For IBS Awareness Month, I thought it would be a good idea to talk a bit more about my own personal experience. As stated in a previous post, IBS is something that affects 2 in every 10 people in the UK. Some people don’t even realise they have IBS, so when symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhoea occur they ignore it and don’t seek advice from their doctor. I believe I was in this camp for a long time before the shit literally hit the fan. Pardon the crass language, but it is the best analogy.
Since I was young I’ve had problems with my stomach. The most significant time I can recall is when I was 10 and sent into hospital with a terrible stomach ache, and pain in my side that closely resembled appendicitis. Thankfully it wasn’t, but the doctors put it down to “swollen stomach glands.” I distinctly remember that any time I ate after the pain had finally subsided, I would feel ill again. This is something that now, as an adult with IBS, occurs more frequently than I would like. After a bad attack I will find I feel ill after eating for several days.
After this, my stomach appeared to settle down, and back into some form of “normality”. Hindsight is 20/20 however and looking back I can pick out a few instances when something just wasn’t right. A particular period of my life that I will always remember as strange was when I was in Year 10. I was around 13-14 years old and in a high school that I loved. I had friends a plenty and I was doing great in all my classes. One class however, even though my grades were good, wasn’t my favourite. Home Economics. I had a teacher that was known as a bit of a monster. She was a viper when she was angry. Every time I walked into her classroom, my stomach would ache so much that it felt like it was on fire. The cramps were serious. This teacher also had a private bathroom in her classroom (which was super weird!) and so I frequented this bathroom nearly every lesson. She, and the rest of the class, probably thought I was faking it, but I wasn’t. Being a teenager as well, I wouldn’t let my body do what it needed to and forced myself not to do anything in the bathroom, which made it all the worse. The crazy thing is though, when I left that classroom, and the viper teacher behind, I felt so much better! It’s funny how the mind and body work.
The real problem started when I was in my early 20s. I was 4 years into a very stable relationship (which turned into marriage) and I was in a job that I quite liked. I was still living with my parents and would see my other half whenever I could. I was working for a start-up comic book company and with this came some unique experiences. One of them was getting to go to an awards ceremony with a lot of fancy food and lots of fancy drinks. I remember this well because it was within the same week as this awards ceremony that I became horrendously ill. I actually think it was the day after the ceremony. I hadn’t had an awful lot to drink and so was not hungover, so I know what happened after was not the result of the alcohol.
When I say I was ill, I mean I was “pull out your guts through your ass and light them on fire” ill. I had the worst diarrhoea I have ever had in my life. It was so bad at one point that I had to urgently get my mum out of the shower so I could go to the bathroom. That was a very dark and bad smelling period. The toilet looked like a faecal Jackson Pollock. Husband stood by me throughout the whole ordeal and can still recall to this day how sick I was. I was completely drained of all life. Once I started to feel better this is when the issues started with food.
My usual go to recovery food had been plain, dry toast. When this didn’t seem to be working, my good old fashioned Irish genes kicked in and I went for salty chips. This seemed to do the trick, but of course this lulled me into a false sense of security. Naturally I started to eat more varied foods and certain things seemed to set me off again. It took me a while to realise that it was actually foods like bread, pasta and other things that contained gluten that made me ill.
I did go to the doctor during this time and they didn’t seem to be all that interested in what was wrong with me. I was sent for tests in the hospital but they didn’t come back showing that anything was wrong. I was pretty much just left to my own devices. They said that I most likely had IBS with a gluten intolerance. Nothing was definite.
Getting used to avoiding foods without gluten was a challenge, as I had never had to read any food labels before for any reason, except to see how much fat was contained within them. A funny experience in the early days was getting used to breakfast. One morning I thought it was a great idea to eat Weetabix, a life long favourite. Not for one second did I think “Hey…maybe this might make my ass explode!” After devouring the entire bowl, I immediately went to my Nana and Granda’s house, which is only 5 minutes from my mum and dads house.
Going to Nana and Granda’s house early in the morning, always meant that you got a second breakfast. This morning, for some reason I only took a cup of coffee. As I drank and talked, my stomach started to get more and more upset. Once I hit the twenty-minute mark after eating my breakfast I practically slammed the coffee down on the table and bolted to their mercifully handy downstairs bathroom. I proceeded to pass liquid poison. The sweat was coming off me by the bucket full and at one point I swear my eyes started to go black around the edges. That was it, I thought to myself “I’m dying, a bowl of Weetabix has f*****g killed me!” Luckily for me my Nana and Granda didn’t mind that I had just destroyed their toilet and didn’t mind having to buy a new one. Okay that last part I made up, but they never minded when I had an attack in their house, they were more concerned that I was feeling okay.
In the early days I made a lot of mistakes, and it wasn’t just hard for me, it was difficult for those around me too. My parents were accustomed to having my diet a certain way since I was a baby, and now they were having to change it up, and learn a new way of eating along with me. My husband and his family also had to change up the way they made food and looked at food. They also were not accustomed to a food intolerance in the house. It was a trying time for everyone.
In my next article, I’m going to look at my story today. What is it like in the present. This will encompass some of past again, but hopefully I will be able to give you an insight into my current IBS life (even more so than I already have!)