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We chat to Essex bride Jaina, who tied the knot at Essex wedding venue The Fennes, about how how having colitis affected her wedding planning...
When my now-husband proposed, I didn't realise how much my Colitis would affect the wedding planning process – especially as I've been in remission for years now.
Having a lifelong, incurable illness affects every aspect of life, especially major events like getting married. If you're planning a wedding or other big events, here's some tips to get you through from what I've learnt along the way.
1. Pace yourself
The worst thing about Crohn's and Colitis is being constantly forced to make choices that others never have to think about. Like 'do I pick the kids up from school, or use the energy to make dinner?' Or 'should I drink at my friend's birthday, even if I'll be in agony tomorrow?' I had to borrow energy from everything else in my life in order to wedding plan.
Early morning starts are always a 'no' with chronic illness, so we scheduled an afternoon wedding, and had the ceremony and reception at the same venue. I knew I wouldn't be able to get through the whole wedding day without a break, so we scheduled in a couple of hours gap in between the ceremony and reception. We put out games and food and nobody minded entertaining themselves for a while.
You might not have the energy to do every bit of cute decor DIY you have saved on your Pintrest board - but that's okay. You don't need the extra stress, and when it's all over you're going to remember the day for the start of your life together, not the handcrafted chair ribbons.
2. Be comfortable in your outfit
A few minutes into my appointment at a bridal store, I'm standing alone in a dressing room attempting to keep the dress I'm trying on from falling down. Despite it being the smallest size they stock, the shop assistant has had to run to get more clips to get it to fit. My fallen hair is leaving trails behind on the pristine white dress.
Ever since I developed Colitis, my hair has started falling out at a much faster rate. Embarrassed, I'm frantically trying to collect all the strands before the shop assistant comes back, whilst still holding up the dress. Honestly, it was depressing. Trying on wedding dresses should be such a joyful moment, but it made me feel like this was an experience not meant for people like me. I lost over 20kg when I developed Colitis, and it's still a struggle to maintain a normal weight.
3. Find a good SPF
I'm at a slightly higher risk of skin cancer because of my Colitis medication. But that wasn't going to stop me having the garden wedding I was dreaming of! I tried lots of different SPFs to find one that had high protection, but wasn't greasy to wear under make-up.
4. Plan and take precautions
Essential: a fab make-up artist who'll come to the venue on the day. I have scars on my face from multiple shingles outbreaks because my Colitis medicine suppresses my immune system, but my make-up artist did a great job of covering them up.
Having to greet and hug hundreds of people with all their various germs did cause a fair bit of anxiety. Planning a summer wedding reduced the chances of people being unwell, and I got through with a fair amount of hand sanitizer!
5. Avoid foods you know will bother you
Easier said than done, but really important. Is horrendous pain really worth the indulgent food? Many brides are on pre-wedding diets for all sorts of reasons, so it won't look that out of the ordinary.
6. Don't forget your medicine
I had 8 tablets and my biologic injection to take on the day, but I was never going to be able to remember them all. So I designated a responsible person to give me my tablets when I needed them, as well as remind me to drink water - gut inflammation means water and nutrients aren't absorbed well, so I'm more prone to dehydration.
7. Check the venue's accessibility
The first thing I asked every venue was if they had accessible toilets. As Crohn's & Colitis UK's Knowledge and Evidence Manager, I'm all too aware that some people with Crohn's or Colitis need to use the bathroom up to 30 times a day; many have stoma bags which require more space and a nearby sink to change. So the bathroom signs I made inspired by Crohn's & Colitis UK's Not Every Disability is Visible campaign were hands down my favourite bit of wedding décor. Working at the charity I've seen first hand the difference the signage has made to people's lives, and it was a priority to make sure my friends had easy access to the facilities they needed.
It's easy to feel like you're being difficult by requiring extra adjustments like accessible loos, but remember that you're unlikely to be the only one who has additional needs. Our wedding guests included blind people, people with allergies, older people, people in wheelchairs, people who are neurodivergent, people with babies, all of whom had needs to account for. So it's certainly not selfish to ensure the bathrooms and venue as a whole are accessible.
8. Look after yourself
What would happen if had urgency during the ceremony and people thought I was running away? What if I was forced to lie down from pain instead of having fun with my friends and family? These are just some of the things people with Crohn's or Colitis have to think about. Luckily my medicine is controlling my condition well right now, and I didn't have too many problems on the day. But with chronic illness things can change suddenly, and the next flare-up could strike at any time. We hunted for wedding insurance that could potentially cover me for a pre-existing condition (very few do!) in case I became hospitalised again.
Try to stick to the routines you know work for you, even when you're super busy. Take your medicines, eat well, rest, and definitely spend time doing other things rather than wedding planning! Sometimes you can do everything right and you still get stuck with a huge flare-up, and if that happens it's important to forgive yourself. Maybe you didn't have the energy for lots of pre-wedding parties, or even dancing at the reception. Maybe a small, simple ceremony was all you had the energy to arrange. And that's okay. Because the day is about you and your partner, nobody else, and the commitment you're making to each other is what you'll always remember.
9. Accept help
Stress is a well-known trigger for Crohn's or Colitis flare-ups. Everyone has their own ways to manage it, but the most important thing is having friends and family who support you and understand what you're going through. My now-husband was exceptional, taking on huge amounts of the planning responsibilities when I was feeling overwhelmed. Having someone like that reminds you that it's all worth it.
Sometimes it can feel like the whole wedding process just isn't made for people with chronic illness. But with the right support around you, your day will be absolutely magical.
For more information, visit www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk