“You Gave me Your IBS!”: Miseducation and the Power of Suggestion
My partner is constantly telling me that I gave her my IBS, that suddenly, despite years of research to the contrary, it must be contagious. Why else would she be having GI issues every once in a while?
Miseducation and misunderstanding of one’s body is perhaps the most common issue I come across when discussing IBS and its symptoms. I’m sure most of you know the difference between IBS and regular bodily functions, but, for the cheap seats in the back, I’m going to do a little educating.
Being diagnosed with recurring IBS is not the same as having general, human bodily functions. Go figure. Eating certain foods that trigger loose stool once in a while is not the same as strategically planning out meals to avoid pain every single day. Furthermore, and I can’t stress this enough, one is a diagnosed, physiological, gastrointestinal medical problem, and the other is basically just gas.
The annoyance of miseducation
Unfortunately, IBS is what we like to call a blanket diagnosis. We don’t know a lot about it, there’s not one specific cause or cure, and it encompasses dozens of symptoms that you may or may not endure. In a nutshell, it’s complicated. Alas, whenever there is a diagnosis such as IBS, that leaves so much to question, it is no wonder why some people find themselves misdiagnosing their own GI problems. We all have a little WebMD in our heads that tells us we must have every ailment in the world. Most of these concerns, however, come from a very simple, but very damaging lack of education.
I had some loose stool today, so I must have IBS. This one time I didn’t poop for a whole day, so I totally understand IBS. Last night, I had this super spicy curry that was so delicious but for some reason it didn’t sit very well… I must have IBS!
Are you rolling your eyes too?
Listen, I’m not saying that you don’t feel the pain you feel, or that you didn’t feel constipated for a whole day. What I am saying is that one day does not an IBS sufferer make. If you can’t necessarily remember the last time you had a “reaction” or “flare up” then there’s a good chance that there is nothing there to flare. If your life hasn’t been intensely impacted by your bowels, you don’t have IBS. Sorry, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles. Oh, and having to leave the dinner table to go to the toilet this one time at a family function, doesn’t count. I know you missed that funny story about your cousin’s blind date but get over it; you’re human, and therefore your bowels sometimes take precedent over amusing anecdotes.
If I sound agitated, well, I kind of am.
The mind is a very powerful thing. One minute you’re hearing a story about IBS flare ups, the next you’re on the toilet wondering what witchery just took place. I’m not saying that sympathy IBS isn’t a thing -it definitely is. Stress and anxiety caused by witnessing or hearing others’ struggles can 100% trigger a flare up for those of us suffering from IBS. But when you’ve come across someone with IBS and suddenly have a head filled with information you don’t understand it doesn’t mean that you now have it. IBS is not contagious. Seriously. It’s not. I promise.
So what can you do to combat this appropriation of pain? Learn about your body. Learn about the actual wide range of symptoms and issues associated with IBS. Basically, educate yourself. Please.
Every human being has GI issues here and there. Every single human being has endured some of the symptoms of IBS because you have bowels and sometimes they get irritated. Not sure why spicy food affects you negatively now, even though you could eat it when you were younger? Find yourself a little cramped after eating an entire baguette by yourself? Yah, well, sorry to inform you but these are very normal issues. Guess what? You’re older, you’re changing, and ultimately, no one should eat that much gluten in one sitting. Your body has an opinion. Learn to listen to it.
The IBS education disclaimer
I’m glad that you’re learning how to read your bodily functions. I’m glad that you’re paying attention to the foods you consume. And we are all happy that you understand feeling pain every once in a while is not the same thing as feeling it every, single, day. Thanks for that. But, I feel that I must warn you, if you suddenly think you know everything that I am feeling and suffering from, that you are part of the team, I might have to hit you -or at the very least, vigorously roll my eyes at you.
Finally being in tuned with your bodily functions does not necessarily mean you ‘get us’ now. Being aware of your body, your bowels, and your mind is not the same thing as being diagnosed with a disease. Thinking you know the symptoms of IBS and actually having it are, you guessed it, completely different. Go figure.