Whitney A., 36, who was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when she was 16 years old, says it’s hard to go anywhere that requires long car rides. “Planning ahead is crucial. I work to determine where bathrooms are located all along my intended route ahead of time,” Whitney tells SELF.

3. Scope out the menu ahead of time.

Mary Elizabeth U., 34, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis 10 years ago after having a lot of diarrhea, cramping, and weight loss. Although Mary Elizabeth takes a biologic medication to manage her symptoms, she knows that some food and drinks will likely cause cramps and diarrhea for her—fried foods, broccoli, cauliflower, and alcohol, specifically. Mary Elizabeth always tries to do a little digging about the menu so she can prepare ahead of time whenever her plans include food. She also regularly carries snacks with her just in case there are surprises on the food front.

“If I’m going to a wedding, I will talk to the bride or groom to see what they’re going to have. If I go to a restaurant, I’ll look up the menu ahead of time,” she tells SELF. “If there isn’t food I can have, I’ll bring something of my own or eat before I go.”

4. Be honest about your health.

Rebecca B., 43, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when she was 16 after having symptoms like incontinence, bloody diarrhea, cramping, and sudden urges to use the bathroom.

If Rebecca is out with a new friend or at a work function with people who don’t know about her condition, she often brings it up. “I share that I tend to go to the bathroom a lot and I make it more of a funny little annoyance than a big deal,” she tells SELF. “I think that confidence allows others to feel comfortable and at ease around me.”

Whitney agrees that discussing her condition openly and setting expectations about her needs makes socializing so much easier. “Friends know I may need to scope out bathrooms, stop to use a bathroom more frequently than most, or potentially cancel plans,” she says.

5. Keep an emergency kit on hand.

Megan says never knowing when a flare-up will start is one of the hardest aspects of managing ulcerative colitis. “I might be feeling okay when I go out, but a bowel movement could hit at any time,” she says. “If I can’t get to the bathroom quickly, I’m going to have an accident and the whole night is going to turn around.”

That’s why Megan keeps a “clean-up kit” handy, which was crucial in her early 20s when her symptoms were at their worst. “Before I was in deep remission, I’d always have a clean-up kit with me that had wipes, hand sanitizer, and underwear. I’d keep a whole extra pair of pants in my car,” she says. Just knowing that she has whatever she needs for a worst-case scenario makes her feel more confident about making plans.

Related:

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  • I’m Pooping Blood—Do I Need to See a Doctor?
  • What to Expect After an Ulcerative Colitis Diagnosis

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