IBS is not something a select number of people want to admit they deal with. It is a condition affecting the digestive system. And I am one of those people.
IBS stands for irritable bowel syndrome. And it is just that: irritating!
Let’s get it out there. We all poo. Animals poo. I’m sure plants poo in some way? We’ve most likely got sick dealing with poo at that end of our bodies.
I write this whilst going through an IBS flare up, something which hasn’t happened so severely for a few years.
Why am I discussing this? It is something I want to break the taboo about and raise awareness to other people who aren’t familiar with it and want to help in some way. This is my own experience dealing with this for several years, where it first started in university after a series of intolerances and stress, meanwhile other IBS ‘sufferers’ will no doubt have a completely different experience to me.
Whilst it isn’t completely debilitating, it is a condition which causes severe discomfort in the abdomen, sometimes affecting other parts of the body through nausea and stress. It’s a catch-22 situation, where the uncertainty around when you’ll next need the toilet floats around in your head, or the next cramp, flare up and more. Your mind worries about your gut, and your gut worries because your mind is worrying – see where I’m going? Your mind and gut as so inextricably interlinked – it’s fascinating yet a lil bitch.
The equally draining part of it is the impact on one’s mental and physical health. Here are just a few of the things I might experience:
Lower back pain. Imagine being too afraid to cough because it’s so painful on your core and lower back. A sharp pain with every cough thus cramping your abdominal muscles, most likely creating yet another trip to the toilet, or the constant feeling of needing it but not actually feeling relief. More anxiety.
Many people can hide their pain on the surface and do a very good job of hiding it: it’s hard to disguise pain like that when your body is literally causing you pain from the inside out.
You don’t want to eat, yet you’re left with a constant sick feeling; the anxiety of being sick and then spending a long while dealing with the ‘consequences’ of eating said food. You don’t want to admit to someone that you basically have tummy issues when someone might think you’re either being too much of a drama queen about a poorly tummy, or you’re just downright disgusting. It’s sad what your mind can convince yourself to think what others are thinking.
Going out is affected. Only the other night I went out for dinner (which had been in the diary for a while) – something a little awkward when you’re already a wary eater due to past experiences with this condition. I also called in sick to work which I haven’t done before with my current job. At university, I’d just power through work – you can still work from bed, right? Don’t be lazy. What a crazy mindset! And I still feel guilty!
It can’t really be cured and only symptoms can be managed. It’s up to your body to decide what it wants to do with that. IBS can be a chronic condition for many, with flare ups happening every day, or maybe not until a certain food or bout of stress sets them off. You feel disgusting, lethargic and vary between being sick, not needing the toilet and then suddenly needing to.
I remember them at uni: being alone on my bedroom floor keeled over in pain, crying, suppressing my moans. I didn’t enjoy it, particularly first year, so the stress didn’t help either. Then I’d be too afraid to go to toilet in case I was heard by my housemates who I still didn’t really know – or want to by this point. Chinese whispers are a thing there.
I want people to become more aware – it’s not just someone pooping or not pooping all the time. It’s the anxiety attached with it, the constant worrying, which upsets your gut even more and then spills into your life, with a lot of self-help to control it.
One has no idea how long until a flare up subsides, but I wouldn’t wish this discomfort on anyone. I’d love to see more conversations about it, so I’m trying to be part of the move that drives that.
How I deal with it
(Disclaimer, this is not medical advice. This is simply stuff I have used over the years)
With gritted teeth, there is sadly no cure, but how I’ve managed it is by adjusting my diet and trying to ease my stress.
- Low FODMAP – a diet that restricts certain foods to ease symptoms that can trigger or worsen IBS (we’re all told to get our 5 a day, yet this restricts it to 3 max! = more stress)
- I’ve tried ice packs and hot water bottles on my tummy, which work to some extent
- During my most recent flare up where it felt I almost passed out, I laid down in the bath and put the cold tap on so a thin layer touched my toes and back, bringing my body temperature down
- Buscopan + ibuprofen + paracetamol. Sometimes I take Nytol to help me sleep, or even a Piriton depending on how much sleep I’ve lacked over the past few days
- Brief walk – within quick walking distance of home, just in case!
How to help
- Be patient – your IBS-patient may complain often and how uncomfortable they feel. They just want someone to listen and make the pain go away
- Massaging can help a little, but be mindful too much pressure can cause a sharp pain
- Go out to get medicine for them – sometimes the anxiety can be so overwhelming, they don’t want to risk going out and dealing with a ‘situation’
- Colonic hydrotherapy – the first time I went (nearly 18 months ago), it was a very unusual experience, but I’d honestly say it has transformed my gut health since then. I’m booked to go again to ease this flare up
Thank you for reading this far if you did, I really appreciate your time. I hope it helps!