For People With IBS, ‘Social Distancing’ Feels Familiar

As the coronavirus pandemic grips all of us, “social distancing” and “self-isolation” are the buzzwords of the day. But for those of us who live with IBS, it’s nothing new.

The feelings of isolation many people are struggling with today because of coronavirus are oddly similar to those of us who have been living with our “new normal” since being diagnosed with IBS. For us, we’ve been social distancing long before it was cool.

I know there are millions of people who are struggling with the stay-at-home orders brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. It has affected our jobs, our lifestyle, our finances, and our social life. Fear, depression, and anxiety are at an all-time high. In fact, these symptoms are even spilling over into our dreams, according to researchers who say nightmares have increased across the world as we try to process the non-stop coronavirus news (Google “COVID-19 dreams” if you’re curious to learn more).

What can we learn from an IBS lifestyle?

It turns out that living with IBS has served as fantastic preparation for the uncomfortable and bizarre emotions we’re all dealing with now.

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When I was first diagnosed, I remember experiencing waves of confusion, grief, sadness, anger, loss, and denial. I wanted to go back to “normal” as soon as possible, only to eventually realize that, with IBS, there is no “normal” to go back to. I wouldn’t wish these emotions on anyone, just like I wouldn’t wish IBS symptoms on anyone, but now, more than ever, it feels oddly nice to not be alone in my grief, loneliness, and loss of control right now.

An odd preparation

We are living in unprecedented times, and it’s more important than ever to maintain our mental, emotional, and physical health, share our resources, and stay calm until we make it back to "normal life." Well, as "normal" as possible. That said, I think living with a chronic illness has naturally prepared us for the unpredictable situation we’re living in.

I’m grateful for the coping skills IBS has given me. Most days, I’ve learned to function through at least a low level of pain. After all, children and pets still need to be fed and cared for, work still needs to be done, and the house still needs to get cleaned. The toilet paper shortage? Not an issue for me and mine – I already had a stockpile before it became such a hot commodity. Because IBS is so unpredictable, I’ve learned to always keep supplies on hand in case I have a flare.

Pain and fatigue have taught me to stockpile necessities and preserve my energy in preparation for the inevitable stay-at-home, self-isolation times. Preparing for the unknown is pretty much my jam. I’m a pro at hibernating, finding indoor hobbies, and coping with days and nights that blur together. Because I live with unpredictable symptoms and tend to shy away from a lot of social activities, many parts of my life haven’t changed since “social distancing” has become a thing.

Today, those skills are coming in handy. I know firsthand that you never know what someone who “looks fine” on the outside might be dealing with internally. When you live with IBS or any chronic illness, you learn to accept that the only thing you can really control is your attitude. Some days I’m better at this than others, but I’m realizing that the chronically ill have always possessed this superpower. We have learned to be more mindful of the life we are living, how our attitude and outlook can impact us, and, perhaps most important of all, we have learned to find joy within our limitations.

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