Living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome

So I wanted to write today about Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS. This is something that I have had for about 15 years. 

Some of what I am going to write is a bit gross and for reasons that will become obvious, will get a bit graphic through necessity – so if are a bit squeamish, then this post isn’t for you…

I was diagnosed with IBS by my GP in my early twenties as I had been having some symptoms, which included: 

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea – after certain foods
  • Diarrhoea – in certain situation

I had already suspected that I had IBS and the doctor confirmed it. One of the things he said was the reason I get diarrhoea or “D” as I’ll call it, in situations I am nervous or anxious about, is that the bodies natural “fight or flight” syndrome kicks in. Basically in an situation where you feel uncomfortable your bodies’ adrenaline level rises to enable you to either stay and fight or run away. 

The problem with me is that my adrenaline level affects my digestive systems a little too much and whenever I do anything remotely nervy, I always get the runs. My body basically wants to get rid of as much waste as possible so that I can run away faster. (Soz, like I said, gross). 

Most people get butterflies in their stomach and feel nervous, but for me, I just end up running back and forward to the loo. This is exacerbated by the fact that I know I am susceptible to this and in this nervy situations I worry about needing the loo which makes the whole thing 100 times worse. 

I also react to certain foods, although I have never been able to pin point exactly what, with the slight exception of creamy sauces. It does seem however, that very rich, high fat food can set me off and it’s fair to say my bowel is a moody so-and-so and can make me ill very quickly. 

I do get constipated sometimes, but by and large I get D the most. I cannot tell you how many different events and occasions my condition has effectively ruined for me. Birthdays, Christmas, holidays, flights, train and car journeys, and almost every single fancy meal I have eaten has made me feel poorly. 

It’s fair to say I don’t always help myself as when I don’t eat well, this makes things worse 🙁 But then again, when I eat fine, then I still get ill. 

On average I get D about 2-3 times each week and I’ve got very used to dealing with it. I was laughing with M the other night about me and I realised that I am quite brave, because many a  time I leave the house to do a work or a personal thing and I wonder/hope that I won’t need the loo before I get to where I am going. 

I am super aware of where all the possible places are I can stop if I need the loo when we go out, because that’s the thing, I try to not let it stop me doing things. But I do have to have a coping strategy, because otherwise I fear I would be housebound. 

But cope I do and most people would have no idea that I get so poorly as I don’t tell them… it’s not really a conversation opener is it? “Oh I’ve got the runs this morning, how are you doing???” plus WHAT a mental image eh….

But over the years I have developed some coping strategies and I thought I would share them,  if you are reading this, then I guess you have googled IBS and are therefore struggling too:

  1. Gaviscon: I carry Gaviscon in my handbag at ALL times as when I start to feel a bit icky. It’s an alkaline chalky liquid, which can also be bought in chewy tablet form.  I take this as it does tend to calm down mild symptoms. 
  2. Imodium: This is brand name, but the medication is called loperamide and this is an anti-diarrhoeal. You take 2 after the first bad poo and 1 after each subsequent poo. I have never had to take more than 3 as they work pretty fast.  I also carry this in my handbag. 
  3. Places to go to the loo: As IBS is either triggered or made worse by anxiety, then it’s useful to have places on your mind where you can go to the loo if you need to. I think knowing you can go to the loo pretty quickly and easily helps with the anxiety and certainly makes the  need to go much less urgent. 
  4. My “go to” places are as follows:
    • McDonalds – the McDonalds App  (iOS and Android) is very good at locating the nearest one and they are open nearly ALL the time! This is also true of KFC and Burger King etc. 
    • Pubs – by their very name, they are public houses and so are good if you have an emergency after midday. 
    • Cafe’s – see Pubs, but I always buy a tea, just to say thank you
  5. Disabled toilets – so for around £5 you can get a radar key, which is a universal key for disabled toilets around the UK. This is really useful if you NEED to go and there is either a huge queue for the public toilet or there is a stupid 30p charge and you don’t have any change. I got one of these a few years ago and it has been invaluable more than once! 
  6. Mindfulness – so this is very vague heading for sort of getting your head around dealing with a sensitive digestive system. I work about 20 miles away from home and this can involve an hours commute by car in either direction, usually with awful traffic. This can be SO stressful if I have had D when I first wake up. Ordinarily I wouldn’t leave until I felt better, but when I have to be at work, I don’t have a choice. 

    So what I did was I made peace with the fact that if I needed to poo at the side of the road/motorway, then I would. I know right about now you are totally grossed out and think I am disgusting, but let me tell you.. it worked. It freed my mind of most the anxiety around commuting because I would worry that I would be driving along the M62, the urge would hit me and I would literally be up shit creek. (Lol soz)

    Anyway, once I employed the thought “I could just pullover and poo in the field next to the motorway” and then made peace with that, it instantly gave me enough time in said crisis situation,  to legitimately pull off the road and find a pub or cafe or something. However bizarre this you think this method, it  freed my thinking and quiets my anxiety. It works for me. 

So I don’t claim to be an expert, but I do know how it feels to constantly have a dodgy stomach. It’s embarassing, anxiety inducing and not really a topic for polite conversation, but it’s something I live with on a day-to-day basis. 

I was prompted to write this post as today I have been quite poorly with D. Not sure what triggered it off, but I did go out with friend for tea last night to Byron Burger in Manchester and had a mushroom burger and a chocolate brownie – I am thinking it could have been the chocolate brownie,

I have been to the loo 6  times since about 11:00pm last night and still feel a bit bleurgh. But that’s normal for me. And so it goes on…

Anyway, please feel free to comment and tell me your experiences… thanks for reading. 

G  x 


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