One of the worst parts of dealing with IBS is the false alarms, let alone the interruptions. I truly dislike with a passion every time I feel an urgency to run to the toilet, and when I finally sit down, the urgency suddenly goes away and nothing happens. This seems to happen especially during times when I’m trying to be the most productive. I can understand why such a thing happens because usually when I’m productive, I’m also under some level of stress, which could easily trigger IBS symptoms for anyone. According to Melissa G. Hunt, who is a clinical psychologist who specializes in cognitive-behavioral therapy and has worked with several patients with GI issues, “it may feel as if you suddenly, urgently need to defecate, and it may be uncomfortable or even painful. These symptoms are real and are the direct result of your body’s physical response to stress.” (pg. 29 of her book Reclaim Your Life From IBS). Many of us with IBS cannot always control our body’s reaction to stress, and therefore these false alarms happen very often. Nonetheless, the bouts of urgency with no result truly get under my skin and can also onset my depression at times (if I allow it to).
Why do false alarms happen?
As a patient advocate, I’ve been doing more and more research on IBS because I don’t feel like I know enough about my own condition (none of us do and that’s why we’re here), and there’s clearly still so much more to learn. One topic I came across a while ago while reading clinical journal articles was visceral hypersensitivity. I’m by far not an expert on the subject matter, but from what I understand it’s when one is oversensitive to the normal activity that goes on in the digestive system, such as gas, movement of stool through the bowel, etc. I really like how Melissa G. Hunt says it in her book, Reclaim Your Life From IBS when she states, “the sensory neurons in people with IBS may transmit this information more ‘loudly’ to their brain. When this happens, it focuses their attention on their gut and seems to suggest that there might be a problem going on, even if there isn’t” (pg.24). In other words, when a gas bubble flows through the intestines, many IBS sufferers feel that gas bubble very intensely and painfully, as opposed to most people who only hear a slight rumble or feel vibration in their stomach. So it makes sense that we deal with false alarms so often because a gas bubble can literally make me feel like I have to “release the beast,” but in reality, just some air needs to escape. I know this is TMI, which sucks because I really want people without IBS, or even those with mild IBS, to understand that these reactions and oversensitivity to pain can truly and negatively affect a person’s quality of life.
Coping with false alarms
In my opinion, false alarms are one of the worst aspects of having IBS because it creates constant anxiety and fear throughout my daily routine. The false alarms are unpredictable and can affect a person’s decision to go out in public, or even taking on new responsibilities. The last thing we want is for our conditions to hold us back from doing the things we love or need to do to survive. As a result, I am gradually starting to learn something from the false alarms, and it’s to practice patience and strengthening my mind more than my body. That might sound silly to some of you, but I realize that these false alarms are inevitable. Therefore, I changed my mindset on how I deal with them, and as a result I’ve been developing my mental fortitude to withstand and endure through trying times. For instance, I study the false alarms and I tolerate them for as long as I can before I decide to run to the toilet. This requires me to multi-task because I must try to continue being productive in that moment while suppressing the pain and urgency to get up and stop what I’m doing. The hope is that waiting it out will reveal the source of the pain, and if it’s gas, then I can let it rip and continue with my work (that’s one benefit of working from home!) As I always say, I refuse to let IBS dictate my life, especially by constantly disrupting my productivity. I know many of you might view that as torturing myself, but hopefully others will see that I am literally training myself to be mentally tougher than the physical pain so that I can endure more and do more. Since I live with IBS, the physical pain is inevitable due to my body’s natural oversensitive reaction to certain stressors. I believe training my mind to recognize this can and will eventually make it easier for me to live life on my terms. I’m not perfect, but I am a lot stronger than I was before, and that is why I will continue to learn from these false alarms by practicing and strengthening my mental stamina and patience.
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- Hunt, Melissa G. Reclaim Your Life From IBS New York: Sterling, 2016. Print