IBS and Anxiety

For those of us who suffer from IBS, anxiety almost always comes hand-in-hand with it. There are many reasons why anxiety plays a role in our illness, and most times its due to traumatic past experiences that we fear will occur again. Since developing gut issues several years ago, anxiety has become a big part of my life just as much as IBS has, and I believe the two are here to stay for a very long time. That’s not me being pessimistic, but just me being realistic. I do my best to manage both, but like everyone else, I have my good days and my bad days.

Mother’s Day this year was one of those days where I had a difficult time getting a handle on my anxiety for one obvious reason – IBS. Normally before any occasion that involves leaving my house, I go through the possible worst-case scenarios in my head, and many times I don’t even realize that I’m doing it until after the fact. You would think on this day I would be happy and excited because the occasion was celebrating my wonderful mother and grandmothers whom I love and adore so much. However, I could not stop thinking about the “what-ifs”; such as, what if I have to use the toilet at my mom’s house very badly while someone else is already in there, and therefore, I end up having an accident on myself? What if I end up having so much pain because of a triggering ingredient in the food? What if on my way to my mom’s house, I end up needing to urgently use the toilet, which will cause me to turn back around and head home until I feel good enough to make my way again? What if I ruin Mother’s Day by just not showing up at all because of my IBS, pain, and anxiety?

Pushing beyond the pain

I’ve struggled with these anxious thoughts for quite some time now, and what I’ve learned to do is keep reminding myself that sometimes the outcomes don’t turn out as bad as we think, and making it to the place is usually the hardest part. However, to add validity to my apprehension, another aspect that triggers my anxiety is the fact that most of my family still doesn’t understand what IBS is and how it affects me simply because they do not see the pain on my face or body. Therefore, I always feel like I have to push beyond the pain and act like everything is fine even if it isn’t to please my family, which doesn’t help my anxiety in the least bit. The times in the past I have had to cancel coming over, or I showed up late, I never felt like my reason was valid enough for them or they thought I was making up a cheap excuse. So, I understand now why these worst-case-scenarios that play in my head are so difficult for me to shake at times.

I don’t know why I feel like I have to push beyond my pain or pretend like I’m fine when I really want to just stay home and be close to my bathroom. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel like I’m entitled to be selfish, and I must always be considerate and put others first. Maybe it’s because I refuse to let my condition dictate my life and prevent me from having possible wonderful experiences with loved ones. Maybe it’s because I feel that since my pain is not visible to others, then who would possibly believe that my condition is very real and very serious? This is where anxiety becomes very prominent for me, and many of us IBS sufferers, because we don’t know how to function in a society where invisible illnesses are treated with a lack of empathy and compassion.

Symptoms can't stop me

When you love someone, especially a family member, sometimes you’ll do whatever it takes to make them happy, even if it costs your own health or comfort. It doesn’t always matter the circumstances because when you are self-less and truly care for others, seeing them at their best can make such a huge difference and worth the struggle. That is why I decided to fight back against my anxiety and IBS on Mother’s Day so that I could spend quality time with my mom and other family members, and I was so happy that I did. I have said this before, and I’ll say it again - I refuse to let IBS control my life. The unfortunate part about this condition is that I never know how often I will have to deal with random bouts of intense pain and an urgent need to use the bathroom. Therefore, my anxiety will probably never go away because of that. However, I cannot allow these symptoms to stop me from living my life, and thus, I must continue to find a better way to manage them while in public. It’s not an easy task, but definitely worth the try every single time because that simple act allows me to feel like I have a sense of control over my life and my condition.

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