“I wrote 63 songs this year. They’re all about Jeter.” Just kidding. The game we love, the players we hate, and more.

Culture and Criticism

From Norman Mailer to Wendy Pepper — everything on film, TV, books, music, and snacks (shut up, raisins), plus the Girls’ Bike Club.

Donors Choose and Contests

Helping public schools, winning prizes, sending a crazy lady in a tomato costume out in public.

Stories, True and Otherwise

Monologues, travelogues, fiction, and fart humor. And hens. Don’t forget the hens.

The Vine

The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

Home » The Vine

The Vine: May 3, 2017

Submitted by on May 3, 2017 – 12:03 PM14 Comments

How does the VineMind think I should best approach how much of my gastrointestinal disorder I should discuss with various people?

I’m not dumb, nobody really wants you to discuss your poop issues with them. But I’m currently getting treatment for possible UC/Crohn’s disease (thanks, family history!) and not talking about it makes some situations uncomfortable, both professionally and personally.

I have a tight work group that frequently overshares. They know about my ruptured discs and how much PT I’ve been doing for a tear in my hip, I’ve heard about the foot surgeries, knee replacements, kidney stones, etc. of others. So to suddenly have a bunch of doctor’s appointments I don’t want to discuss comes across odd. Also, while I know I’m not obligated to say anything to my boss, if I get tight-lipped he’s going to think I either have cancer or am looking for another job.

My friends are another story. I’ve discussed my issues with a few very close friends, and have said vague things to others. But I’m a runner and we all discuss a lot of bodily functions most people normally don’t, so again with the “if she won’t say what it is could it be CANCER?! [gasp!]” Additionally, so many social functions revolve around food. How do I turn down invites without it seeming like I’m ghosting people? If I attend, how much do I disclose about GI problems without making everyone lose their appetites?

Can you guys help me come up with good wording that doesn’t make it seem worse than it is, but doesn’t disclose too much or make anyone look at me forever after all “ew, poop girl”?


I’m okay with no poop emoji gifts, thanks

Dear Poopmoji,

I went through a variation on this years and years ago when it became…explosively clear that I could not eat beef, or anything containing or having been cooked in the same place as beef, and here’s the good news: nobody cares. I mean, your friends care to the extent that it’s an anxiety-inducing hassle for you, and your boss cares if you miss work, but…basically nobody cares. Certainly nobody assumes it’s cancer, and most people wouldn’t think anything of a friend or co-worker not going into detail about a doctor’s appointment. Nobody is nearly as focused on this as you are, and again, that’s good news.

If you really can’t bring yourself to discuss it at all, even vaguely, you will have to live with the social discomfort that causes, but here again, it feels to me like you have a distorted view — understandably, but still — of what it’s okay for you to say, or like there’s no middle ground between oversharing and “I’m not well NEXT QUESTION.” There totally is, and almost everyone can infer here in 2017 from “Crohn’s, enough said” and a vague circular hand gesture near your abdomen.

So: just do that. Say you’re seeing your gastroenterologist today; they can figure it out. Declining invitations (which you don’t actually have to do unless every single Evite you get is for a dinner party) doesn’t actually require an explanation; just say you can’t make it, and if it’s in person or the host presses, mention that, until you’ve sorted out your symptoms a bit more, you’ll have to take a rain check. Tack on a “not to worry, everything’s basically fine,” and change the subject — or suggest another, different social thing to do that doesn’t involve a restaurant. And if you do attend, remember that food sensitivities are far more widespread and awareness of them is far higher than even 10 years ago. Everyone’s got some damn thing: can’t sit next to a Snickers because his kid has a peanut allergy, no pork for religious reasons, is a moral vegetarian. If something comes out that you can’t eat, no-thanks it, period — you don’t have to explain why, and if you feel that you do, just shrug, “Crohn’s ’90-Day Plan'” with heavy verbal air quotes and change the subject.

