Living with IBS

Ok, from the title, you can tell this isn’t going to be pretty. I won’t be mincing my words here, so if you don’t want to read about this, don’t read about this. Move along to another post, or stop reading and wait, there will be another one along tomorrow; probably, (maybe). The irony of this is I’d planned to write this post this week as a follow-up to What I can’t/won’t eat, but it has also coincided with the worst flare-up of IBS I’ve had in probably 4-5 years, if not longer.

I was diagnosed with IBS nearly 10 years ago, but have probably had it for nearer 20 years. After trying to get a diagnosis on what the heck was happening with my tummy, with the powers of the UK health system, you have to phone up in advance of when you’re going to be ill, because there are very rarely appointments to see your GP on the day you need to see them. Or you take your chances and see whoever you can get in with. Which means you end up seeing a steady stream of people, who you have to repeat to the whole story, in your alloted five minutes, if they are running late (inevitably) you get rushed (invariably) so you get shoved out the door with “Eat more fibre” as the solution. So off I went to eat more fibre in the form of whole grain breads and pastas. Which is the exact opposite of what I should have been doing, as I cannot tolerate it. I would go back, to be told to drink more fluids or stand on my head or dance around a bush on the full moon.

Eventually after going backwards and forwards with the list of symptoms I had (coming right up folks!) I saw a locum, who took one look at the computer screen, felt around my tummy for the first time and et voila, I have a diagnosis. I am given some tablets I need to take about 2o minutes before I eat that will stimulate my gut to contract the way it should do, not spasm and basically ‘wobble’ the food along instead of pulsing it through. These were excellent, and I was on them for probably two years. The prescription was two-fold, to force my gut to try and work properly and also to give it a bit of a break, because when it is under stress for so long, it can get upset easily.

Which leads me nicely to the symptoms. Farts. A lot, long and loud, pretty impressive if you’re a man. Not so great when you have to try and stifle them at work. Consequently, I would take myself to the bathrooms when I knew they were empty and then pray no-one else would come in. My stomach will rumble, like you won’t believe, not because I am hungry, because it is trying to digest food and is complaining at me. This is usually the first indication I get that I need to cut something out my diet, like I’ve recently had to with dates and figs *sob*.

Bloating. I can go from having a nice flat, normal looking waistline to looking like I am pregnant in an hour. I can also get an uneven bloat too, which is always good fun. I recommend miracle undies for when I go out for an evening!

When your digestive system doesn’t work well, your bowel will go one of two ways: bunged up, or diarrhoea. Nothing in between until you manage your diet, your stress levels, your exercise and the 101 other little things to make sure you’re in tip-top condition. Consequently, I feel a real sense of achievement when I have even TWO days together of normal bathroom visits. To give you an idea of how bad I can be, I lost a kilo over the course of Tuesday to Wednesday. Yup. I weigh myself every morning and I am fed up with people telling me not to. It gives me an idea of how my stomach is doing. Weekly, I will make a note of it for weight loss purposes (5kg and counting), but daily I can fluctuate hugely.

Stomach cramps and spasms. On Tuesday afternoon, I had to leave a meeting because my stomach went into spasm. Yesterday, (Wednesday) after eating my lunch, I had to lay on the floor as the pain was so bad, I couldn’t sit up or stand up. I was hanging onto the side in the office kitchen, in tears, white as a sheet until the Clinical Advisor here who worked as a nurse educator for a long time, told me in no uncertain terms to lie down, before I fell down. An hour and a half later I was still there, despite being given Buscopan and peppermint tea. When I got home, I went to bed and stayed there until this morning.

Today, I got all excited this morning as I had a relatively normal bathroom visit, this afternoon I didn’t. So I went from thinking I’d recovered, to thinking, I really need to get looked at again.

IBS is the default diagnosis when pretty much everything else wrong has been exhausted. It has a wide, overarching banner of symptoms, and unfortunately is dismissed as not a proper illness. Well, I am here to say it is. It can be severely debilitating. I struggle every time I go shopping, every time I go out to eat, be that at people’s houses or in restaurants. I also find it frustrating that people have jumped on the gluten free bandwagon, meaning that people think what is a necessity for me is now a fad, or seen as a quick fix to lose weight. When I went for a pre-employment health check, I checked the box for IBS, met a doctor who wanted to know why on earth did I think I had that for goodness sake. He then palpitated my stomach, and apologised as he could feel where and why I had it.

Hurrah, a whole post on IBS without mentioning ‘poo’. Oh, dammit.

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