Seeing as it’s IBS Awareness Month 2018, I thought I’d share my A-Z of IBS. That way, I’d at least have 26 letters as a starting point to try and explain how those dreaded 3 letters affect me every day of my life.
I’m not sure if 26 letters is even enough, now that I think about it! IBS has affected so much more than just my stomach. It’s taken a massive toll on my social life, relationships, career prospects and my mental health. Here’s my best stab at summing it all up.
A is for anxiety.
I’m a worrier through and through (always have been) and combining that with IBS hasn’t been great for my anxiety levels.
Will there be a public toilet when I need one? Will it even be in working order? What will I eat at that restaurant? Will they be able to cater for all my intolerances? What will I do if they won’t? What will people think of me?
As you can imagine, I’m usually much happier at home… but stressed af when I’m not.
B is for bloating.
For me, bloating is a daily occurrence and doesn’t even require a slip up with food to get itself started.
When I’m bloated, I look pregnant and I feel like a walking balloon that’s ready to pop. Plus I get terrible shooting pains because of the pressure in my gut.
Worst of all, it’s just all pretty normal to me.
C is for constipation.
Why does my body insist on hoarding the meals I eat for several days?
I walk around feeling like I’ve eaten a five course meal, when all I’ve had to eat is a bowl of cornflakes.
And don’t even get me started on the odd feeling that is feeling hungry whilst simultaneously feeling full. To eat, or not to eat?
D is for diarrhoea.
You either suffer with one or the other: IBS-C or IBS-D?
It’s like being asked to pick between getting punched in the gut, or kicked in the gut.
Either way, you’re going to feel bad in the gut.
E is for embarrassing.
There’s a reason I always answer questions about my IBS with “trust me, you wouldn’t want to know.” Why is that I hear you ask?
Trust me, you wouldn’t want to know.
Speaking of embarrassing…
F is for flatulence.
Better out than in, I guess.
Unless you have to spend time in my company that is.
G is for gut health.
Nobody appreciates gut health until they don’t have it. It’s just one of those things.
My gut has lost so much functionality in the space of 10 years, that I often wonder how it ever functioned correctly in the first place.
First I couldn’t tolerate gluten, then certain fruits/vegetables, then alcohol and sugar too.
What’s next? Actually, I’d rather not know.
H is for high FODMAP.
Also known as a list of foods you can likely no longer eat. Hooray.
Some high FODMAP foods can be eaten in tiny portions, making them low FODMAP though. Like an eighth of an avocado.
That’s something, I guess! Remember it’s low FODMAP, not no FODMAP.
I is for intolerance.
As a kid, you’d always hear of lactose intolerance, but nobody will have ever heard of my weird intolerances.
I’m intolerant to beans, lentils, avocado, mango, onions, garlic and even high doses of sugar.
How can those even be a thing?
J is for ‘just eat one bite, it won’t hurt’.
If you have to spend the next 24 hours in my company after one bite of an onion, you might reconsider your definition of the word ‘hurt’.
(Please refer to the definition of ‘F’ in this A-Z if you need a hint)
K is for killing my social life.
When going out for a meal requires military grade research due to your multiple food intolerances and you’re constantly bloated/full/stressed and have to put on a brave face… staying at home under the blanket with your dog suddenly seems like a fantastic option.
RIP my social life.
L is for low FODMAP.
Hooray! (not sarcastic this time) A list of foods that you probably can eat.
Here’s a few quick tips. Fruit is tough, but berries in moderation are your new friend.
Vegetables are tough too, so stick to root veg if you’re in doubt. Check out this FODMAP list if you need help.
M is for mental health.
So IBS has now killed my social life and it’s coming for my mental well-being next.
I’m constantly bloated, so when I look down at my stomach, I look fat. But I know I’m not fat, I’m just bloated. But still, I think I look fat. I go through this thought process at least once, daily.
