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Spoiler alert – you can still have a brilliant career with IBD. Now I’ve said that, hopefully you will know what to expect from this blog article – because guess what, being diagnosed with IBD (or any chronic illness) doesn’t mean you can no longer shoot for the stars and achieve your dream career. It doesn’t mean you have less earning potential and it certainly does NOT mean you are not as brilliant and talented as your colleagues.
Why do I have the authority to say this, you might ask? I’ve been working in the media industry since I was 21, and I have been through plenty of blunders in the process of trying to understand how to make my work and Crohns work together. There is no handbook for this stuff and I didn’t realise how easy I had it at university in terms of being able to manage my workload based on my illness. Of course, I had deadlines and exams, but I could revise from my bed, without anyone questioning it. I could write essays in my PJs, saving energy on getting dressed and commuting. I could dip out lectures if I was poorly, and it didn’t mean I was impacting anyone else apart from myself and I certainly wasn’t losing money doing so.
When I got my first full time job out of university as a receptionist at an animation agency, it was a total shock to the system. Not only was I commuting from my parents into London (an hour and a half each way), I was also working 0830 – 1830 hours. I didn’t know how to tell my manager about my Crohns because I barely understood how it was going to impact me at work myself. It was a struggle, but six years on I have figured out a way to try and make it work.
Before you read on, you should know I absolutely do not have this all figured out. One of the gifts of my industry is it is very fast paced, so moving jobs regularly is normal. It’s a gift because I have had the opportunity to try out multiple work arrangements with no impact on my future employability (because every young journo is doing the same!). After having to tell managers about my Crohns so many times, I think I have finally nailed the conversation about my chronic illness and I’m not scared to ask for what works for me anymore, and that’s what I want to share with you in this blog.
I have always worked and never been afraid of hard work, but I didn’t know how to balance my Crohns until I started work after university. I had my first Saturday job at 16, and always worked throughout the summer at cafes, bars, shops – anywhere that would pay me, basically! I worked as a receptionist after university for 4 months, before I landed my first job in a large news organisation. Getting this job was the first time I had a conversation with any manager ever about my Crohns. I never declared it at my Saturday jobs (I suppose my 18 year old self thought I didn’t need to), but after a brutal 4 months of not telling my workplace at the animation agency, it was clear as day that I needed my managers to be in the loop.
Shortly after I started at the news broadcaster, I had a huge bowel obstruction and needed major abdominal surgery. I was off work for 8 weeks in total and my bosses were absolutely amazing and totally supportive. At this stage, you would have thought I would be able to have the same conversation with my manager when I moved to a new department. But I didn’t. Plagued with feelings that I wouldn’t be seen as good enough (combined with my own imposter syndrome at even being a TV producer), I didn’t tell any managers. I worked shifts for a year and a half full time and it led me into a pit of exhaustion. So much so, I quit. I led myself to a point of complete exhaustion that I couldn’t see the wood from the trees – and I was convinced I didn’t want to be a journalist anymore. I moved into a completely different role in a new organisation, which I convinced was right for me. It wasn’t.
At this point I realised I had to start telling everyone who was involved in my work life about my Crohns. I am extremely fortunate I returned to the same organisation as a freelancer and have since had unbelievable support from every department I have worked in. It took that entire experience for me to realise that if I wanted to make my dreams a reality, I had to be honest and I had to ask for what I wanted. Since then, I have worked a mix of full time, and doing part time when my health was unstable. I am now starting another new role in a different department in a week (at time of writing), and I’ve already told them about my Crohns. It is unbelievable relief for me to be able to do so, and actually helps me perform better at work.
How to have a conversation with your boss about your IBD/chronic illness
From the questions and comments I’ve received in my inbox, this is the thing you guys dread the most! However, I think this tick list will help you prepare for the conversation and how to have it. Honestly after years of avoiding this conversation and now having it seemingly every 6 months, I can promise it is really not as bad as you think! As always would love to hear if you guys have any further tips – so please do message me if you do!
