5 Things I Wish You Knew About IBS
Have you seen that new movie, Constipated?
It hasn’t come out yet.
And the sequel, Diarrhea?
It leaked, so they had to release it early.
Maybe you're laughing at these jokes. Maybe you're cringing. And maybe your perspective on potty humor shifts depending on how much it affects you.
I will be the first to admit I’ve lived with IBS for more than two decades. I even write about it in my spare time. But I still have a hard opening up about it in actual conversation. Maybe that's because when it comes to talking about bodily functions, poo is still just a little too taboo.
Humor in the uncomfortable
I recently attended a conference for people who suffer with, write about, encourage and support those who live with chronic pain and health conditions. I was amazed by their strength and perspective, and I walked away from the event feeling inspired (and grateful for my own challenges). But naturally, there was plenty of small talk about the daily struggles of living with a chronic illness. I just couldn't join in.
I found myself feeling more self-conscious than ever, incapable of making small talk when asked what it’s like to live day in and day out with IBS. If you don’t have IBS, count yourself lucky. If you do, maybe you know what I mean when I say I don’t want to share personal stories.
I’m not gonna lie, I find Squatty Potty commercials hilarious. Poo-pourri jokes are some of my favorites. But they’re funny because they’re shocking -- and I don't want to shock you with the details of my IBS challenges. I can laugh about poop puns, but I don’t want to shock you with my stories and then forever associate me with this bodily function. Especially if you're an employer, a co-worker, or a neighbor.
The truths of IBS
Today, I choose to tell the truth… from the safety of my laptop. Because I can’t have this conversation face-to-face, here are a few things I wish others knew about what it’s like to live with IBS.
- There are different varieties with different challenges. There are three main types of IBS: The first, IBS-C, has constipation as the most common symptom. IBS-D sufferers experience diarrhea and frequent bowel moments, though abdominal pain is the most common symptom. A third category of sufferers experience variations between both constipation and diarrhea (how lucky can you get?).
- We’re terrified of long lines and crowds, and we hate public restrooms. There’s nothing worse than standing in line at the grocery store and getting that sudden urge to bolt to the bathroom. Public restrooms, with thin stall walls and echoey tile floors are not our favorite places to be…and no matter how much pain we’re in, some of us can’t do our business when anyone else is around.
- It’s unpredictable and expensive. We’ve spent a lot of money on essential oils, supplements, laxatives and medicine. Sometimes we can be clogged up, other times it’s the opposite. From stomach pain and bloating to constipation and diarrhea, IBS is a continual source of torment for those of us who suffer from it.
- We never know our dress size. On a good day, I’m a size 6; but on days when I’m having a flare-up, I can be a 12. Balloons would be impressed by my expansive abilities; after eating pizza, I can look like I’m 10 months pregnant.
- It's not the same as period pain. Not even close. While there are treatments and medication that can ease the condition to the point where we can function, over time the same medication that worked in the beginning can lessen its effectiveness as our bodies become accustomed to it. Sometimes we can eat specific foods without consequences. Other times, just the smell of it can make us feel nauseous and explosive. Food diaries can be helpful in determining which meals might trigger IBS, but stress, traveling, and even tiredness can set it off, too. Trust us when we say that if we really knew what caused it, we wouldn’t be suffering with it.
Beyond these truths, it’s important to understand that people with IBS are very different: trigger foods for one person may not affect another at all. Sometimes we need to cancel plans at the last minute, and the intensity of the pain we’re in can last days, weeks, and even months. We all have different ways of dealing with this incurable condition, and we’re still trying to figure it out.
Do you have a good understanding of what triggers your flares?