When I received my initial diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) almost 10 years ago, I naively thought that all my digestive issues would be a thing of the past. Now that the doctors knew what these unrelenting symptoms were, surely they could fix me.
Fourteen-year-old me was wrong. It was only the beginning of a very long and emotional journey. Conditions like IBS affect eating habits, daily life, and social agendas.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that suffering in silence with a digestive condition is counterproductive. While I previously tried to hide it from everyone but my mother, I now talk about my health on the internet, baring all for the world to see.
And it’s strangely therapeutic.
But when you share your story, you’re also privy to some weird and wonderful comments in return. As it turns out, everyone else has an opinion on it too.
Let’s talk about the 12 things that everyone with IBS is tired of hearing.
Because they’re definitely more of an expert than the various gastroenterologists I’ve seen, right? Whether or not they think this pearl of wisdom is helpful, it’s tricky to know if I should roll my eyes or accept that they’re trying to be sympathetic.
There’s always that one person who feels the need to add their card to the pile when I acknowledge or talk about my IBS. Their stomach pain is so much more painful than mine apparently. And if I try to top that, watch out! Oh, how I wish it were only a temporary bad stomach.
When I air out my digestive issues, it’s natural to expect a few responses. However, there’s usually someone who indulges a little too much. And 90 minutes later, I’d probably be able to pass a quiz on their entire GI history.
I know they’re trying to empathize, but IBS isn’t something a person just “gets once.” For starters, people only get diagnosed because they’ve had symptoms for months, or longer. If only IBS reared its ugly head just the once and then disappeared altogether. My problems would be solved.
The wonderful thing about invisible conditions like IBS is that I probably do look fine on the outside. And I suppose it’s a compliment that I look like my normal self when there’s so much inner turmoil going on. But if someone had a broken leg, people generally wouldn’t tell them to suck it up and walk on it. Just because IBS can’t be seen it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Usually delivered in tandem with a heavy sigh and a roll of the eyes. I understand it’s frustrating that I have dietary requirements, but it doesn’t help to make me feel awkward about them too. It’s already bad enough I’ve had to give up chocolate, cheese, milk, dairy, butter. But look, I’m still here, walking and talking — so I must be able to eat SOMETHING.
Yes, good food and exercise can help ease symptoms. But in some cases, they can also exacerbate them. So it’s a little unsympathetic to assume everyone is the same and that the solution is so simple. When someone tells me this, I understand they’re only trying to help. But it’s slightly frustrating to assume I’m not already trying.
Surely everyone’s aware that even Her Majesty the Queen goes for a number two? Although it’s not the most pleasant thing in the world to go through, I’d appreciate a bit more of a dignified response. But this sort of comment makes a person feel embarrassed for opening up.
That’s what I tell myself too when I’m sitting on the toilet for the seventh time that morning. I don’t believe in this malarkey, either! If only IBS were a myth — it would solve all my problems.
We’ve all heard the phrase “mind over matter,” and to some extent it’s true. With IBS, worrying about symptoms flaring up invariably means that symptoms do flare up because of the anxiety. I can’t win! But saying it’s all in my head? That’s insensitive and downright inconsiderate.
I thought I was finally at the tail end of my symptoms, and then, oops, there I go again. It’s back to the IBS grind. What I’d like people who don’t have IBS to understand: I’m tired of being controlled by my digestive system, but I can’t help it. I’ll probably never be 100 percent better, but I’m doing my best. It’s frustrating, but I can work around it.
Say I have 10 cats, and someone allergic to cats comes over to visit. Would getting rid of nine of the cats mean that person doesn’t have an allergic reaction? (No.) If I could eat that creamy, melted-in-the-middle, warm chocolate pudding, I would. But I can’t.
Admittedly, it’s difficult to know the right thing to say to someone who suffers from IBS, because from an outsider’s perspective it can be frustrating to not know how to help. I remember my mother being in tears because she felt powerless to help me. It can be tricky to know what will be the most helpful thing to say.
But please rest assured, sometimes I and others like me just need a sympathetic ear (and a toilet close by). Your support means more than you know.
Scarlett Dixon is a U.K.–based journalist, lifestyle blogger, and YouTuber who runs networking events in London for bloggers and social media experts. She has a keen interest in speaking out about anything that might be deemed taboo, and a lengthy bucket list. She’s also a keen traveller and is passionate about sharing the message that IBS doesn’t have to hold you back in life! Visit her website and tweet her @Scarlett_London.