Having IBS Isn’t Child’s Play
Did you ever play that game as a kid where you imagine the ground is hot lava and you have to step on stones (or pillows and furniture, if inside) to stay safe?
Sometimes, it feels like I’m playing that kind of game living with IBS.
The lava is all sorts of things that I need to avoid. For me, it includes gluten, dairy, and more than one coffee, but also more tricky things like too many raw vegetables, unprocessed stressful events, not enough sleep, or too much worry. And those are just the known triggers. As a chronic and tricky condition, IBS is hard to completely control. The learning never stops as I identify (through trial and error) new triggers that stimulate my symptoms to return.
One of the complicated aspects of living with IBS has been learning my own unique triggers and remedies. While I find it interesting and educational to read about others’ experiences and ideas here, I’ve learned after 20 years of living with this condition that what works for someone else may or may not work for me.
It’s so much easier if there’s a map.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a straightforward plan for diagnosing and treating IBS? In my imagination, I’d go to my doctor with my combination of symptoms, and she would check off my symptoms, perhaps run a simple test, and confirm my diagnosis. Then, she’d give me an outlined approach of tried-and-true solutions that would solve everything.
Ah, that would be lovely!
Back in reality, I’ve learned that while my doctor is a resource for me, she’s not the end-all expert for my IBS. That role goes to me. And, just in case it wasn’t clear, for those of you reading who also have IBS, I don’t play that role for you. You get to!
It may seem overwhelming and like you are woefully unprepared for your new role. However, no one else has lived in your body the way you have. No one else can feel what you are feeling. And while I believe our competency as the expert for ourselves begins with knowing and trusting our judgment of our symptoms, over time and with keen observation skills, you begin to learn and have more confidence in your ability to lead you to the right solutions, too.
And still, there will be slip-ups.
You may make a mistake, slipping off the safe zone into the lava by indulging in a trigger food or pushing yourself too hard. Or, perhaps something that used to be safe to eat suddenly is no longer safe, and you slip into the lava unwittingly.
I’ve learned the importance of having compassion for myself in the slip-ups. Rather than beating myself up for whatever I did or didn’t do that may have triggered my IBS, which only makes me feel worse emotionally and which can then prolong the IBS flare for me, I send my tummy some compassion. It helps me to remember that my body is doing the best it can in the present circumstances with what it’s been given. I also like to remember that my body has the ability to heal. That helps me focus on the positive, rather than just the negative.
I also turn to solutions that have worked for me in the past. Sometimes that means medication or peppermint oil on my abdomen. I always drink extra water when I have a flare of IBS, and I usually pamper myself with comfy, forgiving clothes like yoga pants.
While managing IBS isn’t as fun as playing the lava game, staying curious and open to learning about my body’s ever-changing needs and having compassion for myself helps me to live more peacefully with the condition.
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