When we talk about the effects that IBS has on mental state, we usually think about how it makes us anxious or depressed. And there’s a good reason for this. Many people with IBS become anxious over making mistakes, getting sick while they’re out, or not being able to function through a flare up. And on the depression side, managing an ongoing medical condition with no cure in sight, or even a definite strategy to guarantee relief, can drag most people down at some point.
But there’s a mental state that we don’t usually talk about … irritation.
When do we feel this irritation?
While it may be debatable whether irritation is truly a mental state or simply an emotion, it is a common feeling in IBS. These are the times I experience it the most.
Firstly, when something has started triggering my IBS, usually before I even realize it’s been triggered. Something happens and I get this feeling in my body, partly physical, partly mental, where I’m kind of wound up and very touchy. I think it happens because the hypersensitivity of IBS has been triggered in my gut, which then triggers nerves in other places. It’s like I’m on high alert, but with no understanding of why, so it comes out as irritation.
Secondly, after the pain has fully set in and I’m struggling to relieve it. This is a different kind of irritation, one that tends to come from being overwhelmed by pain. This state wears down my resilience and alters my ability to deal with emotions like a normal person. And I can get irritated by even the most harmless things occurring around me.
Thirdly, when I’ve become very constipated and am desperate to go. At that stage, I often feel like I’m prowling around the bathroom, hoping to feel the tiniest of sensations indicating a physiological urge to go. Most of the time that ends in disappointment, making the irritation worse. But that feeling of being backed up, which is of course very physical in nature, still creates a mental irritation that’s hard to deal with.
But you don’t always realize that you’re irritated
One of the funny things about emotions is that you don’t often realize that you’re feeling them when they’re happening. In fact, sometimes you don’t notice them until someone else points out how they’re affecting your behavior. It’s always a bad sign when someone else notices that I seem to be ‘climbing the walls’ or snapping at everyone else, all because of the irritation from my IBS. Because that means my irritation is actually quite bad.
For me though, it’s usually after the emotion is gone that I understand how irritated I’ve been. This could be when the symptoms finally set in and I realize that my IBS has been triggered – although that can start a whole different set of emotions. Or when the pain finally starts to ease and I can begin to think clearly again. Or when my body finally decides not to hold on any longer and lets it all out, which creates both a physical and an emotional release.