Top tips for dealing with colleagues
Ultimately colleagues don’t need to know the ins and outs of your illness like your manager does, but equally, if your health demands you are absent for recovery or appointments, this may impact them (it certainly works that way in my industry). I have found it best to let my colleagues know they can ask me questions at any time, and I will always explain if someone asks why I was off sick/away. I won’t announce my life story or tell them the ins and outs of Crohns unless they ask, but I will make it clear that it’s not a secret. Equally, don’t feel obliged to share more than you are comfortable with – and if you have concerns, don’t be scared to raise issues with your manager.
Dealing with money worries
It’s all very well me saying go part-time, but we all know that this means a pay-cut and actually, this really isn’t always viable. I think this is why it is so important to establish an open conversation with your manager. If you have a chronic illness, you should also have the right to ask for reasonable adjustments to make your job work for you, which may include flexible working arrangements, like working from home or reducing your hours when your health requires it. To learn more about reasonable adjustment and other options, click here.
What are your rights as an employee?
Many of you, like me, will have really understanding employers who value your work and value YOU. However, if you feel you are being treated unfairly, Crohns and Colitis have brilliant advice here.
Go get it
I really hope this blog has provided some helpful advice for how to cope with managing a career with IBD. The thing is about having a chronic illness is that it makes you question everything, and I firmly believe we should never ignore these questions. Remember that nothing is forever and if it costs you your peace, it’s too expensive. Rethink, re-evaluate and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.
If you’ve got this far – THANK YOU! As always, please do get in touch with your thoughts – love hearing from you all!
Let me take you back. It was November 2018. Ahead of me I had Christmas, a incredible 7 week trip around Australia and Singapore planned and I just found out I landed a new job which I’d be starting in April 2019. I was so pumped for the things to come, but my body was having other ideas. My Crohns symptoms had started flaring to a level I couldn’t ignore and before I knew it, I was whipped into hospital to have a joyous flexi sigmoidoscopy to have a good old look at what was going on (I don’t have a large intestine, hence the flexi rather than a colonoscopy).
I always have sedation when I have a flexi (sorry but after 23 years of Crohns and some kind of camera up my bum at least once every 18 months, I made a blanket rule for myself to always have sedation. It just makes the experience slightly more pleasant), so when I woke up I was totally disorientated. When I heard my consultant say “we’ve found some severely active Crohns”, I was kind of hoping I was dreaming. Alas, I was not, and the second thing he said to me in my drunken-post sedation state was “but the good news is, we have options before more surgery”. I wobbled out to greet Josh who was waiting for me, still slurring my words from the sedation to say out loud for the first time “I have active Crohns”. The shock was similar to someone hitting me round the head.
For context, I was diagnosed with Crohns Disease when I was four years old and I am absolutely no stranger to having active disease. When I was 12 years old I had my 90% large colon removed, lived with an ileostomy for three years and was re-joined when I was 16. After that I had many scar tissue complications which involved multiple operations, but I never had any ‘active’ Crohns (read my full IBD story here). In 2016 I had minor-moderate flare, which I got under control with the liquid diet (read all about that here) and since then with the help of Adalimumab, I had generally felt pretty well. So to be told this was no longer the case and there was a very real reason I was shedding a large amount of blood – it was quite a shock.
So it was November 2018 and I was due to fly to Australia in less than 5 weeks for the biggest adventure of my life, and I had severely active Crohns which was in no way under control. The first thing they gave me was mesalazine suppositories – which it quickly became clear did absolutely nothing. I continued on the adlimumab, but as it got closer to Christmas, I began to get increasingly anxious that I was going to take myself to the other side of the world with no proper working treatment. Not to mention, I was exhausted. Barely functioning, barely socialising and barely stringing sentences together – the Crohns fatigue was REAL. Two days before we flew to Australia at the end of 2018, I was given high dose steroids. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I also wanted to feel well and enjoy the trip Josh and I had saved so hard for.
