Welcome to Uncomfortable Q&A, where we share our answers to uncomfortable questions we’ve been asked in real life. If you have an icky question that makes you squeamish but you really want the answer to, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll answer it (and keep it anonymous).
You’ve been warned, this is the Discomfort Zone, where things may be gross and very TMI. Basically, mum and dad, don’t read any further.
Alright guys, today we are getting to the butt of the issue. This week I did the unthinkable. I held a straight face as I handed my manager a letter, written by my doctor. I looked her in the eye after she read the word “diarrhea”, and wondered how hard it would be to change my identity.
Two days earlier, with a hot water bottle pressed to my lower stomach, I sat in a meeting with management. I had been asked to explain why I take more “personal time” than my coworkers. Too many days off, too much time away from my desk, people were starting to talk. I tried to explain, but was told to “take time off and come back when I feel better.”
Again, I tried, and failed to express myself. I know that I’ve drawn the shit stick in life, but it’s hard to explain it to others. I looked at a blank point on the wall, close to tears, feeling humiliated. The pain was so bad my legs and back had started to hurt as well. I wanted to say “this isn’t the flu! When you have IBS, there is no feeling better.”
That night and the next morning the pain was worse. I felt hopeless. I felt like no matter what I do or how hard I try, I’m blocked. I felt like no one understood. I thought I’d been making the compromise, by going into work even when I’m in unbearable pain, and then taking the time I needed in the bathroom. I thought I had found the balance between giving my time to work and taking care of myself.
So I spent hours trying to ease the pain, and then took the opportunity to take the day off and visit my GP. Over the past year I’d seen him multiple times with the same symptoms. Symptoms that I’ve been having since I was a child, that sometimes fade away and then flare up without explanation.
Every time I tell someone I have IBS, they say something along the lines of “oh right. What does that mean, though?” These are the uncomfortable questions IBS sufferers are asked, (and have to ask themselves), and their answers.
What is IBS?
To be technical for a second: IBS – Irritable bowel syndrome – is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that affects the functioning of the large and small intestine.
To put it into normal people words: This is a chronic, (meaning lifelong, incurable) illness that affects how, if, or when I poop. Yep. Poop. What can I say, it’s a shitty disorder to have.
IBS iis known as an invisible illness, because the 1 in 5 Australians who suffer from it are often ignored and misunderstood because they “don’t look sick”. (Shoutout to my highschool teachers and bosses over the years).
There is no known cause of IBS, although there are a few theories (that are yet to be proven, thanks, science). Because of this it’s hard to diagnose, harder to treat, and can’t be cured.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
The most common symptom of IBS is stomach cramping and pain paired with either constipation, diarrhea, or the thrilling combination of both.
Those who suffer from it often feel bloated and uncomfortable, can be excessively gassy, and similar to period cramps the pain can “spread” to the lower back, hips, and legs.
What causes IBS?
Well, about that. Let me give this a Giant Big Preface that says “no one knows, man”.
Yeah, I can’t say what causes IBS to develop, because that is different from person to person and doctors don’t really have a lot to go on yet. It’s probably genetic?
What triggers IBS?
There are a few things that can cause particularly bad episodes, but be warned: avoiding those things will not cure IBS. Basically, these are things that can make symptoms worse, but not the things that cause IBS.
(So don’t tell me to avoid stress and I’ll be better)
On a typical day The Pain is made worse by eating, stress, or hormonal changes, and relieved, (by a little bit or altogether), by… well… pooping.
Fun fact, this pain can make it feel really unbearably urgent, and then once you get there and comfortable, nothing happens for a solid half hour. Still can’t leave though, because it feels so bad and urgent that it causes anxiety of being away from the toilet.
For a long time I didn’t realise that other people don’t take intense pain as their bodies signal to go to the bathroom. Often the pain won’t subside until the dump “feels” done, which can take a very long time and make your boss angry at you.
IBS doesn’t increase your risk of life-threatening illnesses like bowel cancer. Yay!
IBS has a severe impact on the mental health and quality of life. I mean, imagine being in constant pain almost every day of your life. Now add the embarrassment of that pain being caused by how you’ve been pooping lately.
Now add the emotional strain of being figuratively tied to your toilet.
People with IBS take three times more sick leave from work and school, causing anxiety, guilt and economic burden. Many have to change to part time hours or work from home to accommodate to their illness, but for a lot of us that isn’t an option.
Episodes can come on without warning, and can be so inhibiting that you feel like you can’t do anything but curl up and cry from the pain, or sit in the bathroom for ungodly amounts of times trying to entertain yourself. As you can imagine, this makes it hard to have a social life of enjoy leaving the house.
Something no one mentions about IBS is the impact on your sex life – forget about Netflix and chill when you’re bloated, in constant pain, and whether or not you shit today is all you can think about. Yeah babe, I’m feeling really sexy today.
Remember how I mentioned the effect IBS has on mental health? Yeah. Research suggests that the brain and gut have a very strong relationship. That’s why stress can trigger Shitty Days. The theory is that the worse you’re feeling in the bowels, the worse your mental health gets, and the more depressed or anxious you are, the worse the pain gets.
To top it off, a common medication for depression and OCD, fluoxetine (which I’m taking) aggravates IBS symptoms. Something my doctor didn’t tell me.
So, my answer?
IBS is shit. My whole life is shit. I’m always in pain and have no control over my bowels. I’m mortified and humiliated by living with this. I’m never believed by anyone because I can’t prove that I’m really sick. It makes me feel hopeless, depressed, anxious, and angry at the world. I landed the ass end of disorders.
But if I’m so embarrassed, why am I telling you this?
Because at The Gal Pals we keep it real. And I hope you’ll lay off the person in your office who goes to the toilet too often.
The Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before You Blog
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