Mental Health Relationships Self-Help Sexuality

‘You Have to Love Yourself’: How to Date With a Chronic Illness by Billie Anderson

Dating or starting a new relationship is scary enough as it is, so throwing a chronic illness or disability in there can make the process of finding your lobster evermore challenging. 

I’ve been on Tinder. I’ve had one-night stands. I’ve dated people casually and I’ve been in long term relationships. All of these experiences have helped me understand what I want in a committed, long term partnership with someone.

I have a chronic illness and also a stoma bag. I was given my stoma after being diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis at 21 and undergoing 11 months of unsuccessful treatment. Throughout my treatment and my surgery, I was single, and considering I couldn’t really walk or eat very much throughout that time, dating someone wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. 

Nine months after my surgery I decided I was ready to swim in the dating pond. I took to tinder and was faced with a predicament; how do I date when my body isn’t ‘normal’? I had come to terms with my new body and intestine poking through my stomach, but I didn’t think about how someone else would take it. 

Billie wearing a beige top showing her stoma bag
Photo by Amber Schormans Photography

So, logging into Tinder for the first time and I was faced with a crossroads. What photos do I choose? Do I pick one with my stoma bag on display or do I hide it? How do I hide it? Do I mention it in my profile or not? I’m proud of my bag, so why should I hide it? What if I get negative messages about it? Do I put it in my bio? 

So, I decided to make a promise to myself: 

“If someone doesn’t like me or sends horrible messages about my stoma or IBD, that says more about them than it does about me” 

I chose to be upfront. I popped a picture of me on holiday in Ibiza in a low-rise bikini, bag on show. If anyone wanted to know what it was, I would explain without giving away too much. I went on a few dates and was lucky that I didn’t get any negativity.

There was one night in particular that sticks with me. I was on a social event with my netball society and started chatting to a guy. We hung out back at mine and had a couple more drinks. The next morning, he asked for my number and if he could take me for a drink; obviously after a night of chatting into the early hours of the morning, I said yes!

On the first date I told him about my IBD and my stoma. I explained most of the journey and chose to show him how I share it on Instagram. He didn’t really say very much, and I now know that was because he was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to say. But he asked me on another date, and we are still together nearly a year later! 

Billie sat on a log outside in summer

He always says my IBD and stoma bag were never a factor on whether he should date me or not. And even now, he says he can’t imagine me without the bag as well as respecting the path I’ve been on to get where I am now.

As we have grown together, I’ve involved him more and more in my life; IBD and stoma life included. He likes to know about how it affects me and has always been incredibly supportive. I’m lucky to have someone who loves me the way he does and is willing to stick with me through further surgeries and hospital admissions. He comes with me to my hospital appointments and would happily sit there while I’m on my iron infusion for anaemia.

People always say you should find someone who ‘looks past’ the bag and the illness, but I find this negates the fact you’ve been through it. I have someone who respect my illness and respects how I’ve handled it. He doesn’t shy away from poo talk, but most importantly he doesn’t pity me. He looks at it and at me as a sign of strength. 

My advice to anyone who is about to jump into the dating pool:

Don’t run before you can walk. 

If you’re not 100% sure you’re ready to let someone in on your private life or wear your heart on your sleeve, then take some time for yourself. 

You have to love yourself before you can let someone else. 

Letting someone in, even if you don’t have a chronic illness or a disability, is a big step and I think you have to work out who you are, what you want from a relationship and your priorities in life, before you go all in. 

I found my lobster and I feel very lucky to be loved and accepted bag and all. 

Follow Billie on Instagram for more about her IBD, stoma and self-love journey @billieandersonx