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Honeyzzz I’m back and WE ARE OFF 🇦🇺✈️🇦🇺 and what does an English person do before a 24 hour journey? Have a good cuppa of course! (With almond milk obvs) Christmas has been an joyous whirlwind and I cannot believe we are sitting here at T2 about to embark on a trip we’ve been planning for months.🥰 In all honesty, December was such an uphill struggle with my #Crohns – I did wonder if this moment would ever come. But here we are and I can’t wait to spend 6 weeks with my best friend & properly rest my body & soul 💖💖Hope you’ve all had an amazing Christmas – first stop, S Y D N E Y 🇦🇺✈️ I’m also officially open for foodie recs 🙌🏼 #abellyfullofhappy • • • • • • #glutenfree #dairyfree #foodblogger #foodblogeats #glutenfreelife #glutenfreedairyfree #londonfoodie #foodietravel #ibs #crohnsdisease #invisibleillness #gratitude #wordstoliveby #positivevibesonly #travellife #australia #passionpassport #sydney #nye #seetheworld #abellyfulloffood #sydneyaustralia
The Budesonide steroids got to work extremely quickly and our trip to Australia was AMAZING. I was still taking Adalimumab at this point, so I travelled around the country with all my meds (click here to find out how I did that) and I felt great, I loved every single minute of it.
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‘Will I ever be able to travel like I used to with IBD and my tummy troubles?’ The answer is HELL YES you can! 🌍 You just have to find out the best way to do it for you. I am so excited to share the first blog post of a mini series I am publishing on my site, which shares lots of tips and tricks I’ve learnt after my 6 weeks travelling #Australia. First up – ‘how are you camping with tummy problems??’ 🚌 This was the most common question into my DMs and I totally get it. Staying in a campervan or a tent inevitably means being further away from bathroom facilities & that obvs is a massive root of anxiety for many of us. And genuinely, if someone asked me to camp on the other side of the world 10 years ago I would have said no without a minutes thought. But I embraced this adventure and it was AMAZING. I so hope you find these tips useful & empowering too. Link in bio & as always id love to hear what you think 🌟✈️ #abellyfullofcrohns #abellyfullofhappy • • • • • • #glutenfree #senzaglutine #glutenfreelife #glutenfreedairyfree #dairyfreelife #londonfoodie #singluten #foodietravel #ibs #crohnsdisease #crohnsandcolitis #colitis #intolerances #invisibleillness #positivevibesonly #ibs #ibstips #crohnswarrior #australia #campervanlife #campervanculture #eastcoastaustralia
I returned to the UK in February feeling good, refreshed and ready to kick arse in my brand new role, which was starting in April. That didn’t seem to last too long, as in March I was served with a stellar Crohns slap in the face in the form of an abscess on my bum. I unfortunately have experienced one of these before which required surgery, so I know all well how quickly the situation can escalate. I had three (yes three!!) rounds of antibiotics before it got to the stage when I had to go to A&E and have emergency surgery to drain it. It all happened so quickly it was such a shock – it also happened one week before I was due to start my new job. Talk about timing!
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Last Monday vs This Monday🥴🤯 Pic on the left: Last Monday served me a stellar Crohns shaped shock in the form of emergency surgery in A&E. Albeit minor, it was under general anaesthetic and has left me with a new wound to add to the scar party! Josh and I went straight from Cotswolds to A&E and 36 hours later I was high on morphine after surgery, with a open wound. 💖 Pic on the right: this is me, yesterday, starting my new job! No, I’m not 100% and I left early to have my daily wound dressing & lie down (literally), but I am beaming because Crohns has not bloody beaten me. 💖 I am not sharing this for a pat on the back (Josh, my friends + my family are giving me enough of those 🥰) I am sharing because this is exactly an example of when #Crohns will slap you in the face when you least expect it. But the point is with laughter, love and determination – there is nothing that can’t be accomplished. And a prime example of how you can never, ever know what someone is truly going through just by looking at them. Whatever your unexpected curveballs are, I urge you to laugh more than you cry, be kind to everyone even if you’re struggling yourself & trust that it will all get better. Because it always does 🙌🏼 #abellyfullofcrohns **FULL DISCLAIMER: I have not been this positive the whole time. In fact this morning I had a meltdown at my wound dressing because it made me late… but then I got a coffee & got on with it #hustler🤣☕️ ** • • • • • • #glutenfree #dairyfree #foodie #foodblogger #glutenfreelife #foodietravel #ibs #crohnsdisease #invisibleillness #gratitude #positivevibesonly #wordstoliveby #judgementfree #realtalk #wisdom #colitis #chronicillness #chronicillnessawareness #invisibleillnessawareness
During this whole saga and the recovery period that followed, my other Crohns symptoms started to show their ugly little faces. The consultant appointment that followed was basically me crying about the abscess, crying that my symptoms had come back mixed with me telling the doctor very firmly (my mum said I was frighteningly firm!) that I needed a new treatment plan. So I came off adlimumab and started Ustekinumab – a different biologic drug. Little did I know that takes up to three months to work, so coming off the steroids just made me flare again so back onto the steroids I went. So as I sit here writing this, I feel amazing, but I’m on high dose steroids and Ustekinumab. Why does that sentence warrant a but, you might ask? It warrants a but to me because I am due to taper down my steroids very soon – and my track history follows the pattern of flaring up as soon as the steroid dose is reduced. So I am loving this feeling – but also feel well aware I have no idea how long it’ll last. What I HOPE is the Uste is working some magic in the background – and that will be what will prevent another flare up.
