On the far left are friendship bracelets that have broken and frayed; the middle are friendship bracelets that are strong and linked together; and on the right are new friendship bracelets being created.

How IBS Impacted My Friendships

My IBS has had quite a large impact on the friendships I have. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very good impact. When you have a chronic illness that controls your everyday life, your friends get separated into two groups: those who understand and support you, and those who don’t.

IBS and existing friendships

If I could go back three years to the beginning of my IBS journey, I would do a lot of things differently. Mostly because a lot of my friends, those to whom I wasn’t that close, didn’t even get the chance to decide if they wanted to support me or not.

I remember that a friend of mine once texted me on a Sunday, asking if I wanted to meet her for a picnic in the evening. I rarely got a chance to see her because we didn’t live in the same city. And I really wanted to say yes. But the moment I even though about it, my anxiety started acting up. If I went to that picnic, I wouldn’t be able to eat anything, and then people would think that I’m weird. I would get home late and probably have a flare-up on Monday morning, which would make me feel miserable at work. In the end, I kept replaying the whole scenario in my head until I was completely freaked out and ended up canceling. I never saw that friend again.

It wasn’t the only time something like that happened. Once a very good friend of mine wanted to visit me and bring a couple of friends with him. It was just for one night, and it probably would have been fun. But at the time, I was living in a really small apartment. They would have had to sleep on the living room floor – between me and the bathroom. Knowing my morning flare-ups, that was not something I could handle. And so, I told him no.

Situations like this really do impact a friendship, and not in a positive way. My friends had trouble understanding why I would not want to see them, and I get that. But I just didn’t know how to explain the chaos that was going on in my head (and my guts).

Thankfully, I did open up to some of my friends sooner or later. And those are the ones who stuck around. I just wish that I had found the courage to be open about my IBS sooner.

IBS and making new friends

Making new friends when you have IBS can be difficult, but it’s in some way easier than maintaining existing friendships. New people didn’t know you before the illness, so they tend to just accept you as you are now – super careful with food and reluctant to make plans in advance.

Whenever I meet new people that I get along with, I’m usually honest about my relationship with food from the get-go. I prefer them thinking that I’m a picky eater rather than explaining my IBS, but at least they’ll know that restaurants are not my favorite place to be. Once I get to know them well enough, I do tell them about my illness.

However, the complicated part is to actually make new friends as an introvert with IBS. Where I live, social gatherings always take place around food. And since I’m not comfortable around food – especially when people try to force-feed me various trigger foods – I tend to retrieve into my shell. I’m still working on how I deal with these situations. But I’ve found that the more I put myself in them, the more confident I get. I guess that it’s just a continuous work in progress, and I hope that it will get easier with time.

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