A couple hug each other contently on a couch. The woman has one eye closed and one eye looking suspiciously at a smiling large intestine that seems to be snuggling up to the pair.

My IBS and I Are A Package Deal

Last updated: November 2019

I've had IBS-C for 7 years now, and it's been an eventful time. My symptoms began in 2012, just before entering my senior year of college. Prior to that time, I was always pretty "regular," so to say. I was a hungry, athletic young person and, funnily enough, I thought I had a stomach of steel.

My IBS story

When my symptoms began I was sure that it was just a fluke. I was in the midst of a stressful time. I was on a vacation with my family, but being an almost 21-year-old woman sharing a hotel room with her parents and brother was not an ideal stress-free situation. It was 7 days before I could go - and yes, that was when we finally got home. After that. I wasn't the same.

For awhile I was convinced I had various forms of GI diseases. I was tested for Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, and celiac disease. We ventured into the possibility of liver disease, kidney disease, and hypothyroidism. Throughout this time, I spent many mornings and nights trying specialty "smooth move" teas, stool softeners, laxatives, fiber pills, a Low FODMAP diet, and attempting to jog my way to relief. For the most part, nothing helped. I'd maybe get 2 or 3 days of success, feeling the profound effects of hope, before falling back into pain, discomfort, and embarrassment.

Eventually, my GI doc and I settled on IBS. One doctor even had the gall to say it was "just IBS," as if not being able to have a bowel movement for a week was a casual matter.

Learning to talk about my IBS

I've spent the past 7 years fiercely battling the ups and downs of IBS. You all know what they are. But the worst symptom, for me, was a straight-up embarrassment. I was supposed to be in my prime! I was a young, fit, active woman who was trying to find a partner. In my mind, it was impossible to truly be with someone when I couldn't bear to expose them to the reality of my bloated stomach and hour-long bathroom ventures. I felt that I had lost all the allure.

Many people would advise someone in my situation to be discreet. Those people don't know me very well. While our society tends to favor the idea that women do not poop (and I suppose I really didn't), pooping is a natural part of life. I frequently engage in "poop talk" with my closest friends. However, discussing it with a potential romantic partner is a whole other level of NOPE.

Then I met Brett. I liked Brett. It was annoying. When I realized that I actually liked Brett enough to want to call him my guy, I also realized that he had to know. Being me, it would be next to impossible to hide this from him.

Sharing my truth

I sat him down. In hindsight, he probably thought I had a terminal illness, due to the seriousness I conveyed. Maybe he was relieved that I wasn't dying, because when I blurted out, "I have IBS!" he was like, "Okay?" And I responded with, "Seriously, it's like, really bad." And he said, "Okay?"

Clearly, he didn't understand how bad.

And I said, "It can be kind of gross. Like lots of time in the bathroom and gassy bloatedness gross." And he laughed, and turned to me, and said, "Okay."

...Oh, like okay?

And I said, "And I can't do much about it. Me and my IBS, we're a package deal."

And he said, "That's fine."

I was not expecting a "that's fine," and I can't really explain why. I liked him, and I knew he liked me, too. But this part of me is just... not ideal. It's time-consuming and painful and inconvenient and, yes, can be gross. But to him, it was okay.

I felt so much relief, I just about pooped.

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