Is IBS Really an Invisible Illness?
An invisible illness is an illness that isn’t visible to other people. This means that they don’t usually know about your condition unless you or someone else tells them about it. Given that IBS occurs within your gut, it's not surprising that IBS is considered an invisible illness. Most of it is happening inside you after all. But while some aspects of IBS are hidden, not all are.
First there’s the mad dashes to the toilet
There’s nothing quite so disrupting than someone constantly getting up and dashing to the bathroom. Or staying in the bathroom for much longer than everyone else. Yet people with IBS spend more time in the bathroom than most people, since altered bowel habits are one of the defining characteristics.
But it’s hard explaining this away, except to say… maybe it was something I ate.
Then there’s the bloating
Another part of IBS that's rather visible is the bloating. Boy can an IBS belly swell fast! Flat to 5 months pregnant in 60 seconds. Well, maybe not quite that fast, but sometimes it feels that way. So it's not surprising that sometimes people actually ask if you’re pregnant.
It's a tad embarrassing having to say… no I’m not pregnant, it’s just a food baby.
If you’re unlucky, you also get loud belly gurgles
Not everyone experiences the gurgles. But for those of us that do, they can sometimes be so loud that everyone can hear them. Once when I was training kung fu, my belly gurgled so loudly that the entire class stopped their exercises mid-swing and turned to face me. And then it kept happening for the rest of the night.
My way of explaining it away… I’m just really hungry (even though I wasn't).
And then there’s the killer gas
Probably the least hidden part of IBS is the gas. The more there is, the louder it is when it escapes. And even if you go into another room or a bathroom, it’s sometimes so loud that everyone can still hear it! Sometimes you get lucky though and it comes out silently. But those times it’s often so stinking that it’s like something died. And if you’re really unlucky, it’s loud and stinky. There’s nothing remotely invisible about that.
Now, if you’ve got a good way to explain this away, I’d love to hear it. I’ve yet to come up with a cover story or a witty reply for the gas. It’s the thing I fear the most.
But of course there are invisible parts to IBS too
First, there’s the agony in your belly and that never seems to go away. Then there’s the exhaustion that comes after endless toilet trips. And the sleepless nights from tossing and turning with pain. But also the frustration and mental anguish from constantly worrying about when your next flare up will happen and how you’ll deal with it. Not to mention the stress of trying to prevent flare ups in the first place.
So is IBS really invisible?
I’d say it’s 50:50. Sometimes IBS is incredibly visible, but even when it is, there’s so much else going on inside that’s not visible. And in my experience, while I'll do whatever I can to prevent the visible parts from being seen, it’s the invisible parts that eat away at me the most.
Do you have difficulties with setting boundaries and saying no?