I wasn’t borderline obsessed with having a flat stomach until I got IBS. Now every morning is that little bit more of a struggle.
But there’s always something worth surviving for, that’s why…
N is for ‘never give up’.
No matter how awful you feel physically and mentally, get up, dress up, show up and never give up.
I’ve somehow turned my awful stomach and intolerances into my career through my blog.
Life works in funny ways sometimes.
O is for Oligosaccharides.
Also known as the O part of the FODMAP abbreviation. Do you even have IBS if you can’t name all the FODMAP letters?
P is for peppermint tea.
The only slight relief that can magically calm your stomach.
People keep messaging me saying ‘it’s not working, it just gives me wind!’
That means it is working, guys!
Q is for ‘quick to judge’.
When you say you have IBS to someone, prepare to be judged based on that person’s patchy understanding of those 3 letters.
It ranges from people assuming that you might spontaneously sh*t yourself, right up to ‘I think I get a bit of that sometimes’ and ‘you just need to man up’.
Please don’t judge me by my medical condition. Thanks, bye.
R is for resistant starch.
Another thing that my body struggles to digest, yet isn’t exactly FODMAP related.
I’m talking about cold potatoes, cold pizza and cold rice. Add those to the long list of things that result in me getting an IBS attack, please.
Even if reheated, they’re all a guaranteed stomach bloat session for me.
S is for stress.
IBS isn’t just triggered by eating the wrong foods. That would be too simple. You can actually trigger your IBS without any help from food.
Welcome to the vicious circle that is IBS.
IBS ruins your life, making you stressed, which makes your IBS worse. Rinse and repeat.
T is for toilet.
Sometimes I feel like the centre of my universe is actually the toilet.
Luckily Mark has just redone the bathroom and put a really awesome one in.
Look at me, getting excited about a toilet. See what I mean now?
U is for unknown cause.
“So Doctor, how did I get IBS in the first place?”
Prepare for a list of vague yet vaguely possible causes like stress, eating (yes, this is actually listed as one), genetics and antibiotics.
Pretty sure those could be linked with every medical condition on the planet, mate – but thanks anyway.
V is for very awkward.
I’m pretty sure that IBS is one of those subjects that just cannot be talked about without immediately turning things awkward.
In fact, I find that any mention of the word ‘bowel’ is usually a great way to quickly end a conversation with someone.
See? Conversation over.
W is for weight
Inevitably, IBS is going to either make it extremely hard for you to put on weight, or extremely hard to lose weight.
Multiple food intolerances can make your diet nutritionally one dimensional and that’s why you really should speak to a dietitian when pursuing the low FODMAP diet.
But on the other hand, IBS can also make exercise very difficult when you’re so full/bloated that you immediately get a stitch after 2 minutes of cardio.
If this happens to you, try the exercise bike instead. Much better!
X is for Xmas.
Ok, so it’s the middle of April, but give me a break – I couldn’t exactly use x-ray or xylophone, could I?
I used to look forward to the festive season sososo much. Not just for presents, but for all the food, glorious food! Overindulging at Christmas is a given for most people, but not for me and my stomach. No exceptions.
IBS never takes the day off, so neither can you, unfortunately.
Y is for yearning for yesterday.
I actually can’t remember what going to a restaurant and picking anything off of the menu is like.
I don’t even remember what a beautiful, fresh loaf of real bread tastes like. I no longer remember what it’s like to be care free and just feel ‘normal’ and healthy.
Part of me always just wants to go back to being kid.
Z is for zero chance of being cured.
Of course, we all live in hope of there one day being a cure for IBS. But at present, it’s considered a life-long condition with no cure. Well, that’s pretty damn bleak, isn’t it?
Keeping your chin up under those pretenses is a big ask, but thousands of IBS sufferers across the world do it, every day.
Don’t dwell on it. Just be grateful that you’re still here and make the most of every day.
I made a promise several years ago to never let my IBS stop me doing what I love and so far, it’s going pretty well.