This probably all sounds very negative – but the truth is, I honestly haven’t been unhappy during this time. Of course, I’ve had some real lows (the abscess really pushed me to breaking point), but overall I have tried to take it all in my stride and I have had unreal support. I started my job in April full time, but in June it became clear that full time shift work was not working in my favour. I went part time in July with the full support of work – and will continue that arrangement until I feel the time is right. Josh, my family and my friends have been there for me every single step of the way and I am very lucky I have multiple people I can call on if I need to. Despite my active Crohns, I still travelled around Australia, I still have been on holiday to Portugal and Spain, I’ve attended weddings, socialised, worked and I’ve hosted not one, but two A Belly Full Of events.
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💞 Crohn’s disease & mental health 💞 I’ve shown you so many ‘glam’ bits of my life recently that I realised it was about time I shared some other real bits – the #Crohns real bits. This photo was taken on Monday when I was having my first dose of a new medicine called Ustekinumab. I felt SO optimistic about this Med after my operation etc – and I still do – but my body had a very weird reaction to the IV (only temporary!) and I’m not going to lie, it unsettled me. Whilst this little wobble might not sound like much, the past two days I have been an emotional wreck. Welling up at a drop of a hat, having to practice deep breathing because I feel like I have an elephant is standing on my chest and then today I saw my GP and she said ‘and how is your mental health doing, whilst you are coping your Crohns?’ I was so stunned by the question I was speechless. Until I realised I legit haven’t been asked about my mental health by a doctor in relation to having a chronic illness for about 15 years. ✨ Of course my Crohns impacts my mental health. How could it not? Chronic illness can encompass your entire life – and recently it certainly has with me. My feelings aren’t unreasonable – it all stems from my brain trying to process what the hell is going on with my body. In my 23 years with #IBD I’ve experienced some lows but I have always come out the other side. Talking helps a lot – as well as knowing it’s okay to be angry and frustrated. It’s #mentalhealthawarenessweek and that is why I’m sharing this extremely personal post. Because I would hate anyone to look at my feed and think I cope with it all like a boss – because I don’t🙈 ✨If you ever feel like you need to talk there are many places you can do so – @mindcharity, @heads_together and @samaritanscharity are all an excellent place to start #abellyfullofcrohns • • • • • • #glutenfree #dairyfree #foodie #foodblogger #glutenfreelife #foodietravel #ibs #crohnsdisease #invisibleillness #gratitude #wordstoliveby #positivevibesonly #judgement #realtalk #wisdom #selflove #chronicillness #londonblogger #chronicillnessawareness #invisibleillnessawareness #mentalhealth #chronicillness
My life philosophy is very much take every day as it comes and I truly live by this. I don’t worry about next week/next month and even next year, because I’ve learnt my Crohns can slap me in the face when I least expect it and I find it easier to just focus on the present, rather than worrying about what might happen in the future. Living with a chronic illness is a constant rollercoaster and focusing on the negatives never helps anyone does it? BUT what I do think is helpful is being honest, real and open. So I hope I have done this through this blog (and my events) – because I know how crippling isolating this disease can be.
If you’ve read to this point – THANK YOU! And I always love to hear what you think. This blog and my whole platform is about real and honest conversations. If I’ve inspired a thought or there is something else you’d like me to write about, please let me know!
There isn’t anything much more stressful when you have food intolerances than giving your total trust to someone who is serving you food – which is essentially what you have to do for the entirety of any flight you took. It obviously doesn’t help that the the is aircraft travelling 35,000ft above the ground, so you really don’t have anywhere else to turn!
