Thursday, January 9, 2014

Wedding Series: In-Laws

We all know that people suck, in general, when it comes to accepting and respecting IBS as a real issue, and that is no different when it comes to in-laws. Some of you may be lucky enough to have family members that understand what you're going through, so this may be an even larger hurdle for you to jump than it was for me. My family, however, was not- is not- very understand or accepting of my IBS and has always given me trouble about it. Over 6000 of you have read my blog posts, but I bet you a million bucks that none of them have ever laid eyes on them.

But family is different. You can call them names, you can yell at them, and you can stick out your tongue at them before you walk away like a two year old. Chances are that a couple days down the road, one of you will need something and you'll forget it ever happened. Unfortunately, that's not the case with in-laws. You basically have to treat them like strangers, but the sucky part is that they're strangers who get to have an opinion about you. WORSE- they get to have an opinion about you and share that opinion with your fiance who shares their opinion with you. So then you know that they think you're a freak because you don't eat anything at the parties they throw. And that they think you're anorexic because they've never seen you eat. And that they think it's all in your head, and you just need to get over it.

You know what you get to do about it? Jack.shit. Because they're your in-laws. You have to keep the peace and remain tactful so you don't ruin your relationship with your significant other. Well, I guess that's not true. I have been able to do something about it. Here's my story:

I've been dating my fiance for over 9 years. I've had IBS since I was 7, but this current cycle of symptoms started about 2 years into our relationship, so he's had 7 years of dealing with this with me. Needless to say, he's learned a thing or two about what I go through day-to-day, so he gets it on the level that a person that it's not actually happening to can get it. His parents are Russian, and in Russian tradition, food and drink are VERY important and are basically the center of every good Russian party. And Russians (my Russians, at least) like to party. My family gets together mostly for major holidays and maybe birthdays if everyone can find a day off together. Russians celebrate EVERY holiday, EVERY birthday, and sometimes throw parties for what seems like just the heck of it. I've been to a LOT of parties over these 9 years.

Another thing about Russians is that it's considered rude to not accept food or drink when you're welcomed into their house. In the beginning, when I was having a symptom-free cycle, I was able to eat or drink anything. I was still my picky self, but I would still eat their food if I could figure out what it was. Once I got sick, I stopped eating anything anywhere except for the safest foods at home. At that time, I was completely afraid of all food because it would make me violently sick, and I was losing weight scarily fast. When I had to stop accepting food at their houses, I tried to explain what was happening, but it's very awkward talking about those kind of symptoms with people who haven't quite formed an opinion of you. I basically left the explanation at, "IBS makes me sensitive to foods that normal people can eat without a problem. When I eat those foods, I get very sick for days at a time."They didn't understand why an "upset stomach" was keeping me from eating the food they were offering me but just pretended to not care for many, many years.

Every now and then I would hear a story through my fiance about how they asked him, again, why I never ate anything. He said that he tried to explain it best he could, but they still thought it was just all in my head. I just needed to drink more vodka and it would cure me. You should have heard their reaction when I told them I couldn't drink alcohol. Yikes.

Anyway, fast forward to now, and I thought we had it all covered, but no. All of the extended family and family friends have finally stopped asking me at every party why I'm not eating; they've just accepted it as my way of life. But my fiance came home the other day after visiting his parents, and he said that he thought his step-mom finally understood it. They had an argument about whether or not it was all in my head, and he thinks he finally got through to her...7 years later. He explained that it's not just an upset stomach, and that it affects every facet of my life. How I have to consider what I'm going to eat if I'm going to be away from home for too long. How I have to plan out where I can use the restrooms in case an urge hits me. How I can't eat at work all day long so I don't have an episode and have to leave. How I have to avoid the food I've always loved because it kills my insides. How I'm in pain every single day. How I go to sleep every night with a heating pad on. How I have no social life because I'm tired of people being weirded out by me not eating.

And they finally understood the profound effect this continues to have on my life. Even though I currently consider myself to be in a fairly symptom-free cycle, I still struggle day-to-day. I'm not having diarrhea every single day, but the urgency and cramps are still there. I still have to avoid my trigger foods for the fear that my IBS will come raging back. So, they are right in some regard. IBS has changed the way I think. But any disease changes the way you think.

Alright, I got a little off topic. I think the best way to deal with in-laws is to make sure your fiance or husband/wife understands your disease as well as they can. They are the ones who will most likely be explaining what's going on with you to their curious family. Don't let their opinions get to you. Just like any stranger on the street, they don't understand IBS and they're going to think the worst of it. I've decided that IBS is treated basically like mental health diseases are. They aren't considered "real" by society yet. That's not your problem, that's theirs. If they never understand it, you just have to stop trying to get them to understand. It's too much stress to put that on yourself. And we all know you don't need more stress. Over time, your new family will grow to love you and your IBS will just become an odd quirk to them in the worst case, and life-altering condition in the best case.

Just remember- in the end, the only person you need to understand you completely is your significant other. Anyone else who wants to get it is just icing on the cake you can't eat.