Woman Holding Flower in Front of Stomach
Health

My A-Z of IBS

It’s another IBS Awareness Week post! I’ll be honest, I struggled to come up with an idea for this one, so I turned to Google for some ideas. I’m glad I did, as I came across a blog by Becky Excell, who writes gluten free recipes following her diagnosis of IBS. In particular, I came across her A-Z of IBS, which illustrates just how much of an impact IBS has on her life. It inspired me to put together my own, which I’m going to share with you in this post. Of course, some of the letters will be the same, but I’ve tailored them to illustrate my own experience. The aim of this, as Becky did with hers, is to illustrate exactly how much IBS affects my life. I hope you enjoy it, and please feel free to put together your own!

A to Z of IBS

A is for Anxiety

My old friend. Or enemy, rather. Anxiety and stress are probably my biggest IBS triggers, and lately, I’ve been finding if I get anxious about something, I’ll then also get anxious that I’ll get a flare as a result. Awesome.

B is for Bloating

I don’t suffer from bloating that often, but when I do, it’s BAD. I’m not exaggerating when I say that, at its worst, I look as though I’m six months pregnant. It’s painful, it’s uncomfortable, and it really doesn’t do a lot for your self esteem.

C is for Colonoscopy

I had the joys of this particular procedure back in 2020. I’ll be honest, the procedure itself was nowhere near as bad as the stuff you have to take to prepare for it. I genuinely never felt more ill in my life than I did in the 12 hours I had to neck 2 litres of pure misery.

Colonoscopy Stuff

D is for Diarrhoea

You know you have IBS when you can spell diarrhoea without needing it corrected. If you’ve been reading my last few posts on IBS you’ll know that this is currently my primary symptom. Or, to give it it’s proper name, IBS-D. It’s a barrel of laughs, obviously. 

E is for Emetophobia

This is a phobia that goes hand in hand with IBS, and definitely not in a good way. If you don’t know what emetophobia is, it’s the fear of vomiting. It varies in terms of severity – some have a fear of others vomiting, others have a fear of themselves doing it, while others will have a mixture of both. I have a mixture of both, although my anxiety is a lot worse when it comes to other people throwing up – through numerous hangovers I’ve grown a little more accustomed to doing it, although I think part of the reason I don’t find it as scary is because I know it’s not contagious and I know what’s causing it. If I ever feel nauseous just out of the blue, my anxiety soars at the prospect that I may be ill.

Anyway, my point is, when you have emetophobia, you’re essentially so finely tuned to your bodily functions that even the slightest abnormality to a bowel movement will get you worrying that you’re ill. It’s a fantastic combination when you have IBS-D.

F is for Food Poisoning

I experienced a nasty bout of food poisoning back in 2014 – although at the time I was unaware it was food poisoning. One thing that often crosses my mind is whether or not my IBS has been as a result of it – while I’d had stomach issues before, they certainly weren’t as severe until the last few years. Believe it or not, over 60% of IBS-D cases could be post-infectious. It’s something I’d definitely be interested in looking into if the opportunity ever arises.

G is for Gross

You’ll probably know by now that I have no problem talking about my IBS. It takes up a hell of a lot of my life, so I might as well. However, so many people see it as a gross and disgusting illness – yes, at times, it can be. But having that perception of it doesn’t do anyone any good. In fact, it just makes the people living with it feel even more embarrassed and adds even more stigma. Yes, poo is gross – but for fuck sake, we all do it. Lets stop viewing IBS as such a disgusting condition when so many people live with it.

H is for Holidays

I don’t travel without the fear that my IBS will act up. While it’s only been within the last couple of years that my IBS has flared to this level, it has still played on my mind every time I’ve travelled abroad. The idea of using an airplane toilet – even for a wee – fills me with dread, and I always have this fear that I’ll need to poo on a plane. I refuse to go near tap water or ice when I’m abroad, for fears I’ll fall victim to travellers’ diarrhoea and I’ll only ever eat foods I’m familiar with. Bearing in mind, this is in European countries too, where the water is generally fine for most people. It’s for that reason I would never travel to countries like Egypt or India – I’ve known people with cast iron stomachs who have fallen victim to “Deli Belly” and such, so I don’t think I’d stand a chance.

I is for Imodium

As a result of the above, Imodium is ALWAYS in my travel bag. I don’t particularly like to take it as I fear that above all things, it will make me sick (my theory being if it can’t come out one end, it’ll come out the other), but having it to hand on the rare occasions that I’m travelling makes me feel that little bit better.

