Starting my IBS journey

IBS is a common condition that affects almost 1 in 5 people – including me. I’ve always had digestive issues, but I never thought anything of it. I just assumed that everyone dealt with it better than I did. Although the symptoms weren’t sudden and have always been a part of my life, getting the diagnosis has hugely impacted my life. It’s scary when you lose control of your body just because you’re fulfilling a basic human need: eating. So after taking last week off to process everything (thanks for understanding), I now feel ready to write my first post about my IBS journey. And because it is in fact a journey, I’m sure this won’t be my last post about this issue. Don’t worry though, this isn’t going to become a blog about IBS. I still plan on delivering my usual (hopefully) relatable posts to you every week! But for now, sit back and enjoy this peak into my life with IBS.

My first low-FODMAP-friendly shop and my meals/symptoms journal

Receiving the diagnosis

As I mentioned before, I’ve always had digestive issues. It really came up when I was in my teens and I remember being the most grateful when I got into my second-to-last year of high school because I had many free periods. This meant unlimited access to the toilets without having to awkwardly ask for permission and leave in the middle of class. When I started my university course in fashion design, most of my classes were workshop-based – which again meant easy access to the bathroom.

However, I have now started my new course in event management which is much more theoretical – which means sitting in class for all my modules. This has made my digestive problems an issue again. After having a very bad day which forced me to get off the train before getting to uni and return home. I went to the doctor’s office on that day and was told that I have IBS.

I wasn’t shocked because I had seen a video about a YouTuber with IBS prior to my appointment and I could relate to all these struggles she was talking about. So I think I had mentally prepared myself for this diagnosis. However, my appointment was very quick and I felt almost rushed out of the door. I was given minimal information, handed a prescription, told to try the medication and come back after finishing them.

Medication

When I walked out of the doctor’s office with the prescription for this medication, I felt slightly overwhelmed. Obviously I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I had IBS, I was confused about what I should do and I was hopeful, but also skeptical, about these meds. I was supposed to take them 20 minutes before my meals, 3 times a day and it would help with the symptoms.

I’m the kind of loser that reads the whole notice that comes with medication. So I obviously read everything about these new meds and saw that they contained lactose. I had already figured out that I was lactose intolerant, but I thought I’d still give it a try. Many people that are lactose intolerant can have small amounts of lactose – this is obviously different for each person. But I thought I could give the medication a try anyway because I thought the amount of lactose maybe wouldn’t affect me. I was very wrong, lol.

Needless to say, I stopped taking the medication and looked into alternatives. A friend that I met on my new course at university has IBS. So she’s been a great help and suggested I try the low FODMAP diet. I’m not going to go into detail about it, but it’s basically a temporary, very restrictive diet that allows you to figure out what foods make your IBS flare-up.

Missed classes

I have missed many classes due to that initial bad IBS flare-up which took my body days to recover from. I then started the low FODMAP diet a few days later which again I needed to adjust to. I did go to class on Wednesday morning, however had to leave after an hour due to another flare-up. I have missed 2 weeks of uni, without counting that 1 hour I managed to sit in class.

It’s hard because missing class is not a nice feeling – at least for me. I normally attend all my classes and not being able to attend or having to leave in the middle of a class discussion due to unfortunate bowel movements is not a nice feeling. It’s overall just every uncomfortable and embarrassing to be sitting in class and having your stomach sound like an orchestra or forcing you to leave the room with everyone’s eyes on you.

Toilet visits

As the title of this next part suggests, it’s TMI. So if you don’t want to read about my bowel movements, feel free to skip to the next section!

There are different types of IBS and people usually either have diarrhoea, constipation or a mix of both. The latter is what applies to me. The other day I found myself genuinely having to go to the toilet every 20 minutes. Sometimes I would feel the urge to go but then be constipated when I’m on the toilet. It’s very frustrating and painful because it causes cramps. My bowel movements have been quite irregular and unpredictable lately which has made made me anxious when I have to leave the house, especially considering the bad experiences I’ve had in uni.

