It’s good to talk

I love a good honest post on AOW. It’s what we’re known for and what we do best, I think. This is one of those posts. Emma sent us this with her own disclaimer, but I don’t think it needs it. It is thought-provoking, and it is interesting. The fact that this condition is so often brushed under the carpet, and not talked about is a disservice to everybody who has it, and who needs to know more. Once again, AOW readers at your service:

Disclaimer: I am going to talk about something that’s not particularly thought-provoking, insightful or moving (well, I guess it is of sorts…).

Today I am going to talk about embarrassing illnesses. In my case, I am going to talk about bowels.

Back in July I read Katie’s Confessions of an Imperfect Bride. I am not married myself, or engaged, but I love to read wedding reports. I love the pretty, I adore the love…But it is the frank and honest reports that I love the most.

I actually properly applauded when I read Katie’s report. In particular, the bowel-gate incident. Why? Not only was it so open, honest AND witty, but I know without a shadow of a doubt that when my ‘day’ should come…it will involve some sort of battle with my bowels.

I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, IBS.

According to the NHS website: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition of the digestive system. It can cause bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.

I have been told many times that IBS is what Drs settle upon when they have ruled out everything else (coeliac disease, chon’s etc). They do not know the cause of it, though I can normally align my bouts to either stress or something I have eaten – the latter being easier to control than the former, of course (particularly as I am a natural born worrier).

I’m no medical expert, so I won’t dwell on the details any more, but you get the idea…

It’s not very glamorous and what’s more, it’s not considered very ‘ladylike’.

It has been a part of my life almost every single day for 7 years, and I suspect I will battle with it in some shape or form for the rest of my life.

Don’t get me wrong; I know that there are far, far worse afflictions and illnesses to have.

It is inconvenient and embarrassing, but it is not life threatening. It is manageable, its symptoms can be minimised, predicted and controlled. There are tablets you can take: my body can handle more Imodium than is natural, but I have politely sidelined the miracle tablets that also suppress my appetite (I LOVE my food).

But around one in five people will experience IBS in their lifetime, and the majority of these will be women. So why is IBS still largely considered to be an illness that you should be embarrassed and secretive about?

I have a friend whose dad told him when he was little that his time on the toilet was his own, whatever noises he made in there were nobody else’s business, so don’t be embarrassed by it. I wonder if his dad would have said the same thing if he’d had a daughter? Because frequent / lengthy trips to the toilet when you are at a friends house, or out for dinner, ARE embarrassing.

Worse still, it’s painful. Debilitating cramps, clamminess, nausea. I sometimes think that my stomach could play a better tune that any instrument, it is so noisy. Ideal when you are attending meetings, even more so because you generally know it is a warning sign.

But there is a point to me sharing all with you, and exposing my ailments to the world (which I will undoubtedly regret having done when I next attend an AOW meet-up). Because the thing that made my IBS worse to begin with was being so embarrassed about it. Not wanting to tell anyone I had this affliction, because ladies don’t talk about toilet behavior do they? It’s vulgar.

Well apparently I am no lady because the best thing that I ever did to manage the problem was to talk about it. All of my close friends and family know that I have IBS and what that means. I don’t go into graphic detail of course, but if I feel a bout coming on I will can quite comfortably excuse myself with a nonchalant, ‘I think I’m going to have a poorly tummy, talk amongst yourself.’

It means that I don’t have to avoid invitations for fear of being out and being ill…And of course, because I am not worrying about that, it happens a lot less (the vicious circle of an IBS suffering worrier being as it is).

My point is that there are lots of different embarrassing problems and afflictions in this world. I am telling you to shout about yours from the roof tops (even though I have basically done just that), but I am saying that if it is something that affects your daily life, that people will notice even if you don’t say anything about it, talk about it openly.

Trust your nearest and dearest, and help them to understand. It takes the pressure off and it will make your world a happier place.

For me, if I couldn’t laugh about it with friends I’d only cry. And that’s no good for anyone…

Categories: Health, Life
8 interesting thoughts on this

8 Comments

  1. Posted February 3, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I will put my hands up and say I have had IBS. I suppose I still do occasionally. I had an illness when I was a teenager and some of the treatment killed off lots of my stomach bacteria. I’ve also had a speight of bladder and kidney infections which meant similar frequent and urgent trips to the toilet – luckily my friends handled it with both humour and sympathy (I remember one night out where they were timing how long it took for a drink to be processed by my body!).

    I completely agree that there are illnesses which people just don’t talk about, and bowel (and bladder) related things are up there! It is a shame really, because I suspect for a lot of people, not talking means not finding support or things that might help – and for some people might mean that they never get round to working out the cause. A chat with a friend about my bladder infections led her to admit she’d been struggling with them too, and I shared my ways of preventing them naturally. But as you say – not talking about things, or being ashamed, could mean avoiding the signs of something more serious.

