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?
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.
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?