Comparing Illnesses

Comparing Illnesses

For some, getting diagnosed with IBS can be difficult as it involves several doctor’s visits of complaining about the same issues for over 6 months (sometimes years) only to finally be told by your doctor “you probably just have IBS.” When I first got diagnosed with IBS, I felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously, at all. I would try my best to describe what I was feeling to my doctor, friends, and family, but as soon I mentioned stomach pain and/or diarrhea, most people belittled my suffering just because they too have experienced similar symptoms at some point in their lifetime. However, what they lacked in understanding was how often these negative symptoms occurred, and how intense and debilitating they can actually be for an IBS sufferer. I have dealt with many people who would compare my illness to other chronic diseases, such as cancer, muscular dystrophy, or any disorder that was physically visible. Can you imagine trying to explain how IBS ruins one’s quality of life, while all the other person can think of is discrediting your feelings by comparing what you go through to others who deal with “way more serious” diseases?

No acknowledgement

Some of you might be asking, “Well, Hess, don’t you think they’re just trying to uplift you by insinuating that things could be a lot worse?” Heck no! What that says to me is that they don’t want to acknowledge the seriousness of my disease, so they would rather brush it off by claiming what I go through isn’t bad enough compared to others. It’s unfortunate enough that IBS is so complicated that even medical professionals, let alone patients, have a hard time explaining the symptoms and its causes, but to receive lack of compassion or empathy from anyone can really drive a person mad.

IBS is serious!

One day I was talking to a relative of mine about how bad my IBS was (still is), and how hard it can be to work a regular job with the condition. I couldn’t recall if he attempted to be empathetic, all I could remember was his response being, “At least you’re not like your cousin who suffers from muscular dystrophy”, implying that I don’t need the physical aid or support from my parents or a nursing professional to get through daily life. Ever since that day, I have never felt so motivated and encouraged to prove to him how serious IBS is as a disease. However, I didn’t want to do it in a way that disparages other chronic conditions. I wanted to teach that not only all diseases/illnesses should be taken seriously, but that pain and suffering is relative to the sufferer, therefore no one should compare illnesses as a means to prove a point.

Subjective differences

Here’s an anecdote: Two people eat a pasta dish they’ve never had before. One enjoys it while the other spits the food back out onto their plate. They both consumed the same meal, but had totally different experiences in taste and satisfaction. One could say the same for any sufferer of almost any illness. A group of people may suffer from the same debilitating disease, however, not all will experience the symptoms in the same way, and the symptoms certainly won’t be satisfying. One IBS sufferer might be able to exercise on a daily basis with their condition, while another (who isn’t far from the same physical stature or capability) could find it extremely difficult to exercise through the pain. So, you see, illnesses like IBS have commonalities across patients like the symptoms experienced (gas, bloating, etc.), yet there can be subjective differences in the way our brains receive and interpret pain and symptoms.

What is your opinion on comparing illnesses? How do you react when people compare your IBS to someone who suffers from a totally different illness?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The IrritableBowelSyndrome.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (4)
  • Mojo1010
    1 month ago

    I can relate and sympathize Hess! For years my children and mates have not really understood why I don’t eat breakfast (especially syrup!) or why I sometimes won’t go out somewhere if there isn’t a close restroom! They don’t understand the bloating or cramping the next day after a holiday “turn up”. I know that it isn’t what some would consider a “serious” disease; but it IS A DISEASE nevertheless.

    We have to continue to educate them on our symptoms, triggers and the nuances of this pesky disease because for me personally, their lack of understanding sometimes adds to the stress that just exacerbates my symptoms and makes THEM a part of the problem.

    Keep on telling them! I call my associates and now this community my FIBS (Fam of IBS folks!) So keep sharing with your FIBS and making them aware. Much luck!

  • HessP moderator author
    1 month ago

    Thanks for being able to relate and sympathize, @mojo1010! It’s really tough when the ones closest to you don’t want to understand or support, but I always like to stay optimistic and hope that they will soon come around. However, I much rather rely on communities like this one (a.k.a. my FIBS ::wink wink::) for support and understanding, which helps with my willingness to be so open in my articles. Thanks once again and sending lots of positive vibes your way! Best – Hess, (IrritableBowelSyndrome.net Team member & Author)

  • Singingaway
    2 years ago

    I could really relate to all that you said in this article. I really dislike when people belittle my issues and compare me to others just because they can’t see it physically.

    My reaction to people comparing me to other illnesses, or just ignoring my problems all together, is to avoid them because of how hurtful they can be.Sometimes they even make me feel guilty about my own issues and that is not right.

    I get it all the time at my job. People telling me I’m faking it to get out of work. Other people telling each other how I just want sympathy and attention and to ignore me. It is so hurtful because they just don’t understand anything about IBS and what I go through to make it day by day.

    I do my best not to talk about it much but it is a HUGE part of my life and a refuse to ignore that part of me just because people don’t understand.

    I find it sad that any IBS suffer has to get use to people thinking they are ‘not that sick’. It would be nice if that could change someday.However, that seems to be a problem with a lot of those ‘invisible illnesses’.

    Thanks for sharing this, it helps to learn about other people fighting the same issues.

  • Chris Hall moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Singingaway,

    Thanks so much for sharing with us. I’m so sorry to hear about the struggles you face and the lack of empathy of others in regards to your IBS. It’s certainly not fake or something to be ignored. There are so many others that are fighting the same fight, so you’re not alone! We, too, hope to raise IBS awareness to the point where people do not think, “oh, it’s just IBS”. One of my favorite and well-expressed articles written by our contributors is this:

    https://irritablebowelsyndrome.net/living/what-is-it-like-to-have-ibs/

    For the non-IBS sufferer, it paints a crystal clear picture of what a day in the life with IBS is like. I hope it resonates with you as much as this article. Thanks again for commenting! We’re glad to have you in the community.

    Take care,
    Chris, IrritableBowelSyndrome.net Team Member

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