This post began on the sofa of pain. It is dedicated to anyone else who’s been there.
Curled up under approximately five cushions, drowning myself in peppermint tea and binge-watching Call the Midwife in the hope that the nuns of 1950s Poplar would come to my rescue, I was inspired to write…
The sofa coma is a fairly regular occurrence for me. Until recently I was genuinely concerned that my hot water bottle had actually become my boyfriend and I’d estimate a third of the water in my body is peppermint tea.
Welcome, friendlings, to the world of IBS, otherwise known by its longer, sexier alternative, Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I hope you brought Buscopan.
The world of IBS is dark and mysterious because, technically speaking, there is no way out. So invest in a comfy sofa. I’m more of the belief that “incurable” is more like “nobody really knows what it is in the first place.” There are sachets and pills and diet plans and gluten free crumpets and heat patches and intense therapy, but, judging from my own experience, it’s all a bit of a fraud.
IBS is my doctor’s favourite thing to diagnose to anyone between the age of 16-25 who has stomach ache for no apparent reason and looks like a worrier. Technically it means you have an increased sensitivity in your stomach. What it is = vague. And once diagnosed, it’s even more difficult to actually pin down the causes of what can be some pretty uncomfortable and recurrent symptoms. Could it be stress? Gluten? Fear of missing out?
It all started for me when I went to California on my gap year and encountered some reeeeeally bad-for-you food for the first time and on that trip, with the added contributions of travel, complete lack of routine for six weeks, complete lack of fibre for six weeks, and immense self-consciousness when it came to using communal bathrooms, I proceeded, unknowingly, to ruin my ability to stomach some foods ever again.
Talk about the American Dream. No wonder everyone starves themselves in California.
Since then my life has been measured in boxes of peppermint tea and I constantly feel three-months pregnant. Almost six years later, I struggle to remember a time when I didn’t think about what I was eating and how I might react to it. I can’t even remember a time when I was embarrassed to talk about poo in front of my boyfriend. Seriously, when you’re in a relationship where you both love food but one of you seems to react badly to all foods, it takes up a disproportionate amount of conversation time. I know, I know, I need to try to be less sexy.
I’ve been told of alarm-bell foods, such as anything containing wheat, dairy or refined sugar, plus processed meats and excessive consumption of fruit, vegetables and grains. But if I followed these guidelines I’d be limited to eating raw carrots (in moderation of course) and soya yoghurts for eternity. This is problematic because restaurants laugh at you if you ask for carrot sticks and soya yoghurts taste like milky death.
This cheery list of no-go’s also makes life difficult because every single food becomes associated with guilt, discomfort and the sofa of pain. There is no allergy or intolerance diagnosed to act as a disincentive either; your stomach simply has a distaste for certain ingredients in certain moods, certain combinations, certain circumstances, all of which are ever-changing. Because sometimes you’re just fine. Sometimes you can binge-eat ice cream all day (who? Me?) and wake up feeling like you could run a marathon. Other times you feel positively paralysed after ravaging a cheese plate and swear off dairy for life.
When IBS is this ambiguous it makes it an awful lot harder to be strong…
I still eat pizza. I love pizza. Why does pizza hate me? It’s like when I was a teenager and fancied a different Italian waiter every year on holiday and every year he’d look at me like I was a piece of pasta that had fallen off his service plate but all I saw was a smouldering (and very cheesy) six-foot god and tried to approach him, knowing he was no good for me and always ended up a wreck 10 minutes later, horizontal in bed for two days, love sick, pained. It is exactly like that now except it’s Italian food not Italian boys and I’m writing blogs hating on mozzarella instead of Mario…or Roland.
I am a worrier (if you didn’t know) and am frequently told that if I stopped stressing so much perhaps my body would stop throwing tantrums. But for me this belief only goes so far, as I can be in crippling pain at my most “officially” relaxed, such as on holiday…at a spa…asleep dreaming of unicorns…or working a steady, enjoyable day job with more routine than a tap dance. Equally I can be at my most stressed, finishing my dissertation, at school and terrified of the girl who throws soap at people, encountering bailiffs at work, and experience no problems at all.
The perpetual ups-and-downs and ever such confusing advice make living with IBS incredibly frustrating and unless you have the willpower of a bomb disposal officer you will inevitably end up back on the sofa.
So I’m writing this post to a) rant about it, obviously and b) share the pain. If you have had to pay more at Dominos for their miniature gluten-free base while your friends chow down on extra large and extra cheesy, if you have pooed more than two times on one night out, if you have had to sleep in your housemate’s bed more than once because your hot water bottle leaked, and if you too have had to tell someone that you aren’t actually with child, then here are some minor compensations for you:
1) IBS will get you a free seat at The Globe if you’re in pain during the show (not just because you’re bored).
2) IBS is a legitimate reason to binge-watch television without guilt, thank you very much.
3) IBS is an excuse to exercise more and eat better: it actually helps and you may live longer.
4) IBS also stands for I’m Bloody Sensational, because I said so.
5) However shit it is, IBS isn’t fatal, isn’t contagious and doesn’t ruin your hair or your face…most days.
6) IBS gives you good practice for when you are actually pregnant; the pain, the bump, the comments etc. (for women only).
7) IBS gives you a good get-out clause if you genuinely hate the food someone’s put in front of you.
8) One in five people suffers with IBS at some point in their lives so you will ALWAYS have a friend.