Straight Talk About My Bathroom Blues
I don’t like talking about bathroom symptoms with strangers. Honestly, I don’t. But I can’t help it. That’s because, like clockwork, I can’t make it more than ten minutes into small-talk conversation before I start scanning my surroundings in search of a restroom.
Just in case.
I have irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C), so I’m less likely to bolting into a bathroom and more likely to be making last-minute excuses for cancelling a date with a friend. After more than 20 years of coping privately with my condition, I’ve learned that honesty is the best way for me to keep friends and family from getting their feelings hurt by my inability to plan.
IBS is a catch-22
“It’s been nearly a week,” I’ll sometimes tell my poor husband. He’s aware of the gravity of this statement. After more than two decades of marriage, he knows that if he comes home to find me looking eight months pregnant, it’s not the time to ask a lot of questions. Lucky…..SO LUCKY for me, he’s an easygoing, understanding guy. Over time, we’ve learned to speak in sign language about my belly situation. A thumbs up or thumbs down is usually all that’s needed. Because too many details? Not sexy.
No matter how much IBS-C impacts me (pardon the pun), the truth is, it’s affected my loved ones just as much, possibly more. I’m grateful that on most days, my husband and kids understand. I’m also grateful that on most days, I’m not dealing with diarrhea, but the discomfort is almost always there, always in the background, ruling our decisions about family vacations, get-togethers, even jobs.
IBS sufferers are caught in a catch-22. We have a disorder which understandably causes us to feel more embarrassment, anxiety or depression than the average person. And there’s a lot more than just bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation happening during with IBS. The headaches, nausea and extreme exhaustion that often accompany IBS-C can be unbearable, and with so many symptoms happening at once, it’s nearly impossible to know which one to deal with first.
Trying to know the unknown
As I’ve learned more about the mind/gut connection, I now know that there are so many chemicals and genes at play with irritable bowel syndrome. I also know that it can impact how a person perceives pain, responds to discomfort, reacts to situations. Yes, certain foods can trigger it (and it’s often different food for different people), but so can the weather. The most frustrating? When it comes on with no detectable cause. Even when I’m successfully managing stress, eating right and exercising, IBS flare-ups happen.
Despite the research, IBS is very poorly understood by everyone, including the medical community and a large number of patients. When I was diagnosed with IBS at the age of 19, there wasn’t a “D” or “C” that came with the label. My doctor explained that the disorder was simply a diagnosis of exclusion. There isn’t a test for it, and it’s not life-threatening, he explained. “It’s just more of an annoyance and a way to describe intestinal symptoms that don’t have a particular cause,” he said.
A lot has changed since then, but there’s still a lot that isn’t known about this condition.
The honesty policy
Today, I have a more informed doctor – one who understands that IBS is real, it’s serious, and there ARE treatments to help lessen its effects on our daily lives. I’ve learned that hot yoga and activated charcoal make a world of difference to help me manage symptoms. But still, I have days that are downright painful – too painful to attempt exercise, and I wish a treatment existed that would work consistently.
No one wants to start a conversation with “I’m sorry, I have to cancel, my IBS is out of control right now.” That’s what I’m learning to say.
For too long, keeping quiet about my condition left me feeling even more embarrassed, anxious and guilty. On my worst days, I still feel these things, but as I’ve learned to get more comfortable with taking the honest approach, I’ve been met with a lot more empathy and understanding than I could have imagined.
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