About two years ago I was finally diagnosed with irritable bowl syndrome, better known as IBS. I have been unwell since December 2013 when my family had a bereavement and was too embarassed to talk to my parents or go and see my Doctor. Seriously, no one wants to talk about their toilet habits!
The first doctor I saw did some blood tests, had a feel around my tummy and said there was nothing showing, it's probably just IBS. He told me to just be careful what I eat and that was the end of that conversation. I felt really disheartened by this. I had no idea what IBS even was and the only advice I was given was to 'be careful what I eat'. What does this even mean!? What do I cut out? What should I eat more of? Are there any medications that can help me, or any herbal remedies that can help to relieve it? So I resorted to doing something my husband is forever telling me off for doing. I had to go to Mr Google.
The internet has lots of things about IBS. Two places I found to be really helpful was NHS Choices and the other one was the IBS Network. NHS Choices showed me exactly what IBS was; a common, long-term condition of the digestive system. Since then I have discovered that a lot of people I speak to that have the condition usually have one or the other of IBS-C (constipation) or IBS-D (diarrhoea). The IBS Network also showed me a few different things about FODMAP diets and lots of information about managing IBS. I would highly recommend going onto both of these sites to learn more about the condition.
Don't worry, I'm not going to bore you with the medical side of it all as I'm not a medical professional in the slightest and I still don't fully understand it all. This post is all about the emotional side of living with IBS and a few tips and my favourite products to help.
I'm a naturally shy person with low self esteem. This is seriously escalated by my IBS which in itself makes me extremely self-concious which stresses me out and stress is a big trigger for me. This gives me worsened flare-ups and so the cycle continues. I know there are people out there who have other stomach conditions such as Crohn's and Colitis and whilst I am so thankful that my issues aren't as serious as these, it's still a struggle to live with.
I have to watch every little thing I eat. One of the things I have noticed over the last 8-10 months is that gluten is a massive trigger for me. I have been tested three times for Coeliacs (gluten allergy) so I know that it is an intolerance rather than an allergy. I can eat small amount of gluten but a little too much and I'm really unwell. I've managed to find plenty of alternatives; gluten free pasta and spaghetti, gluten free bread and there are so many gluten free products in the supermarkets these days. Our local supermarket has a big selection which makes me feel so much more at ease that if there is anything I want to buy that usually has gluten in it I can find it on the shelves, knowing it's less likely I will be unwell in a few hours.
Dairy is another issue for me. Being a bigger girl, I like to buy low fat and fat free yoghurt, milk, cheese, etc. However, this has not been possible with dairy/lactose free products. I have managed to find a milk that's perfect to put in tea (Arla skimmed Lacto free milk) and I use Asda almond unsweetened milk to make my porridge with. However, I have been unable to find anything else that is dairy/lactose free and low fat. Maybe it's not a thing that exists, but a low fat plain yoghurt or a low fat cheese with no dairy or lactose in it is something that I have not yet found and would LOVE to. Do you know of any that I'm completely missing?
I always need to know where the nearest toilet is. If I'm in a town I've not visited before or I'm in a big city then I go into panic mode. I get very anxious and very stressed and it's constantly playing on my mind. Sometimes it makes me just want to leave and go home. We had a weekend away with friends about 6 weeks ago and thankfully our hotel was really close to the seafront where we stayed so I could rush back if I needed to. But this isn't always the case. When I was in London for three days I found myself being really careful with what I was eating and drinking due to not wanting to be unwell whilst out of my comfort zone as you have to travel a good distance on the Underground or by bus to get anywhere.
IBS is a real taboo subject I have found. I don't like to talk about it, and I know many others don't either. Being an IBS sufferer means I am in constant pain, feel nauseas a lot of the time and I genuinely get scared to eat at times. The days I don't eat much and just drink water I feel so much more relaxed. There are so many different types of fruit I can't eat, I can't eat food that is too fatty without regretting it later so meals out are always a struggle.
I am on medication for my IBS. I have to take it 20 mintues before meals and it does help relieve the symptoms most of the time. There are also over the counter medications you can try, the best people to speak to about this is your GP or a Pharmacist. Another thing I have found that helps settle my stomach is peppermint tea. Peppermint tea has a soothing effect on gastro problems and for me it works really well. I also love Camomile tea. I find personally that Camomile tea has a calming effect as well as helps reduce any cramps so is good at night time if the pain is too much.
IBS is really hard to live with and even though I am generally able to manage it, there are times that I just can't. People have said to me in the past "why don't you just not eat things that upset your tummy?". The truth is, in my case anyway, if I was to do this I wouldn't be able to eat anything at all. I know the specific triggers that I have mentioned in this post but there is just no way of knowing what food will trigger it on that day. The best way for me to describe is it can be a bit like living with a young child that has fussy eating habits that one day likes a particular food, the next day doesn't and throws it on the floor because they have decided today is an 'I don't like this' day and refuses it.
If you are suffering, please have a look at the links to NHS Choices and the IBS Network. Get to the GP or Pharmacist to ask about medication and research ways that IBS symptoms can be relieved. No two people are the same when it comes to IBS and not everything will work for you. Unfortunately learning to manage your IBS is a long, drawn out process and even though I was diagnosed two years ago I still haven't fully got my head around it. Just know that you're not alone! IBS is really common and not harmful. It can cause anxiety and painful cramping but with support, diet and mental wellbeing it can be managed and you can live with it.