J is for “Just Eat a Bit Healthier”

OH FUCK OFF. I’m trying. It’s not that simple. If I could fix my IBS by drinking a shit-ton of water, cutting down on sugar and eating more vegetables, I would have been cured years ago, and so would every other poor bugger that has it.

K is for “Kill Me Now”

The thought that crosses my mind every single time I feel a flare coming.

L is for Low FODMAP

I’ve heard a lot about how a low FODMAP diet can help with IBS, but I’ll be honest, it’s a minefield and it makes my head hurt. I invested in a cookbook with low FODMAP recipes, as I wanted a list of meals I could actually eat rather than an endless list of individual foods. However, I forgot the key element here – I’m a lazy bitch. I don’t cook. Me buying a recipe book is the equivalent of buying a car when you can’t drive. Probably was a waste of a tenner.

M is for Mebeverine

Mebeverine is a drug I’ve been given on and off over the years, and I’m taking it at the moment. It’s a drug known as an antispasmodic that works by relaxing the muscles in the gut. Taking it this time around is probably the most effective it’s been, although it hasn’t wiped out my symptoms completely.

IBS Journal & Medication

N is for No Offence

Please don’t ever be offended if you make me a meal and I don’t eat it. It’s not a comment on your cooking. It’s because I’m terrified that eating the entire thing will cause me to shit myself. 

O is for OCD

When you have contamination OCD, it’s not ideal having unpleasant gastric symptoms on top. Over recent months I’ve noticed an increase in my handwashing as well as the whole “touch wood” compulsion I do whenever an unpleasant thought pops into my head. On the side, it’s not the best illness to have when you have to take stool samples into the doctor’s surgery either.

P is for Peppermint

I’ll be honest, peppermint tea has been one of the most effective remedies when it comes to my IBS. It helps to ease the cramping and bloating I experience, and while I think it’s probably some sort of placebo effect, it seems to calm me down as well. I’ve tried peppermint oil supplements in the past but I found they gave me indigestion, so for now, I’m just sticking with tea. Additionally, if I ever feel nauseous I’ll be the first to reach for the mints, which are a firm fixture in my anxiety survival kit and have been ever since I was a child. I was always told mints are good if you have a stomach ache, and as a kid, I had A LOT of the bastards. As a result, mints are always in my handbag.

Q is for Quick to Flare

It’s amazing how fast a flare can come on. I’ve had days where I’ve felt completely fine, right up until I’ve eaten a meal. It doesn’t even have to be a big meal. Within half an hour, that’s it. Those types of flares are especially distressing, because you think you’re having a good day, and all of a sudden, you feel like you’re dying. There doesn’t even need to be anything to trigger it. It can just come on out of nowhere.

R is for Restaurants

I used to love going to restaurants. Over the last few years I’ve been to some amazing ones. Obviously the pandemic has meant that they haven’t really been a regular thing recently, but I’m genuinely nervous for the next time I go to one. Perhaps on a good day I’d have it in me to go to one I’ve been to so many times before, but the thought of going somewhere different scares the hell out of me.

S is for Self Confidence

Guys, IBS is a HOT illness. 

Obviously, I’m joking. I hate to admit it, but IBS has taken a lot of my self confidence away from me. On days when I’m feeling bloated I’ll look down at my stomach and feel like my clothes look awful on me. On days when I’m flaring (occasionally on normal days too, but that’s another story), I’ll feel so disgusting that I can’t even look in the mirror without wanting to cry. My husband is amazing and tells me I’m pretty no matter what, but anyone with confidence issues will tell you that it’s incredibly difficult to believe even at the best of times. IBS flares also impact my mood, so in addition to the physical symptoms, I’ll feel miserable, and that low mood combined with low self esteem is quite a toxic combination.

T is for Tired. All the Bloody Time. 

I never realised that fatigue can come with IBS, and so powerfully too. Following on from a flare, I will feel HORRENDOUS for at least 24 hours afterwards. I feel as though if I lie down, I’ll fall asleep, and I’ll find myself drifting off at my desk. The fatigue that comes with a flare is intense AF. Before things got bad, I’d have a coffee – but we all know what a wonderful combination caffeine is with IBS so…that’s out.

U is for Uncertainty

Am I ill or is it a flare? Literally a question I ask every single time I have a flare. I’ll feel anxious over the prospect that it could be an illness, and if it’s a flare, I’ll spend hours obsessing over what could have triggered it. It’s all fun and games.

