I was walking my dog today, he had a bit of a poorly tummy (bit of a running theme in our house) and he unfortunately threw up on the way home. This was on the path on the way into my street and just happened without warning. He was sick, I petted him and after he was done he trotted away quite happily and carried on with his day. However the look he got from a woman across the street stayed with me for the rest of mine.
She looked utterly disgusted. She shook her head and looked at me as if I’d just stripped naked and danced the cha-cha in church. I HAD just done that but she didn’t wasn’t there and that’s beside the point. The point is, she looked as though he had been wrong to be ill in public. In her eye-line. As if I should have somehow stopped him.
Now I know he’s a dog and you’re probably thinking what does this have to do with IBD, but it was a moment that made me feel the same way I’ve felt many times in living with chronic illness. Embarrassed, ashamed, and ANGRY. You see these ‘moments’ happen a LOT in living with health problems. Here are a few from my (never ending list) of embarrassing moments since I got sick for reference:
- Stripped down to my bra and pants for an MRI and walked into the room only to be reminded it was for my head only so I didn’t need to take anything off.
- Threw up on a bus full of people into my BF's hoodie then stuck my face into it in some vain attempt to hide, in the process covering my face in my own vomit.
- Passed out as soon as a needle hit my arm then threw up all over myself.
- When my arthritic knee gave way when I was crossing a main road and I had to direct traffic around me.
- The time the tube containing my latest stool sample rolled out of my bag in a hospital waiting room under the chair of an old woman.
I could go on for another 56645451354854 examples but I don’t want you to get dumped/ fall asleep/ burn your toast /whatever, on my account. My point is that having a chronic illness often causes ‘embarrassing’ moments. Moments you’ll undoubtedly laugh at later, but in the moment you’ll want the ground to swallow you up.
The main issue I have though is that other people tend to make these moments embarrassing; they judge. They look at you with pity, or confusion or even disgust. They think your illness should be dealt with behind the safety of a hospital-ward curtain, where your sickness doesn’t have to offend their eyes. They have a rule book of ‘done things’ and you throwing up in the street/ on a bus/ on them isn’t one of them.
But what do they think we are thinking? Well we mainly feel ashamed because they are staring at us like we’ve just arrived from the Planet Zod, we feel vulnerable because they are looking at us with disgust, and while we are trying to focus on simply putting one foot in front of the other we suddenly find ourselves in the position of trying to consider YOUR feelings. Those of an abject stranger. Then we get ANGRY because IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU.
The point I’m trying to make is that people with a chronic illness can’t always hide away for fear of offending you. We shouldn’t ever have to. Bodily functions and ‘accidents’ happen to everyone, some more than others perhaps, but that’s our problem not yours. How much of a tit do you have to be to take offence to someone else’s misfortune? A triple-G-cup-sized tit that’s how much.
So when someone is vulnerable and you don’t know the full story, if you can help, then you should do that instead of look on in horror like you’ve just seen your own reflection in a puddle. Also maybe be more mature than that last sentence, and try to bear in mind that when things happen we maybe can’t help it. Having an invisible illness can be hard for so many reasons, please try not to make it harder for us just because it’s visible to you.