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April is IBS Awareness Month and I wanted to share my story about being diagnosed with IBS.
When I sat in the doctor’s office seeking answers for my IBS, I remember feeling a sense of hopelessness settling around my shoulders.
It wasn’t my first time trying to seek out a diagnosis for a medical condition — I’ve been in and out of doctor’s offices since I was around seven, trying to find the answer to a variety of symptoms.
It never stopped being scary, violating, and personal.
This time was even more embarrassing — I’d been having issues with my bowel movements. They were out of control and unable to be explained.
And really, who wants to talk about poop? It’s ingrained in us from a very young age that it’s not an appropriate topic.
Yet here I was being asked very personal questions about the consistency, texture, and regularity of my bowel movements and being expected to answer in detail. I remember blushing several times as I replied.
The reason it was embarrassing, though, went far beyond regular decorum. Contrary to most social norms, I’ve never felt much shame about discussing personal topics, especially among friends.
Poop had never felt like a personal topic to me. It’s not something we can control, after all.
And yet that was the thing — this felt so beyond my control that it was embarrassing. I’d unexpectedly pooped myself several times at this point — laughingly, I referred to it as “sharting,” or joked that I’d gambled on a fart and lost. I often ran off to the bathroom mid-conversation because I had to go right then or else disaster would strike.
It led to me feeling ashamed. It seemed most people had at least a modicum of control over their bowels, so why were mine so irregular and inconsistent? You’re not supposed to just…lose control over your bowels. Especially not in your twenties. It felt completely humiliating.
I went through a series of tests and procedures, but ultimately the pain, discomfort, and irregular bowel movements didn’t resolve.
Navigating IBS Diagnosis and Treatment
In the end, my doctor diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. That’s basically the diagnosis you get when there are no other answers, she said.
She explained there’s not much we understand about the disease but that the mind and the gut are inextricably linked.
She asked if I’d undergone anything traumatic recently. Sure enough, I had, earlier that year.
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While my bowel problems had always existed, they had flared up shortly after my experience.
The body is so powerful that when it experiences trauma, all the systems know about it.
It turns out my gut had just been reacting to our horrible experience, too.
My treatment for IBS hasn’t been the easiest. I’ve had trial and error of several medications. I’ve had diets recommended to me, but I’ve been hesitant to cut anything else out of my diet due to how many food allergies and sensitivities I already have.
Finally, after venting in frustration about how I can’t seem to figure out my food triggers, my doctor said something helpful.
While IBS definitely can be connected to what foods you eat, avoiding IBS flares is not 100% diet; sometimes, you can do everything right and you’ll still have an IBS flare.
IBS is just like that sometimes — especially since it’s connected to the brain, and we all know how hard mental health can be.
Practicing Self-Care when Living with IBS
Lately, my focus has been on keeping my mental health steady so that my physical symptoms don’t flare. I’ve noticed how connected they are, too — when I have a traumatic experience resurface or a lot of anxiety, you can bet I’ll be spending a lot of time on the toilet.
It can be frustrating feeling like my body “punishes” me for having a less-than-stellar mental health day.
However, I choose to see it as my mind and body working in sync together. My body is so in tune with itself that it knows when something is wrong — how cool is that?
It’s important to notice these signs and listen to my body about what it’s feeling so I can process what’s going on mentally in case that’s what’s triggering my flare-up.
Either way, the physical symptoms will eventually ease — in the meantime, I take some of the meds I’m prescribed, use mindfulness techniques, take a few deep breaths, and weather the storm. My IBS flares always pass and give way to brighter days.
For Those with IBS Who Can Relate
If you have IBS, please know that it is not your fault. You didn’t eat something wrong or do anything to bring this on yourself. You are simply human.
Giving yourself kindness and grace is an essential step in managing your IBS diagnosis.
Be patient with yourself as you navigate your recovery and symptoms, and engage in self-care, even if it’s from the toilet. Especially if it’s from the toilet. You’ve got this.
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