As a fashion, lifestyle and travel blogger, my unpredictable bowel movements as a result of my Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), probably isn't a topic you'd expect me to talk about. Unfortunately, it's a huge part of my life and is something that also affects 10-15% of people worldwide*. Having lived with the condition for the most part of my life, I have become all too accustomed to the stomach cramps, bloating and frequent toilet trips.
My first flare up happened when I was 14-years-old, in the middle of school! From then on, I had to undergo many tests and examinations before doctors were able to properly diagnose me with the condition. IBS is notoriously tricky to diagnose, as rather than being a treatable condition, IBS tends to be an umbrella term for a whole host of unpleasant symptoms that can often be worsened by stress and food triggers.
However, while I naively thought a diagnosis might be the end of my troubles, unfortunately it was just the beginning. When I was 21 and studying at university I was missing regular lectures due to needing 12+ toilet trips in a morning. I reached a low point as I faced potentially having to drop out. What followed were food intolerance tests and a private colonoscopy to determine whether I had Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.
Luckily, I had neither and managed to continue with my university degree. I did however realise I had to start coming to terms with the fact that I was going to be a sufferer of a life-long condition because not only were social occasions becoming more and more challenging but so were my romantic relationships. I decided the only way forward was to research, find my triggers and take action. I had so many life dreams and I wasn't going to let IBS hold me back.
As well as the obvious physical symptoms, I also had to deal with the psychological aspect of living with IBS. Which I knew was going to be the trickiest part of all. IBS can be a very isolating condition due to the embarrassing symptoms that it brings. Something a lot of people might be unaware of is that IBS can cause mental health problems. For me, anxiety has been a huge hurdle that I've had to overcome and is something I'm still battling with today. I began worrying about not being close to a toilet, and it would consume me to the point that when I was at a social event, the first thing I would look for is the quickest route to the toilet. It got to the point that I started to decline invites so that I could avoid it at all costs.
Whilst I was at university, I started to write a blog as I was studying journalism and I wanted to make my CV more appealing to potential employers. Initially the blog included my interests on fashion and beauty but as time went on, I discovered that I had the opportunity to raise awareness of IBS and try and remove the stigma attached to it. In 2014, I announced to my readers that I had IBS, and was truly overwhelmed with the support I received from total strangers who had read my blog. I still get up to three to four emails per day from people seeking advice.
Although the symptoms of IBS can vary from person to person, I have listed below a few of the ways that I manage my IBS symptoms:
Suffering from an embarrassing condition can be tough thing for anyone to deal with, but shutting loved ones out is not the solution to your worries. I find that talking to people about my condition reduces the stress and anxiety I get because I'm not trying to hide it.
Keep track of what you are eating
Everyone experiences different symptoms and 'triggers' but it is important to know what does and doesn't work for you. Keep track of what you are eating, and how your body reacts, by keeping a food diary. This way you will know which foods to enjoy and which to steer clear of. For me, I completely avoid dairy, eggs and gelatine. Remember these things take time and there's no overnight fix (unfortunately) but you will get better!
Dealing with a condition like IBS can be debilitating, especially when you are going through a tough flare up. So, try to look ahead to the future and make plans to do things you enjoy such as a shopping trip or a trip to the beach.
Remember though everyone has bad days so don't punish yourself when you're already feeling poorly (worrying won't change it). You don't need to let your IBS define you.
Scarlett Dixon is a fashion, lifestyle and travel blogger and can be found at www.scarlettlondon.com
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