Flying 23 hours to Australia is probably the longest I’ve ever had to trust that what was being served to me was ok to eat – and over the course of many other long haul flights I’ve defos learnt the dos and don’ts. Essentially kids, it’s all in the preparation. Because let me tell you, there is NOTHING worse than being hangry somewhere over the ocean!
Find below my 10 tips to flying longhaul with intolerances!
1. Look online to see the meal options as soon as you’ve booked your flight.
Often they will have ‘vegetarian’, ‘gluten free’, ‘low lactose etc’ and if you only have one intolerance, or low severity, this actually might be you sorted. Unfortunately in my experience, airlines are pretty rubbish at catering for double intolerances (dairy AND gluten is a nightmare!) Having said that, I have found that the gluten free meals are generally MOSTLY dairy free too. So I usually select gluten free and then call the airline, as described below…
2. Call the airline ahead of time
It’s not unreasonable as a passenger to request your needs to be catered for, so explain your intolerances and ask what they can do. Unfortunately sometimes they will only offer you a very bland option – on a very memorable 11 hour flight to San Fran I was only offered fruit, because that was the only totally safe DF & GF option (that was Virgin Atlantic…!) If so in this scenario head to number 3…
3. Pack snacks. Literally, all the snacks
As many as you can fit in and of variety! Even if you have selected an appropriate meal – you never know what might actually end up in front of you. Always best to have yourself covered so you don’t starve.
4. Know the rules
It is worth knowing that countries like the US, New Zealand and Australia do have a restriction on what food can be bought into the country. The US don’t allow meat and dairy products for example, whilst Australia also prohibits grains, nuts and seeds. Quite annoying if you have packed snacks but they do sometimes check bags into the airport – so always best to leave any leftovers on the plane (sorry!)
5. Pack homemade sandwiches and teabags
Homemade sandwiches are really easy, are filling and you have the peace of mind knowing you made them. You can take these on your flight out to your destination and also on your return. If you can get a lunchbox going, then that’ll protect any squashing! Would also recommend bringing on any soothing teas you find help your tummy, like peppermint tea. The plane will always have hot water available and this can be a really comforting thing to do when you’ve been in the air for a long time.
6. Explore the supermarkets
Don’t forget to explore options in supermarkets in your destination! You could find lots of other good options which you could take on the flight back.
7. Be sensible kids
This is a boring one – but try to avoid alcohol and drink LOTS of water. Altitude can have a funny impact on the stomach, as well as you will dehydrate quicker. Avoiding alcohol & drinking water can definitely help sooth the stomach.
8. Travel with your medication in hand luggage
If you have Crohns like me, or IBD or any other serious medical condition, you absolutely MUST carry your medication in your hand luggage. Even if you have medical sharps or injections, it’s essential it is on your person and not in the hold. Not least because you probably need to take it over a period of 24 hours anyway! I will be doing another blog post on travelling with medication – but make sure you have all your meds on you.
9. Essentially always prepare with provisions & make sure the airline are aware.
AND ENJOY IT! I always try to see a long haul flight as ‘me’ time with no distraction. Listen to podcasts, watch movies, write in your journal – make it time that feels good. And don’t forget to get some shut eye to try and get ahead of the jetlag!
We flew Singapore Airlines to and from Australia and I was honestly so impressed. I opted for a gluten free meal and it was almost 70% dairy free too – I even got vegan butter with my GF roll and soya milk! Would highly recommend this airline for comfortable longhaul flying.
As always I would love to hear your thoughts and stories. What are your experiences flying longhaul? Share your stories in the comments or over on my Instagram, @bryonyehopkins.
‘How are you coping with camping with tummy troubles?!?’ is probably the most common question I got in my DMs whilst I was in Australia. And for good reason, camping can entail being far away from a bathroom, navigating to said bathroom in the dark & not having the comfort of privacy and facilities you would usually have at home.
This blog is the first of a mini series of posts I will be sharing with you after spending 6 weeks travelling around Australia – and each blog post addresses the most common questions and queries I got in my DMs whilst away. One of the most resounding questions I got, as mentioned above, was asking me how camping was possible with IBD or IBS. If someone had said to me 10 years ago that I would be camping on the other side of the world for 4 weeks, I honestly would have laughed. (You can learn more about my Crohns story here.) I have never enjoyed or entertained the thought of camping – but now having spent 4 weeks in a campervan, I have realised it is more than possible. The secret is really identifying your anxieties and making sure everything is planned to minimise those concerns.