  2. Katielase
    Posted February 3, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    I love this. Anyone who read my wedding post will be well aware that ladylike is not a concept that I’ve ever been on board with. Even I though find it hard or awkward to talk about bowel issues.

    For example, so far every single day of my pregnancy I have been in pain from wind and constipation. Although I’ve always had bowels that reacted to nerves with, shall we say, immediate evacuation, I’ve never had true IBS. I had not appreciated the pain. Every day of my first trimester I was genuinely convinced I might be miscarrying because my whole lower abdomen hurt so much. And I was scared to tell anyone because it was a bit embarrassing when it turned out to be wind (except my husband, he’s had to get comfy with me discussing my lack of bowel movements on a daily basis).

    I hope this encourages more people to talk about things, and not feel ashamed or unladylike. Fuck ladylike, to be honest. It’s more important to find a way to love happily and comfortably.

    KL x

    PS: serious top tip for anyone suffering from constipation: drink a mug of hot water before you eat anything every morning. It has literally changed my life. I was so relieved that I sobbed when it worked. A lot.

    • Jessie
      Posted February 3, 2014 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      This description of the first trimester could be mine. I’ve had IBS since my teens – to varying levels of severity and although it has calmed down a lot, one sure fire thing to make it flare up is my hormones – and man are there are a lot of those when pregnant. My first trimester was so anxious and miserable anyway I was convinced everything was going wrong.
      Now we’re into bump territory my husband and I laugh about how much it’ll grow over the day as the gas builds up. It gets pretty painful at times and all I can do is lie down and well, expel it all over time! When the boy complains I do point out that there’s going to be MUCH worse than night time gas!!

      • Katielase
        Posted February 3, 2014 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

        I’m definitely bumpier in the evenings too. So much bloating. My husband has more than once found me at 3am on the bathroom floor doing yoga poses I found on the internet while googling ways to release trapped gas.

        It’s ironic that pregnancy, something INHERENTLY female, is so incredibly unladylike!

        KL x

  3. M
    Posted February 3, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    I think it’s so good to talk about ill health, especially among friends and close ones. I found that after talking to my friend about my PCOS I felt a lot better and now I can admit without lies when I don’t feel well enough to meet her for coffee. I don’t share it with every friend though as it seems too personal. I guess once we start thinking about family it may become more of a conversation topic. I’m sure it’s been scientifically proven that talking about your illness helps to cope with symptoms, hence so many people with certain conditions form support groups. It’s a shame that a lot of guys don’t talk about their illnesses though, I always have to nag J to go to the GP.

  4. Caroline
    Posted February 3, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I suffer from a very nervous upset tummy. That combined with my anxiety about doing ANYTHING that is different to my normal routine leads to… well….. many toilet trips being factored in before I leave the house. This includes but is not limited to Doctors appointments, holidays, weddings (not just my own), meetings at work that I wouldn’t normally attend, having people over, my husband being out even slightly later than I expect…I could go on. I also have major ansiety issues about ever being late anywhere so if I’m on the way somewhere and I think I’m going to be late the tummy kicks in and I get even more stressed!
    Gah!
    Pesky bums and tums causing us all this trouble.
    Ps KL – uncomfortable pregnancy trapped wind? *puts hand up* The first time it happened I thought I was dying. I mean literally dying.

  5. Posted February 3, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    I also have IBS and it was a major embarrassment to me, especially when I started my new job a couple of years ago. My job involves going out to farms, and the farmers are pretty much always male (I don’t know why this matters, but it’s much more awkward to chat about the trots with men!), and I’ve often never met them before. If I’m nervous about the meeting (I invariably am) and I get more worked up about the fact that we are outside with no access to toilets, it multiplies and is a hundred times worse. I nearly always have to ask to use their loo when I arrive, which is really embarrassing. I told a few people, and my boss knows I have issues, but I’ve never really discussed it with him, so it’s a bit awkward when we are attending a meeting and I have to disappear for 15 mins.

    Anyhoo, a family member also suffers from it, and he told me that it is tea (caffeine) that sets him off. I stopped drinking tea and within 24 hours I was almost totally better. I don’t drink anything with caffeine in it now, and on the whole I am a lot better. Usually I’ll only have one episode a week now as opposed to (at it’s worst) 5 or 6 times a day. I still have issues if I am nervous, but I am able to manage this by taking tablets before an event. For any other sufferers out there, try cutting out caffeine. Honestly, it changed my life!

  6. Posted February 4, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Pleased you are all carrying on the ‘it is good to talk motto’! And it’s great to hear how other people have minimised their symptoms. Annoyingly I am already a non-caffeine drinker (for non-related reasons) but have heard that cutting it out reduces bouts for people. I do find that if I maintain a healthy diet without too much ‘stodgy’ stuff I am much better…it is very easy to slip up though! xx

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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