What Having IBS Has Taught Me About Myself
Last updated: October 2018
Having IBS isn’t all bad. Hear me out. Over the course of the thirteen or so years that I’ve lived with IBS-D, I’ve learnt a ridiculous amount of stuff about my gut, my mind and myself. I know what makes my gut and I happy, and what makes my gut and I feel low. I feel like I’ve got my body sussed. I’m in tune with what it wants and how to nourish it with what it needs - if that sometimes means pizza, gimme that pizza.
I’ve made a list – mainly because I’m a Capricorn – of all the things IBS has taught me about myself. Because when you’re feeling low, it’s good to have something positive to look at and focus on.
You ready? Here goes.
IBS makes you tough. You have to deal with a wave of symptoms and emotions all the time, never knowing what way it’ll swing. My IBS knocked me down so many times, it was difficult to get back up. But I did. I became a constant feature at the doctors until I got what I needed. In the past I’ve cancelled numerous events, I’ve dealt with being confined to my bathroom for hours on end and I’ve had a very near public IBS-meltdown on a train commute home with no toilet available. I’m resilient because my IBS has meant I’ve had to be. And that’s a good thing.
I’m pretty knowledgeable about the Bristol stool chart
Honestly, poo should be my specialist subject; I know so much about it. And that’s healthy. On any one day I can tell you whether it’s type 2 sausage-like, or ragged and mushy like type 6. I won’t even apologize for those images because that’ll make it a taboo again. FYI, I range from a 3-4 on a good day and can hit 6-7 on a flare day with my IBS-D.
How much I let anxiety rule my gut
I’m a natural-born worrier and knew that stress and feeling anxious triggered my IBS. What I didn’t realize was how much it played a part. My anxiety would stop me from saying yes to dinners, days out, trips, any kind of event where I didn’t know what food there’d be, or whether there were any toilets. Where I couldn’t preempt and plan for any eventuality. And that wasn’t doing me any good.
I can overcome that anxiety and learn how to manage it
I finally went to the doctors, got referred to a therapist and started CBT to get a hold on my anxiety rather than live with it the other way round. I can draw on practical exercises to regulate my breathing, rationalize my feelings and leave those worrisome thoughts about my IBS behind. It’s the best thing I ever did for myself, my mental health and my relationship with IBS.
Saying no is super important
I understand the true importance of saying no to things. I can’t do everything. My time is precious and I want to spend it doing things that make me happy. If I overdo things my fatigue hits, stopping me in my tracks, and I hate that feeling. I balance my time, ensuring I have plenty of time to look after myself, be it with a bubble bath or a trip to the seaside.
I need to go for daily walks near green spaces
I’d gotten into the habit at work of eating my lunch at my desk and leaving it only to pee and get a drink. It wasn’t healthy. A few colleagues and I started going for hour-long wanders around our local London parks, reveling in the fresh air. It made my feel more alive, calmer and more creative. It helped with my digestion and stress levels, which had a positive impact on my IBS symptoms.
Meditation will forever come in handy
I never really got meditation, until I started to practice it when I had my first couple of panic attacks. I did it daily at the start of my CBT, enjoying the way I could connect to my breath and body, letting a huge sense of calm wash over me. It’s one of the greatest skills I now have to steady myself when things get on top of me.
Real friends will forever understand
IBS is not something I need to apologize for, ever. Real friends will understand and accommodate your needs. Just be honest and when they ask, tell them what you need.
What has your IBS taught you?
Do you suffer from IBS-C, IBS-D, or IBS-Mixed/Alternating?