Disclaimer: Due to the nature of IBS, this post will contain talks of toilets/going to the toilet/feeling ill. Although this post will not be graphic or explicit in the slightest, if you feel offended by or dislike reading about these topics then please don’t read on. But if you’re completely unbothered, like myself, then grab a cuppa and get comfortable. This may be a looooong one. Also, this is a very personal matter that I’m a little nervous about posting on here so please be respectful (I am a very gentle soul hahahaha).
When I started blogging a little over 3 years ago, I never in a million years dreamed that I’d one day be sat writing a post about my problematic stomach. It’s not something I’ve ever felt comfortable sharing with people I know, let alone the internet. But, in my 2017 ‘go-me’ year, I’ve decided to share my little story with whoever wants to listen.
I just want to start off by saying this is in no way a post vouching for sympathy or me trying to play the victim. I know there are people out there in the world suffering daily with conditions and situations a lot worse than my own but I thought it may be helpful to shed insight into a condition that is relatively ‘taboo’ and rarely discussed due to its nature.
This entire post may come as a complete shock to even some of my extremely close friends as it’s a topic I rarely speak about and is easy to conceal as it’s not a visible disorder. So, to the ignorant eye I look completely ‘healthy’. For those of you who are unaware, IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Rather than me completely butchering an explanation of what IBS entails, I’m going to copy and paste some information from the NHS website as I am no doctor and am likely to misinform everybody (lol).
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common, long-term condition of the digestive system. It can cause bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation.
The symptoms vary between individuals and affect some people more severely than others. They tend to come and go in periods lasting a few days to a few months at a time, often during times of stress or after eating certain foods.
IBS usually first develops when a person is between 20 and 30 years of age. Around twice as many women are affected as men.
The condition is often lifelong, although it may improve over several years.
That pretty much sums up the main points about the condition, in very general terms. As it states above, the levels of IBS a person can suffer from vary A LOT. If I had to put myself on a scale of the severity of my IBS (1 being extremely mild and 10 being unmanageable) I would say currently I’m at a 5. So, in the grand scheme of the syndrome, there are individuals a lot worse off than me. However, there have been periods in my life where this number would be rated higher, but over the years I have learned to manage my stomach slightly better, which I’ll go onto later. It is also a chronic condition, meaning I’ll likely never be ‘cured’ and because of this, have learned how to deal with it by managing my diet and levels of stress.
I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t suffer from IBS but I’m pretty sure I was diagnosed around the age of 9 or 10. I’d been suffering with really bad stomach pains non-stop for weeks on end so I eventually visited the doctors where I was told I had what seemed to be IBS. At first the doctors were unsure, as IBS is not as common in children as young as I was at the time but they eventually concluded that’s what it was.
Over the years, my experience with IBS has varied. As stated on the NHS website, the symptoms tend to come and go over a period of days or weeks. This made it difficult when I first discovered I was suffering from IBS as I kept thinking I was miraculously ‘cured’ if I went without stomach aches for a couple of weeks, only for them to come back with a vengeance a few days later. (*May get a bit graphic here so skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to read on*). The general symptoms that I suffer from are mainly stomach cramps. But honestly, writing down my symptoms as two small words does them no justice. When I say cramps, I mean an unbearable sharp twisting feeling that spreads through my entire stomach. Although I can be a drama queen at times (ok, a lot of the time), hand-on-my-heart I’m telling you the pain can be excruciating. It’s as if someone is reaching into your stomach and squeezing and twisting as hard as they can, not letting go. That’s the only way I can describe it. The stomach pains cause me to incessantly shake whilst draining all of my energy. Whilst it is true that to relieve some of the pain, it helps to go to the toilet, my personal battle is more with my stomach and not with the toilet (lol). One of the most common misconceptions is that it’s a condition where you’re ‘always on the toilet’ because it is so much more than that.
I’ve been on two different types of medication for my IBS. One of which, made my symptoms a lot worse so I was not loving life at all. Whilst the second lot of tablets I was taking didn’t make me feel worse, they didn’t really make me feel better either. I ended up giving up my medication because I hated taking the tablets and they weren’t really helping a gal out anyway.
My worst experience with IBS had to be when I was around 14. I’d gone to watch my brother in a school performance with my Dad and one of my friends. By this point, I’d learned to sense when a stomach ache was coming and I was feeling slightly off in the car on the way there. Whilst I was queueing to get into the venue, the stomach ache came out of nowhere and I knew I needed to get home ASAP. The car journey on the way home was, honestly, probably the worst 20 minutes of my life. So much so, I made my dad pull over on an extremely busy main road as I needed to get out of the car. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I’d become so bloated out of nowhere and I was working my way into some form of panic attack. I was crying hysterically, trying so hard to breathe but the pain was absolutely awful. I’ve never experienced anything like it since.