I know how fully poop issues can take over one’s consciousness, so when I tell you that it’s not a big deal to other people, I don’t mean to sound judgy or to minimize the literal pain in the ass you’re enduring. It suuuuuucks, and feeling like you can’t talk about it is lonely. But as with so many concerns and fears we have socially, other people’s interest in shit not their own, whether literal or figurative, tends to be both minimal, and more kindly disposed and compassionate than we may assume. So if you need to talk about it with your friends, you should (with some editing, perhaps, about matters like consistency, IYKWIM), and if you really would rather not, you shouldn’t, but “Crohn’s, don’t get me started” and/or “I can’t make it — next time for sure!” is not going to create a “that cancer-ridden shut-in IS FIRED!!1” firestorm, I swear to God.

Just take care of yourself first and foremost, and trust that people are okay with you not getting graphic. It’s going to be okay.

(And for the record, if y’all want to convene the Diverticulitis Club in the comments, go right ahead. I ain’t fancy and this is a safe space for shit-talk of alllll kinds.)




  • sam says:

    I had a work friend with Crohn’s disease, and I knew quite a bit about what was going on with her over the years (as we became friend-friends), but for work, it was enough to know that she had Crohn’s. She didn’t really need to explain more than that.

    Good luck with everything! It’s still a bitch of a disease, but I think there are much better treatments now than when my friend was diagnosed ~40 years ago.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Yep, the internet has made doctors of us all. That’s not a good thing when it comes to anti-vaxxing insanity but is a very good thing so far as “hearing about various conditions a lot more often.”

    Totally agree with Sars, as per usual. The basics of “sorting out some tummy issues” is really enough for most situations. If you get a diagnosis that results in avoiding a lot of different foods, or a whole category of cuisine, it might necessitate having to turn down going to certain restaurants or bringing your own food to a party, but that can be filed under “Bridges: Coming To Specific Ones” rather than “Huge Blanket Announcement About My Intestines.”

  • Cora says:

    Certainly to your boss, I think you just be direct and restate some of what you’ve said here: “I have some new medical issues. It’s NOT cancer, and I’m NOT interviewing for another job, I LOVE it here. It’s a GI thing and because of that I really, really don’t want to go into detail.”

    If boss or coworkers or friends ask for details, you can probably shut it down with a pleasant, “I appreciate that; but it’s GI, so, you know, GROSS, I don’t want to go into it.” If they respect you, they’ll leave it alone.

  • Katie says:

    Sorry about the medical issues you’re having. I used to work with someone who had UC and was hospitalized for some issues she had with it, and I think what she initially referred to it as was “digestive issues” or “problems with her intestines.” Like Sars said, I know YOU probably can’t stop thinking about the poop, but most people will probably just think, “Oh, intestinal issues, that sucks,” and be sympathetic.

  • mspaul says:

    Agreed with all – Crohn’s and its ilk are way more prevalent/talked about these days, so the bare minimum of explanations should satisfy anyone’s curiosity.

    On the plus side, depending on where you live you may be able to get medical marijuana for it!

  • Beth C. says:

    Agree with everything everyone has said. It’s a good idea to give your doc the heads up you’re having some digestive issues and seeing a doc about it, I’m sure he will let you leave it there. That way, like you said he won’t question the appointments and if you need to leave early or something a few times he won’t get to nosey since he already knows the basics.

    Coworkers and friends, especially exercise friends which can be a little different you can just leave it at my doc thinks it’s Chrones and we’re figuring out how to treat it. Like Sars said, when it comes to GI stuff people tend to drop the subject pretty quickly. If you get the chatty “OMG my husband has that here’s the miracle cure!” and you don’t want to talk about it just go back to “yeah, me and my doc are working it out. Thanks!”

    With random situations where you are being offered food a simple “my stomach has been a little sensitive so I’m being really careful about what I eat at the moment.” Should be more than enough.

