Special occasions are something to celebrate. But if you’re living with an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), these events can sometimes leave you with a little more than a sore head.

Living with Crohn’s can make you feel as though you always have a choice to make: Your favorite food or a day on the toilet? Using up all your energy to see your friends or resting in bed to reduce your fatigue?

Whatever you’re battling, there is decision to make. The question is, “do I stay or do I go?”

So, as we start a new year with new beginnings, here are my top five tips for celebrating with Crohn’s.

1. Know your limits

Everyone’s body is different. The key is to find out what is right for you. During your journey with Crohn’s disease, you will discover lots of different things about yourself and your body. With side effects such as fatigue, chronic pain, and a frequent fear of toilet troubles, socializing with Crohn’s can be a tricky task.

You may be suffering from an “invisible illness” and consequently look fine on the outside, but your body is going through a lot. You need to make sure you look after it appropriately. You may not always get it right, and there will be a lot of trial and error, but knowing your limits always pays off.

2. Be prepared

As the saying goes, “fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” Although not always practical, there will be times you can think ahead and prepare for the event you are attending.

If it’s a dinner party and you know the host well, tell them you would love to join but will need to bring your own food (unless they’re able to cook for your specific requirements).

Being able to plan is a skill many people with an IBD have down pat. Whether it’s dietary planning, medication planning, or toilet-trip planning, preparing yourself for the event ahead should take away some of the worries that you may have.

3. Mind over matter

If you believe in the power of the mind, then this is a great tip for you. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies in feeling anxious about something and convincing ourselves it’s out of our control.

Although there are some things that we can’t change, we all have the ability to engage in positive thinking, which can sometimes give us the extra boost that we need.

If you’ve decided to attend a special event or occasion (and there is no stopping you!), then allow yourself to enjoy the experience. Similarly, instead of punishing yourself for feeling sad or guilty about what you can or can’t do, accept the situation.

If you’re watching your neighbor shovel multiple onion rings into their mouth but know that fried foods aggravate your condition, remember that the repercussions of eating it aren't worth the moment on the lips. You’ll surprise yourself with what you can do if you put your mind to it.

4. Don’t stress

Believe it or not, stress can be a significant trigger for flare-ups. If you try to avoid getting worked up, it can work massively in your favor (although this is easier said than done).

Instead of being hard on yourself for not attending your friend’s birthday celebration, remember that your health is your priority. Sometimes that will mean turning down some invites so that you can accept others in the future.

It’s important to remember that it’s OK to say no. Ultimately, if you’re not happy and healthy, you won’t enjoy yourself.

5. Learn as you go

You don’t have to get it right every time! We are all human and every day is different. Even if you’re the most prepared person in the world, you still cannot anticipate every series of events and what might happen.

Instead of getting frustrated that you weren’t able to stay the duration of the event (or whatever set of circumstances you find yourself in) try to learn from it. Is there anything you would do differently next time? Is there anything that anyone else could have done differently to help you or the situation you’re in?

Stay stimulated and curious about your body. Embrace change and adapt as you grow.

The takeaway

Living with a chronic illness like Crohn’s disease can be tough at times, but it’s important to try to not let it take over your life. Allow yourself moments of indulgence and enjoyment. Follow the above tips and put your own spin on them to find what works for you. You deserve to have a truly wonderful year (and life!).

Loïs Mills is a 25-year-old from London, working in the design industry and blogging about inflammatory bowel disease. Originally from Buckinghamshire, UK, she grew up in a large family and went on to study fashion at university. Since 2017, Lo has been using her voice on social media platforms to abolish the taboo associated with Crohn's disease and to provide a platform for young individuals to share their experiences.