IBS is a BITCH
This post is the first in a potential series about my experiences with a shitty stomach. It's amazing to me that I have not yet written about my history of belly blunders. I think now is the time for me to discuss my experiences with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, how it affects my life, and what I'm doing about it. I am finally doing something about it and if a post like this can even help just one person then I would consider it a success. Please be warned. I have suffered with an increasingly symptomatic stomach for 12 years now. This means that by now, I am VERY comfortable talking about poo. If you feel grossed out when people talk about poo, then perhaps this isn't the blog post for you...
There I am. It's the year 2008. Life is good. My first year of high school is going alright. My best friend is still my best friend and I have navigated my first real (and very cringy) relationship. I am staying afloat in my classes, but I sure do hate my algebra teacher. I'm doing all the cringy things that 2000s teenagers do, but things are going well. One day my best friend and I are locked out of my mom's apartment because (once again) I forgot my key. Typically this is not a big deal. However, on this day, it IS a big deal. Because I REALLY have to go. My stomach is gurgling, bubbling and painfully nagging at me. Before I can slide my high school student ID into the door, it's already happened. I've quite literally shit myself. I need to change and shower. At some point later in the year, my doctor suggested that perhaps I could have a little something called IBS or moments of gastritis.
Sophomore year of college, the upsets are frequent. I'm currently stuck in traffic with a past boyfriend (Whaddup, Will) on our way to a Kodaline show on Valentines Day. It's early in the relationship. He doesn't know how my belly can be yet. He has no idea how nervous I get when we are far from public bathrooms and that a single meal can ruin my night in a matter of minutes. We had a lovely dinner at the 99 Restaurant on Route 101. Suddenly I feel it. The gurgles start flooding in. My palms are sweaty. I know what's coming. How do I explain to this guy who I really adore that I most likely will have a gastric accident if he doesn't get out of traffic and to a public toilet in the next twenty minutes? The pain and urgency to go comes in wave. Every five minutes it roars back and the clock keeps ticking. I'm embarrassed and eventually have to spill the beans on what is rumbling inside. He gets to a public bathroom in a Shaw's Grocery store just in time for me to sprint to the bathroom. Fortunately, Kodaline was still dope as hell and we had a good time...but I didn't enter a 99 Restaurant for a few years.
It's senior year of college. I successfully got an R.A. position in the upperclassmen dorms; something I desperately wanted so I could have my own bathroom. After three years of sharing toilets with neighbours in my dorms, I finally have a private space. I no longer have to wait until midnight to comfortably use the toilet without feeling shame. I can abandon my favourite secret bathroom on campus that took two years to find. My stomach bothers me once every few weeks. It's always sudden, painful, and still embarrassing. I have to leave Project Sunshine meetings early. It flares up in Emmy's mom's antique shop (Lynn's Vintage Flair for all you Massachusetts people, check it out). Time away from my private bathroom is anxiety-inducing. The flare-ups seemingly at random and the potential surge of pain and urgency to go is constantly in the back of my mind. My relationship with food is different. My appetite is small and a fear of certain foods is thriving. Unfortunately, it's becoming a part of who I am.
It's 2018...my first vacation with the family of my now fiance. He is well able to handle my IBS moments, but his family? Not so much. We rent a mansion in Cyrpus with like five bathrooms. There is a pool and my legs are the palest pieces of meat I have ever seen. Nick and I aren't staying in the bedroom with an ensuite and I'm preemptively nervous knowing that there isn't a chance in hell that my stomach would make it 7 days without exploding. I don't want my stomach to betray me in the middle of the vineyard or while out to eat at a nice restaurant. I carefully avoid cheeses and creams just in case. I avoid getting sloshed on some of the best wine I have ever had the pleasure of drinking. I'm not eating a lot. I pray to no one every morning for my stomach to cooperate. Fortunately, the house is so big that I can be discreet with my noisy bowel movements and windy belly. Nick comforts me when I'm in pain or feeling embarrassed. He's the best.
And here we are. It's 2020 and I am more than halfway through my PhD Fellowship. I am stressed out and all over the place, and so is my stomach health. Afternoons after lunch are anxiety-inducing. Most meals bring pressure, a gurgle, bloating, and the potential for having to drop everything I am doing and hustle to a more private bathroom where I won't feel shame from the embarrassing noises echoing from the stall I am hiding in. My symptoms are no longer once every few weeks. They come about multiple times a week. Every bathroom event leaves me feeling exhausted and annoyed. The day comes when I have to leave a wedding multiple times to use a private bathroom and rest. As I am missing the party while lying in the safe space of a hotel bed on New Year's Eve, I book an appointment with a dietician to finally figure out what the hell is going on.
Welcome to IBS, friends. It can be unpredictable, painful, and very inconvenient. It can be frustrating and embarrassing. Pooping is a taboo topic which can make you feel shame when things go wrong.
If your story sounds anything like mine, don't worry, it can get better and I'll be talking about that in my next posts.
If you know someone whose story sounds like this, don't make fun. Ask them how they are feeling and don't diminish their pain or the anxiety of having a poo moment in a public toilet. If you're the person in the science building bathrooms laughing at the woman in another stall when she already feels embarrassed, please stop that. A lot of people out there are having a really hard time with their digestion and it is something that no one should feel ashamed of. We all need to stop pretending like pooping is this inherently taboo thing. EVERYONE poops and for many, it is an unpleasant experience. Go easy on these invisible sufferers of belly blunders.
This is part one of a few posts detailing my experiences with a bad belly. Check back in soon for the next part where I jump into what IBS really is, and what it's like trying to manage it.