  • cayenne says:

    The only situation I can think of where you might want to go into detail with others is how to deal with an emergency. Every new job I start includes a guided tour of my purse, with special stops at the Benadryl and Epipen, and features a demo of how to jab me in the ass with that effin railroad spike (my tour is full-service, y’all). If all you’d need from your colleagues is to call 911, this probably isn’t an issue.

    Your guts are not really anyone’s business but yours, but if you do feel some sharing is necessary, I agree with everyone who says to keep it simple. Usually, just mentioning Crohn’s or IBS will have people doing the sympathetic head-tilt. Most folks don’t want the gory details – they want the reassurance that you’re generally OK and managing, so you can give them that and keep the rest as private as you want.

    Good luck!

  • Jennifer says:

    You could always just say, “TMI stuff,” and decline to go into details.

  • Laura Beth says:

    Yeah, most people will not be like EW SHE TALKED ABOUT POOP if you mention Crohns or GI troubles or anything along those lines. I have a gluten sensitivity, so anytime I am out to eat with people who don’t know me that well, they hear me mention it to the server and are full of questions. Invariably, someone will ask, “What happens if you do eat gluten?” And I just say, “My stomach gets REALLY upset” or “I have to spend the next few days in the bathroom” and they get the point, and no one has failed to eat their meal afterwards or treated me any differently. One or two people have asked for more details even, everyone has their own poop info limit I guess, lol.

    Certainly you don’t have to go into lots of detail if you’re not comfortable with it, but you don’t have to avoid the mere reference to the fact that you poop, either. As the book says, Everybody Poops. You’re honestly most likely to get sympathy over anything else, most everyone has experienced how unpleasant and difficult to control intestinal issues can be.

    Good luck getting your diagnosis!

  • attica says:

    Look at it this way: if the bodysuited intestines-woman in the commercials communicates with a “sorry, can’t make it, stomach again” text, that’s gotta be a good way to go! She’s nothing BUT intestines, and even she’s appropriately vague!

    Here’s an internet stranger hoping you feel better/get to a manageable place soon!

  • Aarika says:

    18 years with ulcerative colitis that first manifested when I was 17 has taught me that it’s not ever as big a deal as I think it’s going to be. I’ll explain to people, “I love garlic but if I eat something that has been near garlic, I start bleeding internally because my intestines are stuuuupid!” In fact, my friends often speak up before I can, “She’s allergic to garlic, no garlic for Aarika, no garlic, guy” because they care about me more than how weird it is to talk about bowel things. I have to skip/flake on plans sometimes because I can’t stray too far from my bathroom and I usually use the code, “My stomach is upset right now” without getting too far into it (except with my nurse friends who see way grosser things than anything I could talk about on a daily basis and are unphased). Good luck, it’s going to be okay.

  • Collarbone High says:

    Much empathy from a fellow IBD-haver!

    Sars (and everyone above me) is right — most people these days are at least vaguely familiar with Crohn’s and know it’s a GI issue. (Side gripe: where were all these knowledgeable people 20 years ago when my doctors were saying “This is all in your head”?)

    The one time I’ll get more specific is in letting friends know what kinds of things are off the table for me: “I’m always down for a movie but not so much for a 5-course, $80 dinner because I can’t digest that much food.” And if I’m having a flare and barely making it through work, let alone socializing, I’ll just tell people, “it’s not you, it’s Crohn’s” and everyone is very understanding.

  • RJ says:

    I periodically work for a family whose young son has Crohn’s. I agree with the posters who have noted that general knowledge of Crohn’s is getting more widespread. (And if someone says, “What is that?” just saying, “It causes stomach problems – I have to be careful,” is probably more than enough for most sane people.)

    Best wishes on feeling better!

  • pomme de terre says:

    A work-around I have used for depression treatment when I needed a modified work schedule to accommodate appointments was “getting treatment for a chronic condition” which is true and juuuust informative enough.

    It lets people know that something serious enough to require treatment but non-fatal is going on, and that you’re dealing with it.

Leave a comment!

Please familiarize yourself with the Tomato Nation commenting policy before posting.
It is in the FAQ. Thanks, friend.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>