how to broach the subject.
Starting off on the right foot
Telling your roommate that you are living with Crohn’s disease (whether you are in remission or having symptoms) sets a tone for open and honest communication. These are valuable qualities to cultivate in this and any relationship. Your roommate may not be your best friend, but this is a person with whom you will share a great deal. Like it or not, sharing is an inevitable part of living with someone. Talking to your roommate about your disease might even be good practice for talking about other areas of concern that may arise in the future.
How to make it happen? Start out by reminding yourself that living with Crohn’s is not something to be ashamed of! If you believe this, then you can convey it to your roommate when you talk about it. It’s all in the delivery: not too casual (your roommate needs to know that this is a serious illness, not just a stomach ache you get from time to time), not too clumsy (diarrhea is rarely a word that easily rolls off the tongue), but confident and assured.
Learning to be yourself
Now here is a dirty little secret: you might have to fake that confidence and comfort at first. But acting self-assured and positive is the best way to slowly convince yourself that you are. It won’t happen overnight, so just be patient with yourself in that process.
Having Crohn’s disease probably isn’t the first thing you’d prefer to tell your roommate about yourself, but it also shouldn’t be the last. Being honest with your roommate is part of establishing an open line of communication. This is a necessary step to making a connection in any new relationship. By being honest with your friends and roommates, you can enjoy the freedom to be yourself—someone who isn't defined by Crohn’s.