Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is incredibly common. So many people stay quiet about their condition though, but things are slowly starting to change. Here’s my story.
Do you know how common IBS is? About 10–20% of people in the UK have it. And, women are more likely to have it. You may know this statistic, as IBS is so common, but who do you personally know with the condition? This figure may be a lot lower.
That’s because, well, it’s a sensitive subject. When you have a condition that can cause absurdly painful cramps, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhoea… most people don’t want to advertise it. It’s embarrassing.
I’ve seen quite a few health and wellness bloggers with IBS share their stories on their blogs and on social media. As someone with IBS, I thought it was only right that I should be open too. So here’s my story.
It started young
Most people tend to develop IBS when they’re teenagers or young adults. I was diagnosed when I was only 4 years old.
I’m too young to really remember much about it but my mum has filled me in. She said I had terrible pain and constipation, and nothing she did seemed to help. When I was referred to the paediatric department at the hospital, they diagnosed me and asked my mum if I was suffering from stress.
My mum was, frankly, confused and even asked the doctors what a 4 year old could be stressed about! But, as I got older, it became apparent that I was a bit of a ‘highly strung’ child.
I was a perfectionist, and anything less than perfect would upset and panic me. Then it would give me horrible abdominal cramps and have me running for the loo.
One incident in particular made things worse. When I was around 6 or 7 years old, I was forced underwater by a swimming teacher, who was ‘teaching’ me that it wasn’t so scary.
Well, that lesson backfired! I was petrified of lessons after that and conveniently developed tummy aches every week, which meant I missed the class. Eventually my school teacher figured things out and spoke to my mum about it… when I started a new school a year late, it was made very clear that I was never to go under water again!
I’ve had to learn to be calm
In my day-to-day life, I come across as very calm and collected. People around me often comment about how composed and chilled out I can be, but the truth is that this hasn’t always been natural. I’ve had to learn how to let things go.
That’s because stress is my major trigger. As soon as I’m stressed or upset, the IBS kicks in and I’m wracked with pain. Then, I either have to ‘relieve’ myself in the bathroom or hold on with sheer willpower until everything calms down.
It’s hard to explain to people, but my closest friends (who have IBS, albeit food triggered) and my boyfriend know that these situations can really cause physical pain.
In all honesty, I’m like a duck. Calm on the surface, but paddling along underneath. I have a mind that moves at a million miles an hour sometimes and jumps to the worst conclusions. As soon as I have a panicked thought, there comes the pang of dreaded pain.
Diet also helps
When I was 15, I became a vegetarian. Honestly, it was the closest I came to a real teenage rebellion. I declared that meat was a ‘carcass’ and requested even became a member of PETA!
My parents, bless them, put up with it well and I think they enjoyed making meat free meals. What’s more, my IBS really improved! Now, I know that too much fibre can be a trigger for some people, but I think the increase of vegetables really helped with my case.
I eat meat again, and could technically be classed as a flexitarian. Since I started eating meat again, I’ve noticed that certain types of meat, particularly processed meats like burgers and sausages, can be a trigger. Therefore, I try to limit my intake to once or twice a month.
I had to experiment with triggers
I remember, before I became vegetarian, that my GP suspected a gluten intolerance. Cue the attempts to cut out gluten!
I can’t say that it worked really well as I lasted around 6 months on it and discovered that nothing really changed. It was a worth a try though, and I’m sad that when this happened, well over 10 years ago, we did not have the variety of free from foods that we have now!
It’s part of who I am
As someone who can’t really remember life without it, I’ve accepted that my IBS is just of who I am. I’ve never felt the need to be vocal about it before now, not so much because of embarrassment but because it’s never been a surprise or a shocking diagnosis.
It is what it is. The gut is a marvel of biology, with its own ecosystem and connection to the brain. I appreciate that mine may sometimes feel like it has a mind of its own, and that well… shit happens.
Please don’t think that I’m being flippant though. Every IBS case is unique and for some people, it can be debilitating. I understand that I’m one of the lucky ones who can keep it in check with diet, stress relief and a strong dose of willpower.
What’s your experience with IBS?
It’s always interesting to hear experiences, and see how each IBS is as individual as each person with it.