One in five people suffer from IBS. I am one of them. As too, are many of my friends. In fact, of my seven closest girl friends, four of us have something wrong with our stomachs in some capacity. We have, what you could call, irritating bowels. My bowel is incredibly irritating, I have IBS, or FIBs as my mum labelled it last year (fucking irritating bowels). A few years ago I stopped being able to eat gluten and dairy due to a bad reaction which was eventually diagnosed as IBS by a doctor last year after the pain got so severe that I was bent over in pain with a constantly upset stomach.
Where my FIBs are concerned, I don't have an awful lot of shame - it's totally natural and something that I can't control at all, I have never kept it a secret and I am rarely embarrassed about it. The fact that I have to be relatively near a loo when I have a hangover or that sometimes I'll react to something so badly that my stomach swells up the size of a beachball is not something that I try to hide, why would I? I can't help it. Apparently it's not lady like to talk about poo. Well it's not very nice to shit your guts out for hours on end either and that's still happening, so here I am.
So what is IBS? Well to be honest, it's a bit of an umbrella term for lots of stomach issues. It is something that is acknowledged by the medical profession but not totally understood as the cause is still widely unknown. What brought mine on? No one has any idea. It looks like it may have had something to do with a lack of good bacteria in my gut but really your guess is as good as mine. IBS is an illness that has no specific cause, no distinctive pathology and no single effective treatment. The symptoms vary massively from person to person and even in the same person different times.
Women are more likely than men to get it (3:2) and it normally occurs in your late teens or early twenties and is something that can affect you for the rest of your life. It is often managed by a change in diet (at least that helps in my case) and can be made worse not just by certain foods but by stress or tiredness. (I can almost feel my stomach growing as I do something stressful, which is of course a huge stress in itself, it's a total catch 22...). There are a wide spectrum of symptoms including tiredness, nausea, heartburn and indigestion, backache, a need to pass urine frequently, headaches, muscle pain, anxiety, depression as well as of course, a swollen and upset tummy or constipation. Basically, it includes a bit of everything.
Which makes it hard to diagnose and is probably the reason that a lot of people avoid going to the doctors. If you're a little bit tired, have a headache, a sore neck and an upset tummy that are coming at different times and not totally frequently, you're not going to rush the doctors, probably out of fear that you will be labelled a time waster. I know that was the case for me. Although I'd had an upset tummy for ages I didn't really think to do anything about it and mostly hoped that if I waited for long enough that it would go away on it's own. I also sort of thought that it was normal.
Looking back I kick myself, for living like that for much longer than I should have done and now I spend a lot of time encouraging anyone with an upset stomach or any cause for concern to go and talk to a doctor or at least try to determine what is causing these 'flare ups' in the first place, often the answer is staring us in the face, but we are loathed to admit that we know for fear that we will never get to eat a pizza again.
So lots of us have it. But not that many people talk about it. And that's what annoys me. I have a friend with IBS who once told me about it as her biggest secret ever, as if I wouldn't be friends with her once I found out. I have another friend who never speaks to their boyfriend about it all. I hear a lot about their conditions, I think to a lot of people I am now the poo-guru, but for these girls to announce it at a dinner table? Not a chance. For so many people it's something to be embarrassed about, not talked about, ashamed of.
And that drives me up the flipping wall. It's a medical condition, one that causes a lot of pain and frustration and annoyance and yet a lot of us suffer in silence. Blokes the world over have talked about, shared photos of and had pride in their shits, in front of us, for years and yet as women we feel that our faeces is something to be embarrassed about.
I remember when I was about 11, someone told me that the even the queen poos. I honestly could not believe it. The idea of our great leader so vulnerable and stinky was just beyond my comprehension. But it did help me to realise quite how natural pooing was. Do you know why a dog makes eye contact with you whilst they are having a poo, normally looking sheepish as hell? It's because they are looking to you for protect them whilst they are vulnerable. Two things, first of all, that is adorable, secondly, if dogs in the wild can ask for help when it comes to taking a poo, then why can't we?
No, it's not the sexiest thing in the world. You don't see women in films farting all day long cause they had some bacon at breakfast and you can't imagine the likes of Mila Kunis having to rush to the loo to shit her brains out every hour but that doesn't mean that it doesn't happen to them. Pooing is vital to survival and IBS is a huge annoyance that you actually can't do anything about, let alone be ashamed of. I know it's not pretty, I know it's not ideal but it something that is going to happen whether you like it or not.
Since giving up gluten and dairy and more recently avoiding whole nuts and seeds I have felt a million times better, I don't have to talk about my bowel movements with every single person that I come across and I can almost be guaranteed a whole day of being out without having to know where the nearest bathrooms are and that is great. But on days when I'm having a flare up, I don't want to have to hide that, to be modest and ladylike. Sure, I don't want to photograph the damn thing and upload it to ratemypoo.com, but to be able to excuse myself from the dinner table for a bridesmaids-esque moment in the loo without shame is something I definitely am within my rights to ask for.
Basically what I'm saying is this: if you suffer with IBS, please don't do it in silence. Women only don't talk about poo because women don't talk about poo. The only way that we can change that is to actually, you know, talk about poo. And if you don't suffer with IBS? Please take me at my word when I say it is the single most annoying thing that my body does and every single sufferer out there could seriously do with as little judgement as you can manage.