Funnyman Ben Morrison, 32, says Crohn’s might impact his ability to eat spontaneously, but it’s not going to strip away his sense of humor, too. And the stand-up comic, who has also starred along Ashton Kutcher in “Punk’d,” wants people living with the digestive disease to know that even though crohn’s, an inflammatory bowel disease that causes swelling in the intestines, is a “pain in the butt,” it doesn’t have to take control of your life.
Morrison, diagnosed in 1997 during his senior year of college, was the first in his family to be diagnosed with crohn’s “A cousin was diagnosed a year or so after.”
His crohn’s symptoms were spontaneous and severe. “There weren’t any early warning signs or symptoms I ignored. It just sort of turned on one day with sudden and intense stomach pain on my right side that made it pretty obvious something was going on,” he says.
After a series of barium scans (to observe the intestine via x-ray) doctors saw that Morrison’s crohn’s was localized in his ileum (the final section of the small intestine). “My ileum had blocked itself off.”
Years of what Morrison calls “running the gamut of treatment” culminated in 2004.
“After rounds of prednisone that caused my face to blow up like Macy’s day balloon just in time for my high school yearbook photo and a series of remission while I was attending theatre school at NYU led to surgery in 2004 to remove my ileum in 2004.”
And although Morrison is currently medicine-free and in remission, he realizes he may need to go back on maintenance drugs at some point. “For now, I’m living my life one day at a time,” he says.
Here’s a look at how this funny man has kept crohn’s from silencing his laughter.
The Challenge: Dealing with the stigmas and stereotypes
Morrison says his diagnosis happened so fast that he didn’t have time to prepare to cope with the symptoms or lifestyle changes. “I was a senior in high school and already had acne. The prednisone I was taking for my crohn’s made that worse so that was a double blow.” So to avoid stereotypes and stigmas, Morrison says he didn’t talk about crohn’s. “I kept it to myself and used to sneak out of school during lunch so I could go home and make a lunch that wouldn’t trigger symptoms.”
Conquer it: Don’t shut yourself off
In hindsight Morrison says he was closed off from friends and family who might have been able to help him deal with the reality of being a newly diagnosed crohn’s patient. “I didn’t really know what was going on so I wasn’t able or prepared to try to deal with other’s reactions or to ask for help.”
Once he learned exactly what crohn’s is, and how it would – or wouldn’t – affect his life, Morrison came out of his shell.
“I didn’t care about stereotypes or what people think crohn’s “might be”. I just started talking about the disease. I no longer worried about stereotypes because I realized being silent only fed them.”
Morrison says he would rather be open about his health than be pressured to come up with an elaborate set of excuses as to why he’s running off to bathroom. “I just tell people my butt is really unhappy with me. That’s much better than some big ruse. Besides, if I’m open it says ‘I’ve overcome this and won’t be a slave to my circumstance’.”
The Challenge: Being embarrassed
“If you have Crohn’s, nothing is ever going to be worse than living your life in a bathroom without inviting people in. Don’t cut yourself off for fear of being ostracized or embarrased,” says Morrison. “Everyone has a pain in the butt. If it’s not Crohn’s someone is dealing with in silence, there’s some other health malady.”
That’s why he encourages people living with Crohn’s to step out of the shadows and not be embarrassed. After all, he says at some point everyone has to go to the bathroom!
Conquer it: Laugh a little
Morrison looks to humor to get people loosened up, and lighten the tension when talking about Crohn’s. And he says he never shies away from the opportunity to talk about life with the disease.
“There’s humor in Crohn’s that you may not see,” he says.
“For instance, once after eating Chinese food, a no-no for me since that’s a trigger, I had to do an emergency bathroom change en route to catching a bus from New York City to Boston for a gig. So I almost blew a job over a vengeful egg roll!”
The Challenge: Dinner Dates
Diet plays a big role for many Crohn’s patients like Morrison. “Every flare I’ve had can be attributed to something I ate,” he says. “I almost always pay the price when I eat something I shouldn’t.”
And that can make going out on dates – especially first dates – or evenings with friends tough if pals and gals want to eat at restaurants filled with trigger-inducing meals.
“Diet is one of the few things you can do to hold Crohn’s in check,” says Morrison.
So he tries to steer dates and friendly gatherings toward places that serve sushi or Mexican, fish rice, beans, tortillas, and plain chicken which he says ‘agree” with his Crohn’s. “Those foods are the least intrusive.”
But he says there are times when he doesn’t feel like being a Crohn’s patient. “So I’ll eat Chinese food, then have pain and need to spend a lot of time in the bathroom.”
And to find food that won’t cause a flare, he spends a lot of time perusing menus. “It’s like an Easter egg hunt for the thing that seems the most agreeable.”
Morrison says he’s very open with dates, too. “I tell them “I can’t eat that because I have crohn’s. Can we consider another place” and usually people understand.”
The Challenge: Avoiding triggers all the time
Morrison realizes it’s tough to stick to strict dietary and lifestyle modifications. “I’ve made mistakes. I work in a bar so I’ll have a drink or two even though I’m not supposed to. I haven’t sworn off alcohol like my doctor has suggested.” Morrison admits to smoking in college too, after his diagnosis of crohn’s. “I wanted the freedom to do whatever I want.”
Conquer it: Be realistic
Take things one day at a time. And don’t beat yourself up if you do slip and indulged in a trigger. “Your butt will punish you enough. There’s no reason to beat yourself up mentally, too,” says Morrison.
Instead, tell yourself you’ll get right back on the trigger-free wagon and try to adjust your lifestyle.
“Everyone is human, and you’re going to make mistakes. What’s important is learning from them so you can control your crohn’s instead of it controlling you.”
In addition to being a spokesperson for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, comedian Ben Morrison recorded an album “Pain in the Butt. A touching tale about a touchy tail” to look at the lighter side of life with Crohn’s disease.
Pain in the Butt is available on iTunes or at Benmorrison.org.
Additional information about crohn’s and resources are available at the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America www.ccfa.org.