A love letter to IBS (and a few tips if you’re new to the club)

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IBS. That’s irritable bowel syndrome to the uninitiated.

Stop reading here if poo makes you uncomfortable.

My love/hate relationship with faeces began when I was about 14. Whilst most teenagers were thinking about acne, hormones and the opposite sex, I was wondering where the nearest toilet was and if I would be willing to use my handbag as an upmarket diaper if it came down to it. The answer was (and still is) yes. According to a friend of mine who has crohns, ice cream boxes also work a treat.

I spent the early years of my life thinking that it was normal to go to the toilet in excess of 12 times a day. That was just human nature, right? Don’t worry though, all of that toilet time was not in vain – I am very well read and have also perfected the art of using the toilet whilst sitting cross legged. Yes, it’s possible, and is surprisingly comfortable.

I have had some close calls in my time, all of which have inevitably resulted with me in the toilet (or digging a hole in a forest, but that was only once.) One such experience was when I was in Thailand, in the midst of a Muay Thai fight, standing in the mayhem of the crowd. It was sweaty, noisy and late at night. I was confronted by a woman whose husband was having an affair with my friend. I was cornered, the woman burst into tears and emotionally unloaded in Thai. As I listened to the women speak, I began rocking back and forth, twitching and sweating even more profusely. As she began to rehash the first 10 years of her relationship, I hurriedly said in Thai something along the lines of “toilet-diarrhea-I am coming back-sorry.” Unfortunately, before I could offer any further words of consolation, nature had called, and nature had won.

Nowadays, an increasing number of people are being diagnosed with IBS. As poo is a taboo topic (rhyme intended), very few people will openly discuss that they are living with the foggy diagnosis that is IBS. I have personally found that it’s a great ice breaker and a fail-safe way of weeding out the prudes at the party.

First of all, IBS is basically a blanket term used to describe a phenomenon that no one really understands. IBS roughly translates to having a sensitive stomach. I would add that living in our fast food dystopia where Coca Cola is king, I would be very surprised if you don’t experience a few bouts of IBS somewhere along the line.

Throughout my relationship with IBS, I have had all of the allergy tests, skin tests and everything-else-tests out there. I have also had a colonoscopy, an endoscopy and a  gastroscopy – if you don’t know what those are, they are an exciting mixture of ways to put a camera in your stomach and/or bowel using different orifices.

Due to the increasing number of friends and family who have come to me with poo related questions and queries, here is a mini IBS cheat sheet:

  • Spell IBS in lower case (ibs) to show it who’s boss.
  • Avoid: chewing gum, alcohol, caffeine, carbonated drinks, dairy, wheat/gluten, fried or oily foods, heavy meats
  • Give your large and small intestine friendly names, like Patricia and Patrick, so that you can start a conversation with your body and begin to listen to it when it communicates with you.
  • Start a food journal. Record what you eat and how it makes you feel. Try cutting out different foods and recording how this effects you.
  • Don’t stress. Don’t sweat it. The stomach is the emotional brain. If you’re internalizing emotions that might equate to diarrhea.
  • Nature helps you out. Try the following to give your bowels some love and help with digestion: slippery elm, licorice, ginger, mint/peppermint.
  • Take a good probiotic.
  • Sleep.
  • Don’t f*ck with imodium and similar medicines. If it needs to come out, it needs to come out.
  • Insider knowledge: a ‘normal’ amount of times to go number two is between 1-3 times a day.
  • Drink water and herbal teas.
  • If you have an IBS attack, back your body and stick to eating simple, non-processed carbs to help move everything along. Think rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn.
  • Move/run/swim/dance – something that gets things moving.
  • Get into vegetables and veganism (my saving grace).

I’m still figuring it out, but it’s a pretty awesome ride once you learn to love it.

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