I was diagnosed with IBS in the summer of 2016, but my symptoms started way back in 2011—and it seemed to happen all of a sudden.
Not just one symptom, either. Concurrent with several other symptoms, I noticed rapid weight gain, 18 lbs to be exact. I’d quit smoking a short time before that, so I chalked it up to replacing smoking with overeating. But then came some brand new symptoms I’d never had before, not even with weight gain in the past: visible stomach distention, bloating, and constipation. Bloat is that morbidly over-full feeling one gets as if you’d eaten multiple helpings of a monstrous Thanksgiving Turducken—except that I’d eaten only a moderate amount of food on a plate the size of a mini Frisbee.
While bloat can be painful, distention makes me feel like I’m waddling when I walk, much like W.C. Fields’ character, Mr. Micawber in DAVID COPPERFIELD, rotund and misshapen, with buttons popping off a too-small waistcoat. For me, distention is synonymous with distortion. My reflected image looks normal from the chest up, but below that line the glass seems to have gotten switched out with a carnival funhouse mirror, making me look five months’ pregnant in profile. Looking pregnant can be a beautiful thing if you’re of child-bearing age—but I’m pushing 60 and I look every bit of it. Still, it’s not all about vanity. I’ve had to change the way I dress, choosing only tunics with swing hems and stretchy leggings. I haven’t worn a pair of five-pocket pants with sewn-in waistbands since 2010. I’m a petite size 14 with a size 18 waist. Comfort only comes with an elastic waist.
Comfortable clothing is vital when I battle such uncomfortable symptoms. But there’s one kind of pain that loose clothing will not assuage. Let’s talk about severe gas pains, spasms that outrank other kinds of discomfort not only by pain severity, but just as much by an inability to make it stop. They may or may not be a daily occurrence, so this symptom is the most frustrating of all due to its complete unpredictability. I can eat the same diet over two months and get daily gas pains–then eat that exact diet the third month and get no pains at all.
The most mysterious, fitful symptom I’ve had comes along with bloating: A painful push outward against my ribs from the inside, a pressure so intense that I’m certain a baby xenomorph from ALIEN will burst out of my chest at any second, leaving me bloodied and dead and face-down in the mashed potatoes. But no such luck. My brain sadistically keeps me conscious and alert through it all so I can feel the many nuances of intestinal spasm at full tilt. Since I’m not going to die, I try walking it off; walking after a meal is always a good idea, but I’ve yet to make it a daily routine. I guess it helps, but the passage of time helps more.
I’ve described some of the symptoms of my IBS, but not the treatments. Let’s say that’s in progress. Like the diagnostic process, effective remedies are discovered through elimination, trial and error. For example, enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules have soothed my stomach with a pleasant cooling sensation, but I burp peppermint for the rest of the day. It’s not problematic except for when I want to eat pasta, garlic, onions and marinara sauce for dinner. Peppermint doesn’t go so well with that stuff. And for another example, taking anti-gas tablets relieves painful gas about as well as Schmindex cleans windows.
The most challenging treatment I’m learning about is eating foods on the low FODMAP diet list. I have mixed feelings about it. I love all of the foods on the list, but I don’t want to go through life without those high FODMAP foods, too. I love watermelon and all kinds of starch, and I’m not lactose-sensitive. I crave starch to the point of desperation. I was never like that before this year.
I blame quitting smoking for this, too. Since the 2010 quitting I mentioned earlier, I have relapsed and quit a dozen more times until finally, in March 2016, I quit for good. Enter weight gain again and a panicky feeling whenever my stomach felt the least bit empty. It’s the hollow echo of addiction, I’m sure of it. But it took five years to quit a decades-old cigarette habit, so I’m going to ease up a bit on my hypercritical schoolmarm voice and give myself some time to learn how to manage my eating.
The non-addictive mind is a terrible thing to waste, let alone a difficult thing to achieve.