It is thought as many as one in five people in the UK live with IBS. A question I’ve been asked numerous times but not been able to answer, is what IBS feels like. The truth is, it isn’t just the ‘stomach ache’ or ‘upset stomach’ that comes with IBS. It’s the way it affects me mentally. The stress it causes. The lethargy it causes. The guilt from having to cancel last minute. The self pity that I feel so terrible without knowing what has caused the flare up. The amount of times I’ve burst into tears because I don’t know what my stomach is doing!
As with many illnesses or conditions, IBS is a condition that portrays different symptoms for different people. I can try to sum up how IBS affects me, but the person next to me might have IBS and they might have completely different symptoms. Regardless, I have complete sympathy for anyone who suffers with IBS. Note, I say suffer because this is my personal opinion. I don’t just live with IBS, as there are times when it stops me from living my busy, ordinary life.
OK, so lets start with the basics. Pain. A lot of it. So much so, that I was taken to A&E shortly before being diagnosed with IBS. I’ve always had a pretty high pain barrier (I pride myself on that!) so I guess when I started to cry from the intense pain, that’s when my mum knew it must be bad. I can’t really describe the pain, but it takes over the whole of my body. The pains I get are sharp and tight. And they won’t go away. They’re always there, darn it. Nothing takes the pain away, just some things ease it a little. Peppermint tea and ginger tea are my go-to, if I’m desperate.
Next up is the naughty nausea. It doesn’t seem to take a lot to make me feel nausea. If you can excuse the graphic details, I’m not one for throwing up. I’ve only ever thrown up maybe twice (disregarding alcohol-infused scenarios) and I don’t think I could ever make myself be physically sick. Sadly, that means the nausea stays with me a long time. A sneaky little remedy to help relieve the nausea is Pepto Bismol. Again, it doesn’t take it away completely, but it makes it a bit more bearable.
Cramp. A woman’s nemesis. Recently, the pain caused by my stomach cramps have been getting worse, I’m not sure why. When the cramps hit, I can do nothing but lie on my side and ride out the pain. Oh, and I can only lie on my left side, the right side leads to a whole other pain!
I’ll tell you now, my bowels are as indecisive as the rest of me! I could be constipated for 4/5 days and then on that day, my bowel movements will be alllll over the place. I like to be locked away in the safety of my own home, on these days. On behalf of my bowels, I am often embarrassed, angry, impatient and frustrated! I steer well clear of any medication to help with this issue, just because my bowels are so sensitive. Nobody wants to be caught out…
Full of burps. Now, you all know that ladies do not burp, and rest assured, anything that sounds like a burp…isn’t a burp. Except maybe that little one about 2 minutes ago…ahem…
Bloating. Goodness, what a bloated stomach you have! When I’m bloated, there’s no hiding it. I’m only little and don’t have much meat on me. When I bloat, I really bloat! Seriously, I look about 5 months pregnant at my peak. Thank goodness for baggy tops and ‘fat pants’.
Lethargy. IBS takes over my brain. It tells me I’m tired and that my body is far too heavy to lug around. They say exercise can help ease the symptoms of IBS. I tried this theory earlier this week, and for me personally, it didn’t work. I spent 20 minutes on the bike, which was bearable. The gas was bubbling on the surface, and I had the occasional cramp. Thinking it would get better, I decided to try out the treadmill. I knew running was out of the question, but I didn’t expect walking to be as bad. I lasted about 5 minutes walking. After 5 minutes, the stomach cramps were unbearable and I honestly couldn’t stand up straight. I must have looked quite the hunchback in the gym!
Pyschological effects. This is a big one for me, yet it is invisible to most. I’m naturally a worrier. Thanks, Mum, for passing those genes to me! I worry about silly little things and I struggle to let those worries go. This doesn’t bode well for my IBS, and stress and anxiety lead to IBS flare up’s. It’s very much a catch 22 – I get stressed, which causes my IBS to flare up. I then stress about my IBS, which prolongs the flare up.
Another branch of the psychological effects is the guilt that IBS passes on to me. I feel like such a let down when I have to cancel plans. Of course, when I do have a flare up, I find that the best place is my bed. I worry that people think I’m just lazy and can’t be bothered. I know this is probably my silly mind running away, but it’s enough to make me feel like a bad person. And yet, there is nothing I can do about my IBS flare up’s…
…which leads to the whole part where I wallow in self pity. I hate being confined to my bed. I hate not being able to keep to my plans. I especially hate feeling ill.
So what causes it?
Stress – something I’m not very good at avoiding. The more stressed I am, the worse the IBS flare up. What’s more, I get stressed when my IBS flare up, which just prolongs the symptoms…
Gluten and Lactose – these are two things that I have almost proved cause an IBS flare up. I try to steer clear from things like bread, pasta, milk, cream, but it’s not always possible. Especially difficult, is when I’m at a restaurant or at a friend’s house. Having said that, I think my body can handle a little amount of some things – I somehow ate a huge pizza and had no discomfort after eating it!
Being a woman – As if IBS isn’t difficult enough to deal with, manage and predict, that old chestnut called the menstrual cycle, is known to make my IBS symptoms flare up.
Not eating. If I don’t eat for a period of time, my stomach will inflate. Bloatedness makes it hard to eat, which then makes my IBS even worse. Catch 22 all around!
Who knows! I can eat something one day and be fine. I can have the same thing a few days later, and it can cause a flare up. I’ve kept a food diary in the past, which I’ll admit, have only left me wanting to cry in frustration.
I know I’m not the only one who gets annoyed when they hear something along the lines of “just IBS”. Here’s the thing. It. Isn’t. Just. IBS. In fact, #notjustibs has been trending on Twitter lately. Perhaps this is a slight indication of the extent to how many people feel this way. Anyway, I thought I’d try to give you a bit of an insight of what IBS is and how it affects me as an individual. There is no cure for IBS at the moment, so all I can do is try to avoid eating foods that my body cannot tolerate, and avoid getting stressed. Easier said than done…