Me, Myself & IBS

Emma sat on a bar stool in red trousers and a co-ordinating lace bodysuit layered over a white t-shirt. Pondering the effects of IBS and it's portrayal in society

I recently (read: a few months ago) posted a poll on my Twitter account asking whether of not people would be interested in a series of posts about IBS and to my surprise, people were. Over 80% of people who responded in fact and so here is the first of my ‘IBS Diaries’…

It’s estimated that IBS now effects 2-in-10 people in the UK (according to Bupa) and yet it is still seen as a bit of a taboo subject. I won’t lie, I rarely talk freely about my tummy troubles in real life and even online I only really mention them if someone else brings the subject up first.

IBS (and its portrayal in society) quite literally is shit.

I was going to say “if you’re one of the lucky ones wondering what IBS is” here, but then I wouldn’t class myself as unlucky because I have been diagnosed with it – after all it shouldn’t (really) effect my quality of life, it shouldn’t cause me to not live as long a life or prevent me from doing things that I would like to.

But it does, all the time.

Like many others, I started to suffer pain and discomfort in my abdomen in my early 20s and for a long time I did nothing about it. I would spend hours doubled over in pain, with no idea what had caused it and pray for it to pass. In my mid-twenties, I eventually decided enough was enough and booked to see my GP to find out what was wrong with me.

By this point I was feeling extremely lethargic most of the time, I was suffering with indigestion on a regular basis, occasionally I would fill physically sick after eating or in certain situations, I wasn’t sleeping right, I’d get cramps, I’d flip between being constipated for days to having diarrhoea, I could look several months pregnant one day and as flat as a pancake the next and I was fed-up.

The symptoms I had been suffering were not only physically draining, but also emotionally draining too.

I felt as though I was broken.

It was embarrassing talking about everything, but within seconds of explaining what I was going through the doc blurted out ‘oh you just have IBS’ and I have never felt more disheartened in my life. I was made to feel as though I should have known that that was all that was wrong with me, that I was stupid for worrying and that I should (and would need to) just get on with life.

So that’s what I did.

A few years later, my manager at the time mentioned that she had cut milk out of her diet because it had been identified as a potential cause of her skin issues and that got me thinking; could my tummy troubles be food related too?

And so I started to read up on IBS triggers, quickly realising that there was no cure as such and that my best hope was learning what my triggers were and then making changes to my diet and lifestyle to manage them.

Over the years I have identified that cows milk, avocados, bananas and most berries seem to trigger the pain and discomfort I have associated with eating, as does stress and (believe it or not) not eating. I’ve become more interested in health & nutrition as a result and tried to educate myself in how to overcome IBS.

As I said earlier, it shouldn’t prevent me from doing anything but it does; it makes me dress differently because I’m scared of how I will look if I get a flare up, it makes me say no to things in case the situation makes me feel stressed and triggers my symptoms and it makes me live my life differently to try and avoid being ‘just another IBS sufferer’ because my doctor may not be interested in helping, but I am.

I am not willing to let others be made to feel ashamed or as though they need to just get on with life. I am not willing to let others be made to feel as though there is nothing they can do. I am not willing to let others be made to feel as though they are alone.

Because there is so much more to life than IBS.