Why I Feel Such Guilt about Not Beating My IBS-D Symptoms

Last updated: December 2018

It seems that I’ve done everything I was supposed to do. Two years ago I saw my gastroenterologist, had the tests that ruled out IBD and SIBO, and studied the FODMAP diet sheets after being diagnosed with IBS-C. I isolated which foods caused distress (high-fiber veggies such as broccoli), which ones worsened the chronic constipation (starchy stuff such as pasta, whether gluten-free or wheat), and eliminated dairy to test for lactose-intolerance. Enteric-coated peppermint capsules didn’t help as a preventative. They just made me burp up peppermint all day although they weren’t supposed to. Bean-o was equally ineffective. No matter what I did I had to live on laxatives. I put dairy back in my diet with no change. I ate low-fiber veggies. But the unbearable, rib-cracking fullness never went away and the daily abdominal distention made me live in robes with no undergarments all day to stay as comfortable as possible. If I were still working outside the home I don’t know how I would have managed.

A year later my body changed. Instead of chronic constipation, I suddenly developed chronic diarrhea. My diet was exactly the same as before. Weight gain accompanied the change in bowel habits. With some experimentation I discovered that eating lots of starch or taking Imodium induced constipation and delayed the diarrhea by a day. It was like being on a merry-go-round, riding a painted horse in a circle back to where I got on, again and again, day after day.

Guilt and IBS

That’s where things are today. I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt as though I failed some huge aptitude test. I read articles about success stories where people claim to have jumped over all the hurdles and then gone back and jumped them again when their IBS symptoms didn’t recede. The implications were consistent across these articles: You can beat it if you’re willing to put in the effort.

Clearly I'd cut corners on doing my homework. Find those triggers, they’re there, you just didn’t try hard enough to find them. But my interior monologue drones on: Everything’s a trigger. No matter what I put in my mouth in the morning whether it’s two sips of coffee or a tiny amount of food, explosive diarrhea threatens me within a half hour. But the author of the next article I read seems to have heard my thoughts. Their words throw my premise right back at me by stating that there are probably just one or two triggers and I simply haven’t isolated them yet. With a little effort I could go back to the drawing board and [insert remedial procedure here]. Then the ironclad guarantee comes next, that with a little perseverance you’ll gain control of those symptoms and send them into remission. It sounds like a Peter Popoff commercial that promises a financial windfall if only you’d sprinkle this packet of Lourdes holy water over your breakfast cereal and have a little faith. I’d like to believe that but I’m just not buying it.

Do everything right but still have IBS symptoms

Isn’t it possible that you can do everything the protocol suggests and still have symptoms? Isn’t it plausible that these techniques won’t help everybody—and nobody really knows why? Why do I feel such guilt that my IBS symptoms are ever present? The only relief I’ve felt is from under-eating. It makes the full feeling disappear and that is no small deed. A 1300-calorie diet has given me that result and I struggle to maintain it. But that’s the only magic trick I have in my black bag and it’s pretty lame. No rabbits or doves, top hats with false bottoms or shell game cups. No rigged decks of cards or levitation wires. Just calorie reduction and it’s no crowd-pleaser. Hunger is as invisible a symptom as those of IBS.

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