I recently read Sara Ringer’s post on dating a man with Crohn’s Disease. In the post, she elaborates on how, yes while her partner can relate to her Crohn’s, it’s not why she’s dating him. The piece really resonated with me, because it is something that I often see in the IBD community- letting your disease take over and define you.
Of course, when you are in pain, running to the bathroom 40+ times a day, fighting with ill-fitting stomas, inflamed j-pouches, or so-called “extra-intestinal manifestations” of IBD, your health is all you can think about. You want to be understood, and often you’re tired from trying to make people understand. That is why I am so torn about posts on what it’s like to date someone with Crohn’s Disease, why you should date a guy who has Crohn’s Disease, or what you need to know if your best friend has Crohn’s Disease.
Yes, these posts are trying to raise awareness, and they are speaking about issues that a lot of people are struggling with, such as having to cancel plans last minute. They articulate a lot of the problems people with IBD have.
But, they also are essentializing, and they make IBD look like some great character quality. For example, the “why you should date a guy with Crohn’s Disease” article postulates that “he knows how to cook”, and “he’s health conscious” and “he knows a great deal about the medical field even though he is not a doctor.” Now, these are all wonderful things, and I don’t doubt that being Crohn’s is a factor in having acquired all of these qualities. But, it essentializes and reduces a person to one thing. What if he just likes to cook? I know plenty of people in the IBD community with barely any medical knowledge. Likewise, the “his experiences have hardened him into a better person.” No. Just no. If that was true, I could walk on fucking water. IBD, or any other disease does not turn you into a better person. On the contrary, what if these experiences turn you bitter? (I couldn’t blame you). Or look at the “you’re my friend because you’re normal” post. WTF? It paints the IBD person into a constant victim and puts quite the burden on the friend. They never get to go through something? I like to be there for my friends too- and I can be there for them, IBD or not. I want to be loved for myself.
I have many qualities, good and bad. My Crohn’s may have brought out some more than others, but even without Crohn’s, they’d still be there. I am not Crohn’s Verena, I am Verena, who also has Crohn’s. There are millions of IBD sufferers out there, from all walks of life. We have different personalities. We have different lives. Our diseases manifest differently. We are people, not diseases.