The side of IBS that is rarely talked about is the psychological side and that’s something that I really wanted to touch upon in this post. The main period in time where my condition was at its worst was between the ages of 13-16 years. The reason for this is that a lot of my stomach aches were brought upon by myself. No, I don’t have magic stomach-ache giving powers (although that would be sick, excuse the pun), but I brought them on by putting myself under unnecessary stress. Stress is a common cause of increasing and heightening symptoms of IBS so I was unknowingly making the condition worse for myself. The reason I was getting so stressed out is because I didn’t want people to know that I had IBS. I was a 13 – year – old girl with a stomach condition related to the toilet. No-one wants to casually bring that up in conversation with their friends on the playground!! I was really embarrassed that people would find out and laugh about it. I dreaded being invited round to my friend’s houses for dinner as, at the time, I had no control or no knowledge over when a stomach ache would occur. The last thing I’d want was to get one whilst I wasn’t at home. It got to the stage where my mom would have to talk to the friend’s parents and inform them that I had a sensitive stomach so shouldn’t be eating large portions of food. I was MORTIFIED. I remember going round to an old friend of mine’s house and their dad spent the whole dinner asking if I was okay or if I needed anything. A lot of the time, because I’d be constantly worrying about if I was going to get a stomach or not, being stressed whilst I was eating a meal would cause me to have a stomach ache anyway. It was a really vicious cycle for a long old while.
FINALLY, onto some positives (well, as positive as you can be about this subject). After around 9 years of dealing with IBS, I’m finally starting to learn how to deal with and control it. For a long time, I felt as if the IBS controlled me but your gal has come out on top!! So much so, that when I told some of my university friends that I’d been living with in halls, they said they never would have known. I’ve discovered which foods it is that tend to trigger my IBS (red meat is a KILLER!!!!) so obviously try to avoid those at all costs. There are certain situations where I can’t always avoid eating these foods but extremely small portions tend to be okay. Talking about portions, I don’t tend to eat a lot in one sitting. I’m more of a snacker-throughout-the-day than a big 3 meal eater. I found, at the beginning, I’d put a lot of pressure on myself to eat the ‘normal, recommended’ 3 meals a day but I know my body. I work best eating a little snack for breakfast (a piece of fruit, or a cereal bar) eating a medium-sized lunch and then a small dinner. It’s actually a running joke between me and some of my friends because I physically cannot eat a lot of food without feeling ill. So I’ll always serve myself loads of food at dinner time (because I’m starving!!!) then 5 mouthfuls in will be suddenly full. Another thing that triggers my IBS to make a little appearance is not eating at regular times. For example, if I go on holiday and am flying at 5 in the morning, I’ll be waking up at 3 and eating food, which my body isn’t used to. Once my stomach has been thrown off, it will be bad for the entire day which means I’ll be feeling ill until it sorts itself out.
Honestly, now I’ve learned how to cope with my IBS, I see it as more of an inconvenience than a condition. It no longer dictates how I live my life. For the longest time, I struggled so much because I LOVE FOOD. Ask any of my friends and they will tell you that. I could never pick just one favourite dish as I love all food so much. So, having a condition where it was food causing me to feel so unwell was really difficult. Also, not to mention, we kind of need to eat to, you know, SURVIVE. For me, it’s been all about finding the balance.
To anyone struggling with, or feeling as if they are struggling with IBS or anything similar, my biggest piece of advice is to stay calm. The worst thing you can do, especially when you’re experiencing a stomach ache, is to cry or start to stress out as it only makes things worse. Take deep, long breaths to help the pain subside as, unfortunately, you just have to ride it out. You’ve got this. There is little that can be done to prevent it but I’ve found having a calm and positive mindset really helps in avoiding making the symptoms worse. Of course, I still have bad days!! I get nervous when eating out with new people for the first time or eating at a new restaurant as I don’t know how my stomach will react. It’s completely a trial and error situation. My stomach might be fine with roast potatoes one day, but may react badly to them on another day. I usually just have to play it by ear. To try and limit the possibility of flaring up my IBS, I tend to eat similar foods or eat out at similar places. All my friends know I bloody love a Nando’s and one of the main reasons for this is that it’s fine for my stomach. It’s just a constant learning curve and I’m only able to discover what works and doesn’t work through many mistakes (and stomach aches lol).
I’m sorry this wasn’t like what I usually post but I wanted to gain some exposure for IBS as it’s actually a lot more common than you think, affecting 1 in 5 people over the course of their lifetime. If you’re suffering from IBS or just want to learn more about it, I’ll link some useful websites down below. Thanks for reading my little story!!