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Coping with IBS during a pandemic | Lifestyle

I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which has led to a degree of lactose intolerance. It’s triggered by certain foods and the biggest trigger by far is stress or anxiety. Ironically one of the biggest stressors when I am out and about is not having access to a loo, whether I need to go or not. Being stuck in traffic is a nightmare for me as well as anywhere where there are basically no public facilities.

I recently saw a short film made by Amy Dowden, who’s is one of the profressional dancers on Strictly Come Dancing and whilst I don’t have Chrohn’s disease, I can identify big time.

During the pandemic and whilst either not leaving the house and/or staying within a few miles of the house, my IBS has been really very good. I have stayed figuratively and literally within my comfort zone because I was mandated to do so. Our house has 3 loos, which is one each and a spare!! I have been staying home to work totally and if we did venture, we were never very far away. Total or partial lockdowns have meant that all of the usual stressors around travel were completely removed my IBS has been well under control.

But after the 2nd lockdown ended, we have started to slowly go out again and today we went to a fab farm shop in Cheshire, which is about 40 minutes away in the countryside. Going anywhere during COVID times is more stressful for me as I can’t quickly and effortlessly dive into anywhere to use the loo in an emergency – also not everything is open. But today was a perfect example where IBS threatened to ruin my day, but thankfully I found a way to deal and carry on.

Firstly, one thing I have learned to do is try to not panic. I mean, never in the modern history of humans has asking someone to “calm down” ever reduced their blood pressure, but I know trying TO calm down, helps enormously. Adrenaline is not my friend in a “need the loo’ situation.

Today we queued for about 10 minutes to get into the shop, following the COVID guidelines as requested and I was fine. We got into the shop and started browsing and then I wasn’t fine. All it takes for me is a passing thought “hmm, I feel like I might need the loo” and this for me can be devastating if I then also think “but I don’t think there is a loo in here”.

Also my dear readers, I know this is gross thing to talk about, but this is blog is now and will always be a reflection of me and this is a part of me. Also, I am pretty sure I am not the only person that has ever experienced this or similar. I digress…

So I started to have my own version of a panic attack in the shop. Not one other single person would have been able to tell, especially behind a face mask – with the exception of M. My heart starts to get quick and I can really feel my stomach starting to not feel great. I know that if I can get that churny feeling under control I can carry on shopping. I start to try and take some deep, calming breaths and look at the MANY gorgeous food items in the shop to distract myself. I stand with M a minute whilst he reassures me in a calm voice that I will be fine and can leave at any time. I walk away, deep breathing and feeling momentarily better. I have already taken 2 x Loperamide tablets before we left as I was already a bit anxious – so in theory I should have been fine.

A few minutes go past, but I know that I still don’t feel right – time to exit stage left – but there are no loos in the shop. But here’s what I have learned over the years; I worry continuously that people won’t be helpful in this situation, but they almost always are. I simply said to one of the shop assistants “I feel a little unwell, can you tell me where the nearest loo is please?” And she told me immediately where they were – which was out of the shop, a 60 second walk away – the relief was palpable…..

The farm shop we were at is Uber in every sense of the word – it currently has a huge luxurious farm shop and a few additional barns with Christmas wares along with a currently Christmas themed gift shop. We ended up spending about 2 hours mooching about with me unfortunately, but now very calmly visiting the loo once more before left.

It seems that due to me spending so much time at home and venturing only very locally, has caused my loo anxiety to sky rocket. I have just become so unaccustomed to being in unfamiliar circumstances and this is a big change for me – – this time last year I was travelling extensively all around the UK. I live in an area that is currently Tier 2, which means that quite a lot of stuff is open, I am still not travelling too far to minimise the risk, so I am not totally sure how I am going to quiet the battle my brain is wont to have with the rest of my body.

But at least for now I have good coping mechanisms and I certainly won’t let a bit of loo trouble stop me enjoying our little slice of Christmas fun.

G x

p.s. when I say most people are dead helpful, I usually find they are. I tend to ask women for help as I know lots of women also suffer with IBS. Shops can and sometimes will let you into their staff loo if they aren’t too busy. McDonald’s, pubs or anywhere with a cafe is usually my go-to in an emergency. In fact, the only places that are ever not willing to help are independent petrol stations where a lone man is on the till. Sorry to single these males out chaps, but this has been my experience.

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