I think these simple top tips will really help & also reassure you that whether you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Inflammatory Bowel Disease, there are ways you fulfil a travel dream and enjoy a adventure in the great outdoors, like I did.
1. Ok full disclaimer here, I got a campervan with a onboard toilet.
Yes, a proper flushing toilet. And I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it without having that reassurance. They do cost a little more but I honestly think it’s so worth it. Navigating to the toilets if you get up at night can be stressful – and this just eliminates that anxiety.
I should add that obviously this means you have to empty the toilet yourself too – and I want to also reassure you that this also really isn’t as bad as it sounds! They are usually equipped with a self contained toilet container and are full of chemicals – so really you are just disposing of chemical fluid.
We booked our van through STA – who talked us through what the best option was for us.
2. Book a campsite with proper camping facilities – and I mean, private toilet cubicles and showers.
95% of our campsites had really decent bathroom facilities. If you go for a campervan or tent with no toilet facilities – don’t be afraid to ask for a camping spot near the amenity block. It seriously helps in the night!
Whilst in Australia we booked all powered sites – which means you can plug the van in and have full working electricity and this cost around $30-$40 (Australian dollars) per night, which is around £20-£30. We booked a huge amount of sites through Big4.
3. Which brings me to number 3 – always pack a really decent torch. Campsites get alarmingly dark at nightfall and this will be your saviour!
You can also use it to spot some pretty amazing wildlife in the campsites – we saw possums, koalas and kangaroos at night with the torch!
4. Often camping involves lots of travel and time on the road – another time you could be away from a bathroom.
Plan your route and suss out petrol stations enroute. They will all have toilet facilities! We were lucky we had a SatNav onboard that told us when we had petrol stations coming up and I found this such a relief.
5. Make sure you have enough of any meds you take for your tummy.
And be reassured even in a campervan without a flushing toilet, you will often have running water which means you can make peppermint tea/take meds when you need to.
It’s quite amazing that even the smaller vans will have running water (which again, you have to fill up yourself at campsites!) and this is very important not only for being able to cook basic food like pasta or rice, but keeping hydrated and being able to take medication too.
In Australia the tap water is of the highest quality – so you don’t need to worry about only drinking bottled water.
6. You can also cook some pretty simple & delicious meals with really basic camping cooking equipment.
In our van we not only had running water but a 3 ring stove inside and a pull out barbecue on the outside. We also had a toaster, microwave and a kettle – which meant we could actually cook some really simple meals all with our own equipment. When you’re travelling it can always be a bit hit and miss eating out, and I don’t know about anyone else but I get a great source of comfort eating food I’ve cooked myself (not least because I know what’s in it!)
We ate a lot of simple tuna pasta with sweetcorn, with gluten free spaghetti and also barbecued fresh fish and meat which we served with fresh salad or even rice bags which we slung in the microwave. The smaller vans also have this type of cooking equipment.
7. Go with someone you trust. Because generally that just makes the whole thing easier!
Maybe this is obvious, but make sure you are travelling and camping with people or someone you trust. It means if you do have any issues, being open and honest about it will make it a whole lot easier.
8. Boring but essential – make sure you get good travel insurance that’ll cover your medical problems.
It might cost a lot, especially with IBD – but it’s worth it. I used Medical Travel Compared to get a really good price for this trip (it still hurt how expensive it was, but for peace of mind it was worth it!)
9. If you have Crohns or Colitis and you’re going away for an extended period of time, it is probably worth telling your specialist consultant.
I had lengthy chats with my IBD nurse ahead of my 6 week trip, to make sure I had the right medication and also documentation for those medicines. I also asked their advice of what to do if something went wrong whilst I was away and more than anything, they reassured me that my health insurance would cover any disasters.
10. ENJOY IT! The beauty of a campervan is the freedom & flexibility to stop anywhere, see untouched natural beauty & watch the stars.
Your tummy shouldn’t get in the way of that.
What are your tips you’d add to this list? DM me and I might feature you on my Instagram!