V is for Very Awkward

I’ve been at parties/social gatherings (pre panny-D of course) before where I’ve completely avoided eating. Many will politely ignore that fact, but there’s been a few occasions where the host has come up to me and asked if I’m okay. It’s nice that they care, but at the same time, how do you explain that you have IBS and it’s just easier to not eat than it is to eat?

W is for Waiting Lists

Don’t get me wrong, I am ridiculously grateful for the NHS and the care I received when I had my colonoscopy done. However, the waiting list I endured for it was insane. I was given the whole “choose and book” thing – which is great, and I was told my chosen hospital would be a 4-6 week wait. It was 16 weeks before I heard anything at all, and the appointment I was eventually given was just for a consultation with a very blunt and uptight gastroenterologist. Following this, THEN it was 4-6 weeks. This was all pre-covid, and I know that the NHS was pushed to its limits even before then, but the fact I spent so long convincing myself that there was something seriously wrong with me is not okay. I’m not slagging off the NHS, but what I will say is that the system should have been a bit more honest so I could have a) chosen a different hospital or b) prepared myself for the long ass wait. My point is – don’t promise 4-6 weeks when it’s obviously not going to be 4-6 weeks.

X is for Xmas

Okay, it’s cheating a bit and I personally hate the word “xmas,” but what else is there beginning with X? Christmas is one of those holidays that’s centred a lot around food, so when you have IBS it can be a difficult one to navigate. Surprisingly, I got through Christmas 2020 fairly symptom free (mainly because I drank my bodyweight in booze), but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have anxiety around the whole thing (again, the reason why I drank my entire body weight in booze…and of course…2020 in general). I feel incredibly lucky that my family and my in-laws are aware that I have issues with my stomach, but I’m aware that’s not the case for everyone. So, if that’s you, I feel you. Even such a thing as asking for a smaller portion can attract questions, so what can you do? It’s easier said than done, but my advice is to just be honest. Obviously, not at the dinner table (that could make things a bit more awkward) but if you can speak to whoever is hosting your Christmas dinner a few days before, that’s ideal. You don’t even have to say you have IBS – just be honest and say that you can’t cope all that well with big portions at the moment. You don’t have to go into details. If that excuse isn’t good enough, just be…a little more honest. You have IBS. Eating a big meal isn’t a great idea. Most people will understand that without you having to go into any more details. If all else fails, get hammered and just tell them that if you eat a huge meal you’re doubling the risk of shitting yourself. That should do it.*

*Do that at your own risk. It’s a last resort.

Y is for Yak Bun

This is a term I’ve coined from Christine, who runs the My IBS Life account on Instagram (you may remember I mentioned her in my previous post). The yak bun is exactly what it says on the tin – it’s putting your hair into a bun when you think you’re going to yak. I mentioned ages ago that a hair tie is always in my anxiety survival kit because for some reason, putting my hair up always makes me feel better. It’s largely down to the emetophobia side of things, because if my stomach’s acting up, even if the risk of me throwing up is minimal, having my hair up and out of the way means that if the worst does happen, I’m sorted in the hair department.

Z is for Zero Shame

The entire point of this post (and the others that I’ve shared this month) is that – as you’ve probably guessed – I want to illustrate that IBS is nothing to be ashamed of. Yes, the symptoms that come with it can be embarrassing, and so many people see it was a disgusting illness, but that really doesn’t have to be the case. IBS affects 6-18% of the worldwide population, so let’s all stop seeing it as a taboo thing. 

Okay, no one likes talking about poo, and that’s fair enough. However, talking and being open about IBS doesn’t mean we have to sit and discuss our toilet habits. Believe it or not, the toilet stuff is just a fraction of it. By talking about IBS, we can reduce the stigma around the condition and hopefully make it less embarrassing. Let’s just all be aware that IBS isn’t just having a funny tummy – it’s a chronic illness that can actually dictate how we live our lives. Whether it’s dictating how and what we eat or controlling our entire social lives, it’s always there, and people seeing it as “disgusting” or “gross” is just going to add to the anxiety we feel around having it. If you suffer from IBS yourself, I hope this post has been something you can relate to. If you don’t have IBS, but you know someone who does, I hope this has given you a bit more insight into the condition. I’ve left some links below if you’d like to find out more. 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome – NHS Website
The IBS Network
IBS – Guts UK

Featured image by Frank Flores on Unsplash.

4 thoughts on “My A-Z of IBS”

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