The bottom line

By - Friday 28th October, 2016

An unseen disease causes problems for hundreds of thousands in Britain alone, but Croydon is well-equipped to deal with it

Do you know where all the public toilets are in Croydon?

Well, nor did I before spring 2015.

I have ulcerative colitis. It is an incurable disease.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the overall term to describe two conditions: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are long-term (chronic) conditions that involve inflammation of the gut. There are similarities with the symptoms, but the areas that it affects are different. Sometimes it is confused with IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, which is a common condition that affects the digestive system, but is not a disease.

More than 300,000 people in the UK have this disease

There are five million people worldwide who have Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. More than 300,000 people in the UK have this disease. Many people have never heard of this hidden, debilitating disease, which takes over your life.

The most common symptoms are uncontrollable bowel movements and diarrhoea. This is a challenge every day, but particularly if outdoors not near a toilet or in unfamiliar surroundings. Thankfully, in a town centre such as Croydon, toilets are everywhere – from public loos to department stores, pubs and coffee shops. The other common symptom is weight loss. I have met acquaintances whom are impressed with my amazing diet (I have lost over two and a half stones in weight), except it isn’t a ‘diet’ that I would recommend!

Flare-ups can disrupt the day-to-day routine of work, relationships and social life. Visits to the doctor and hospital are regular, and food shopping is difficult. Many people who have Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis have certain foods which affects them, causing unpleasant side effects. Some of the foods that I am unable to eat include: wheat, gluten, dairy, lamb, pork, raw fruit and vegetables, olive oil, sunflower oil, processed foods, and spicy foods. Ultimately, I no longer go out to lunch or dinner as my options are limited, and I don’t know how the food is prepared.

You cannot tell if someone has Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis

Inflammatory bowel disease is a hidden disability – there are no visible supports like using a wheelchair or walking stick. You cannot tell if someone has Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis. It is not obvious. There are many medical conditions that are hidden disabilities. These include epilepsy, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease.

More awareness of inflammatory bowel disease and hidden disabilities is needed.

For many people who are suffering with this disease, looking well on the outside doesn’t mean that you’re not ill.

We have lots of toilets in Croydon and that alleviates the panic

Knowing the location of toilets is vital when you are out and about. For me, Croydon town centre is ideal. Why?

We have lots of toilets in Croydon and that alleviates the panic that I have when out and about.

Walk down George Street and North End. From East Croydon station to the Whitgift Centre and Centrale. Croydon has many department stores – Debenhams, House of Fraser, M&S, as well as cafés – Costa, Pret, McDonald’s and more. There are toilets everywhere, and of course there’s a large number in the Central Library.

Go to Croydon Council’s website. There is a list of unisex toilets, most of which have 24 hour access.

I also carry a Disability Rights UK card that states I have a medical condition and need urgent access to disabled facilities

Transport for London has produced a ‘Toilets Map’, and Crohn’s & Colitis UK is campaigning for accessible toilet signs with the very correct slogan of ‘not every disability is visible’.

Obviously, it depends how urgent the need is, but I can say that I don’t panic when I’m in Croydon. I also carry a Disability Rights UK card with my photograph which states that I have a medical condition and need urgent access to disabled facilities. So, if I need to use this, for example in a shop that doesn’t have public toilets and I’m desperate, I would not be embarrassed about showing this. It’s better than the consequences.

I can’t think of many places similar to Croydon that have so many toilets in close proximity. For me, neighbouring boroughs are not so well-served. I avoid them, as the potential for stress it just too high.

So, bottoms up (excuse the pun) for Croydon!

Angela Rolle

Angela Rolle

Angela moved to Croydon some years ago and can't imagine living anywhere else! She has a background in music and arts and works in higher education. Angela was diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease – Ulcerative Colitis in June 2015. Her book about coping with her condition 'How the world fell out of my bottom...and other tales' is available on Amazon.

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  • Anne Giles

    Sad to hear about your condition. What an enlightening article. I have an IBS card which instructs shops, etc. to allow me to use their loos. What do you do after 5 p.m. though? In the UK shops close early, as do cafes. In Spain, for example, everything is open till late.

    • Angela Rolle

      Thanks Anne. Many shops do close early – e.g. 6pm, but department stores, supermarkets, pubs, bars, places such as the Southbank Centre etc. are open late, which is a good thing! I also have a card stating I need ‘urgent access to disabled facilities’, so I’m prepared to show this when necessary!

  • Sharon Green

    How can I apply for a Disability Rights Card please?

    • Angela Rolle

      You can get The National Disabled Identification (DID) Card from the organisation based in Reading, Berkshire. This is an independent group, not a government organisation or part of Disability Rights UK.

  • Robert Ward

    Great advice from Angela. There are many afflictions where the availability of public toilets is a crucial constraint to living life to the full. Good to hear that Croydon leads the way (again).