The Invisible War
I thought I might say a word or two about the ‘invisible’ nature of IBS. We ‘just’ have IBS, right? The stigma and lack of understanding associated with this terrible disorder is sometimes a bit overwhelming and causes those of us who suffer with IBS a lot of mixed feelings. By mixed, I mean confused, ashamed and frustrated. All of us here on this site are working to the best of our ability to find an equilibrium in our lives while we deal with the challenges IBS presents. The invisible nature refers to the fact that it cannot be seen and no one wants to talk about it. We are all very lucky to have this forum at IrritableBowelSyndrome.net. However, outside of this community, how willing are people to bring awareness or even discussion about IBS?
Appearance isn't everything
IBS is a very, very difficult thing to discuss because of the very nature of the disorder. It causes problems and symptoms that our society has deemed unacceptable to discuss publicly. Most of us were raised to not discuss ‘bathroom stuff’. Most of us find it embarrassing. Thus, bringing awareness to the chaos that IBS brings to our lives is difficult for even the most zealous advocate. Why? No one wants to hear it. Even if we decide to be bold and try to advocate for ourselves, trying to get a receptive audience is very challenging. We must ask ourselves ‘why is it important to bring awareness to IBS?’ Well, the simple answer is that it dramatically disrupts the lives of those who suffer with it, to the point that in some…many cases, it can render a person incapacitated.
I would say that this meets criteria as an important issue, wouldn’t you? I have found so many corresponding variables between IBS and mental health issues. What is interesting is how similar these two fields of disability are with regards to the concept of 'invisible war'. Because, very often people suffering with anxiety, depression, personality disorders and a variety of other psychological conditions, don’t appear to have anything ‘wrong’ with them, people just assume that they are fully functional members of society. When it is mentioned that a person suffers with a mental illness, whether it be socially or at work, the room gets very, very quiet. I am positive that the same phenomena occurs with IBS. I have tried it out ;-).
Opening the door to discussion
When I bring up the fact that I have IBS, I am very careful to use language that is not inflammatory (pun intended). I explain that I have stomach or intestinal issues that cause me significant physical pain and stress. I explain that I have a ‘disorder of the stomach or intestines.’ I believe it is important to have these subtle types of conversations in order to bring attention to the invisible nature of many illnesses. It is not to receive pity, but understanding. It is also a first step to opening the door to a more open discussion and support systems. Support groups, websites, books, blogs and all kinds of other mechanisms that let us feel supported and understood. It may be a slow beginning, but the more people are brave and share just a little bit, the more people with become receptive a more robust dialogue about IBS. Good luck in your endeavors.
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