Eating

FODMAPs are different nutrients (?) you can find in food, including fructose (fruit sugar) and lactose (milk sugar). Foods that are high in FODMAPs tend to be riskier to eat for people with IBS. These foods tend to cause more flare-ups then low FODMAP foods. If you google it, you will easily find lists of what you can and can’t eat while doing this diet. It definitely forces you to cook your meals yourself because most things you buy in a store contain high FODMAP foods.

I know I’ve definitely been constantly hungry since starting this. I don’t get filled up as much and snacking is very limited, unless I were to make my own. I’ve found some good recipes but a lot of them are either fad, not very tasty or take a degree in cooking to make. And quite frankly, I’m sick of not being able to eat what I want to have. Even if I’ve had the longest day, I can’t just pop a pizza in the oven, I have to cook a meal from scratch which might take up to or over an hour to make.

And if you’ve been around for a while, you might remember me saying that I’m not a great cook so cooking these meals has been even trickier. I yet have to reach a state where I’m happy with cooking and enjoy eating again.

Mental impact

“This whole thing has been incredibly hard for me. More than I care to show. I feel like I’m losing a huge part of who I am and letting go is just so difficult and painful. I’m broken. I don’t feel like myself, I’m not acting like myself and all I’m trying to do is to keep on pretending that I’m happy and cheerful when all I want to do is cry.”

I wrote the above paragraph the other night when I was (clearly) having a bit of a mental breakdown. I debated whether or not to remove it, but I decided not to. Because although it’s quite dramatic and it’s not how I feel all the time, being diagnosed with IBS has had a huge impact on me and my lifestyle.

So whether you’ve got IBS or any other condition/situation that has a massive impact on your life and forces you to change the way you go about your day, you are entitled to all your feelings. Let yourself feel whatever it is that you need to feel and do not feel bad or ashamed about it.

Support

I know that I wouldn’t be able to get through this without support. All my friends have been really sweet and sent me words of encouragement, my dad calls every few days to see how I’m feeling and adjusting, and my best friend often joins me for my questionable meals and endures my moody ass when I’m craving something or can’t find anything I can eat in the shop. So massive shout out to her because I’ve honestly been very unpleasant to be around and she’s been very supportive. And thank you to all of you that have messaged me. It means a lot.

I’ve also found support on Instagram: when I posted my first photo relating to IBS and my struggles with IBS, a few girls who have struggled with IBS themselves reached out and send me words of encouragement too. I would not be able to do it without this support system. So if you’re struggling, reach out to people you trust. Don’t be afraid to feel silly, they’ll understand that what you’re going through is hard. I was literally crying to my best friend the other day because I couldn’t eat any chocolate. I was also on my period, so that definitely didn’t help! If you reach out to someone and they aren’t very understanding, challenge them to try the low FODMAP diet for just a day. I promise they understand the struggle then.

Further steps

Uni wellbeing councillor, dietician, follow-up appointment with doctor’s, blood test for coeliac disease

It’s now been almost 2 weeks since I was diagnosed with IBS and I’ve still got a long way to go. I went to uni the other day to meet with the well-being councillor and see if she could give me some advice too. We had a great talk and I feel more confident knowing that I have a person on the outside that’ll help me get through this.

I’m going to get an appointment to see a dietician to get help with my eating, to make sure I get all the nutrients I need and figure out what foods work (or don’t) for me. I’ll have a follow-up appointment with the doctor in 2 weeks and a blood test this week, to rule out coeliac disease (gluten intolerance). I’m also hoping that I will get to a better place mentally soon enough, but I am going to put myself and my health first and if that means not being able to attend uni but do my work from home, then so be it.

If you are going through something similar, know that you’re not alone. We all have our demons and are trying to figure shit out. Please never be afraid to reach out to someone, and if you don’t feel comfortable talking to your friends or family, send me a message on Instagram (@relatablesunday). It doesn’t have to be about IBS, it could be about anything. Just know that you’re not alone and things will get better!


So here it is, the start of my journey with IBS. I hope this will be helpful to you or to better understand someone you know who’s going through this. I’m sorry if there are any typos in this, I’ve got an essay due in 2 weeks and I’ve been in work for the past 3 days! Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading this blog post and I hope to see you next week. Have a lovely week!

Yours truly,

Maeve