Until the age of 21, I had experienced no serious stomach complaints…but then IBS crippled me.
I used to be able to eat anything I wanted and went to the toilet like clockwork. I had been sick before with stomach ailments and always recovered back to normal, but a 6 week period changed my mindset and my life.
How I developed IBS
I became sick for the second year in a row with gastroenteritis. The symptoms are horrible; diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps, making it very debilitating. I had already planned a month of travelling in Eastern Europe with 3 friends and I was not going to let it stop me, so we flew to Athens and began our trip.
I was always paranoid about where the nearest toilet was and on one occasion did not quite make it (yes, I shit myself), but I lasted the whole trip. I tried everything to remedy the problem and even starved myself for 2 days at one point in the hope that whatever bacteria was inside me would die.
When I returned from the trip and after a total of 6 weeks of being sick, the symptoms finally subsided, however, my paranoia remained.
Don’t trust the doctor
Although the symptoms had gone, I found myself getting serious stomach cramps and always in need of the toilet. I visited the doctor and the hospital numerous times and they tested me for all sorts of dietary intolerances, as well as putting things in unwanted places. The outcome was that they couldn’t find anything wrong with me.
After a while, I had shared my problem with a few close friends and one of them turned to me and said ‘I know exactly what is wrong, you have IBS’. They had suffered from exactly the same symptoms and lent me 2 books on methods to help and how to adapt my diet.
IBS is different for everyone and you have to listen to your body to learn which foods upset your gut. It took me a while to adjust, but once I had, the stomach cramps went away.
I figured out that it is mostly in my mind
Over the years, I reintroduced some foods into my diet and realised that my main issue is with dairy, but everything is fine in moderation. I have had weeks that I have eaten perfectly and weeks that I have treated myself to foods I know are not good. There is a slight difference in how my gut reacts, but it is far more to do with the situations that I find myself in. Some examples:
- If I eat badly, but I am at home the next day, my stomach is fine
- If I eat well, but I have a job interview, I can go to the toilet 5 times in 1 hour
- If I eat ok, but I am travelling alone with my partner, my stomach is fine
- If I eat well, but I am going on a journey with strangers, I will sit on the toilet beforehand until my legs go numb
I am sure you get the idea that regardless of my diet, it is the situation and my mindset that provokes my IBS. I never managed to get rid of this paranoia of being unable to use the toilet!
How it has affected my life
Out of all my mental health problems, IBS is the one that debilitates me the most. I think this is because it is impossible to hide, if you are desperate for the toilet then you have to go. The sad thing is that the majority of the time, I find that I am sat on the toilet, forcing myself to go when I don’t even need to.
If anyone out there has had IBS and returned to a normal life, then please help us all and share, to make others feel less alone.