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Careful Planning Helps Me Manage UC at Work

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Brett Gaul - Blogs
By Brett GaulJuly 22, 2021

Although managing the symptoms of ulcerative colitis isn’t easy, I feel fortunate that my job as a college professor made it easier for me to manage my frequent bowel movements when I was newly diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and struggling to control my condition.

My father worked for over 30 years as a delivery driver, and I’ve often thought about how difficult it would be to have an inflammatory bowel disease and a job that lacks easy, consistent access to a bathroom.

During the school year, a typical day for me includes teaching, holding office hours, and attending a meeting. My classes and meetings are usually 50-75 minutes long. When I was having as many as 10 bowel movements a day, I was able to avoid trouble by going to the bathroom right before class and meetings and immediately after them.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to invent this routine overnight. I developed it over the course of a couple of months in the fall of 2016 as my condition worsened and my bowel movements became much more frequent than they had been in spring semester or the summer.

This routine was so successful that I had to leave class only once to use the bathroom. The class was taking a test that day, so I was able to slip out without having to say anything about my temporary absence.

Ulcerative colitis can make bowel movements extremely urgent. Even though I had gone to the bathroom right before class, I wasn’t able to make it 50 minutes without having to go again. Fortunately, the closest bathroom was just down the hall and I was able to avoid an embarrassing scenario.

Even though I have easy, consistent access to a bathroom while at work, there were still days when I wore adult diapers just in case I had an accident. Although I was initially concerned that a colleague or student would be able to hear the plastic diaper crinkle when I sat down or see that I was wearing a diaper because of its bulkiness, I don’t think anyone ever noticed. At any rate, it was never obvious to me that anyone noticed. And if they did, so what?

If you suffer from an inflammatory bowel disease and work in a job without easy, consistent access to a bathroom, I suggest talking to your supervisor about your needs. Even though you might be embarrassed to do so -- in my experience at least -- people are understanding and sympathetic. They don’t want to talk about your bowel movements any more than you do, so be brave and have the conversation if it’s necessary.

Ditto for wearing adult diapers. Any embarrassment you may initially feel from having to wear them will be far less than any embarrassment you feel after having an accident without them.

And even if you have an accident without them, so what? It’s not your fault you have an inflammatory bowel disease. Be kind to yourself. It’s difficult to manage frequent bowel movements at home, and much more so at work.



Photo Credit: Thomas Barwick via Getty Images

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About the Author
Brett Gaul

Brett Gaul has lived with ulcerative colitis since 2016. A philosophy professor, Gaul enjoys sharing his passion for philosophy and helping students live more meaningful and successful lives. When he’s not having interesting dinner conversations with his history professor wife and three children, he likes reading, running, and rooting for Minnesota sports teams.

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