Being a housemate with Crohns / Colitis – the joys of shared houses

One of the hardest parts of living in shared house when you suffer from Crohn’s/Colitis is knowing how much you should tell the people you live with. Over the years I have lived with everything from absolute strangers, to weirdos, geeks, to best friends, and sometimes the people I have confided in the most have been those who I met for the first time on the first day I moved in.

It just seems that over the years I have found it easier to live with strangers than with friends. I’ve found that if you start off best friends after a couple of months living together any friendship, no matter how strong, will start to fray at the seams. Any bad habit, any good habit, in fact any little tiny speck of dust, will grate on you and become the most annoying thing in the world. People who you admired or loved for their confidence or their organisational skills, or amazing social life, will soon become too obsessed with cleaning, too bossy or too bloody loud and sociable to live with. Even that quirky laugh you loved when you first met can sound as bad as living with Janice from Friends after a couple of months of living in a tiny house together.

I have had some amazing times in my years living in shared accommodation. From moving into my shoe-boxed sized room in student halls of residence, The Lawns, in Hull, to now eventually moving in with my boyfriend. I have lived with family members, university friends, best friends who became couples (a big surprise to us all as one turned gay while we were living together – I do like to hope they’re still together though) and total strangers who became life-long friends.

Having IBD has presented many problems while living with other people. Some people I have managed to live with for years without them ever noticing…which is shocking, as they must have thought I was snorting lines of cocaine around the toilet bowel every other second or had permanent food poisoning. I have sneaky suspicion that they noticed I was visiting the loo every 5 minutes. Surely they must have laid in bed listening to the muffled shouts of pain as I screamed into my hand during the most painful craps of my life, timed my toilet sessions which could last up to 20 minutes at a time on bad days, and even needed a wee every 10 minutes from hearing the sound of the toilet flushing so often they may as well have been living next to a fast flowing river. I just guess they were either too sensitive to my feelings or, more likely, far too embarrassed to talk about poop and toilet behaviour to ask why their housemate seemed to have turned the toilet into a second home.

Mostly, as I always raced to the loo straight after meals, many of them believed that I was bulimic. Some have even said it to my face, and despite trying to explain Crohn’s to them have continued to believe it for years and years….that hurts…that hurts a lot.

I’ve had many mornings were I’ve rushed up the stairs almost falling down as I sprinted to reach the loo just as my housemate shut the door and proceeded to sing in the shower. I can remember sitting on the stairs next to the door rocking backwards and forwards in agonising pain, listening to him singing away for what seemed like a life time (it was in fact around ten minutes). I think there were times I passed out while waiting it just hurt too much.

Anyway as I was saying how much do you tell people about your illness? When you’re living with them they would have to be blind not to notice, or incredibly ignorant and self-absorbed, that you are suffering. In the past I didn’t say anything about my IBD, I just hoped that it wouldn’t make a difference, or that they would never notice…but that was always the wrong thing to do…when the flare began I would begin to live a life of stealth, waiting to use the bathroom when people were out, turning up my music really loud to hide the musical farts and all sorts of other ridiculous things. I guess I wanted to be treated like I wasn’t the ill one, but when the questions started coming about the toilet roll being used up so quickly and the banging on the door began mid passing out with pain, I would always be forced to confide in my fellow cell mates about my chronic condition.

Most of the time people just accepted it, they have just said ‘hey you’re my mate and you are living with this, what can I do to make your life easier?’ – some have asked questions, then just continued to treat me like before, but always been there through the hard times, helping me through and visiting me in hospital – I always think of these as my best friends. But some have, mostly through concern, become obsessed with my illness, watching my every move, checking on me constantly, always saying ‘should you be drinking, eating, doing that with your illness. Although I love them for their concern, this has always been hard for me to handle as my friendship dissolves into a mother-daughter relationship, or worse still a nurse/patient relationship from then on…at times this has got so severe that I’ve wondered whether I would wake up with a stool chart at the end of my bed and my housemates stood around me poking my stomach and asking me how many times I went to the toilet in the night and whether my stools were formed?

Now I always talk about it. Sometimes you can’t shut me up, and that has to get boring for people. Having Crohn’s doesn’t make me less normal, or less fun. I shouldn’t hide it, but there again I shouldn’t have to go shouting it from the rooftops if I don’t feel like it. But telling people helps to stop the horrific realisation that there is only one toilet and someone has decided to have a bath and dye their hair and the bathroom will be occupied for an hour…meaning you have an accident while sitting on the stairs waiting for them.

I am now best friends with one of the girls I used to live with. She was a crazy stranger to me when we first met, and we went on to become best friends. We haven’t always seen eye to eye, and we weren’t a perfect match as housemates, but that’s part of why I love her so much and why our friendship works. She was one of the most amazing people when it came to handling my illness. Why? Because she just treated me like a human being. I felt I could tell her anything, and some of the things I told her about living with IBD I have never told anyone before and will, most probably never tell anyone again. She would always just listen. She never said ‘should you be doing, eating, drinking that?’, she never pushed me into doing anything, and she didn’t let me feel down and upset about my condition. To me she just treated me like a friend, dragging me on night’s out when I was feeling down so we could dance the night away, sitting in the house chatting, and going shopping together. She was, and still is, always there when I need her, visiting me in hospital with supplies of crisps and soya milk in the hope that I won’t almost starve to death again, and always bringing me my favourite and most expensive body wash to try to make myself feel human in hospital.

To my housemate I was more than an illness…in fact scrap that…to my housemate my illness was just something that was part of me, it didn’t define me. It was something that was always in the background bubbling away, but most of the time I was just Rachel. And that she didn’t define me by it meant and still means the world to me.

So now after this long winded rambling I’m going to close up for the day it’s been a hard week of moving my boyfriend’s stuff into the flat. Both of us are exhausted but extremely happy and looking forward to living together in my little city flat. Time will tell how we handle it now I have my ostomy bag…but that’s my life now and I’m sure we’ll find our ways to deal with it – I mean I’ve handled much worse!

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