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My Childhood Was Isolated Thanks To IBS — Here's Why We Need To Normalise Talking About Poo

Tiegan, 25, spent her teen years feeling alone thanks to living with IBS. IMODIUM® and Guts UK Charity have partnered up to get more people talking — so here, Tiegan tells us why she’s done keeping quiet about her condition.
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As if being a teenager isn’t hard enough (whoever said high school is the best years of your life LIED), who wants the added upset of ‘Yup, I’ve got IBS and I frequently have diarrhoea’?

When I got to high school, I realised the pain and discomfort my bowels had been putting me through up until that point wasn’t normal.

As a kid, I didn’t put two and two together. I just assumed that everyone’s bowels did what mine did. But as I got older, I realised not everybody lived with bloating, cramps and the sudden need to empty their bowels.

Having upset guts was so normal to me in my childhood that I don’t even have vivid memories of thinking ‘oh my gosh, there’s something wrong’ in my younger years. Kids are blessed not to get embarrassed about needing a poo — the shame gets taught as we all get older.

In high school, the isolation at the hands of my IBS really took hold. I became quiet about my discomfort and hid what I was going through from all of my friends — no way was I going to tell my peers that ‘hey, guess what!? I have diarrhoea all the time!’ As my exams rolled around, and with them a whole lot of stress, my IBS really began to escalate.

It wasn’t just my guts that became a problem. I didn’t want to eat around people. In my head, I genuinely thought that if I ate, I was going to start getting uncomfortable and then I would need to go to the toilet. Think the isolation of IBS was bad enough as a teen? Try adding this fear of eating with your friends into the mix as well.

In my head, it was just like, ‘Right, okay, when I’m with people, I won’t eat — that will fix it, that will sort everything out.’ How wrong could I have been?

Sure, when I eat, I get the worst symptoms because, well, there’s stuff in my body to turn into poo. But then, on the flip side of that, if you don’t eat, it can end up being just as bad because your stomach’s screaming at you and your IBS symptoms will flare regardless.

“I suffered in silence. I didn't really want to tell any of my friends, so I’d just cancel plans. I wouldn't go out because I didn't want to not eat and for them all to wonder why. I was so very alone.”

I also have anxiety and have always known that when I’m anxious, stressed or nervous, my IBS becomes so much worse. Of course, the gut and the brain communicate, and it’s a struggle to find the right balance. Sometimes the smallest things can make me anxious, and I feel it straight away with my IBS symptoms!

And then comes the cycle of ‘I’m anxious because of my IBS’ and ‘my IBS is worse because of my anxiety’ — it was never-ending.

So, now for the good news. My family knew exactly what I was going through, as many people I’m related to have it — my mum has it! When I did decide to speak about what was going on with me, I was surrounded by support and advice.

My official diagnosis only came when I had an endoscopy for a different issue, but having it all officially confirmed was really validating.

That’s why I’m sharing my story. I wish the realisation that I wasn’t alone came sooner. I follow people on social media who talk about their IBS, and I realise there are people out there like me — I’m not on my own! So as embarrassing as it is to say ‘hey, guess what happens with my poo,’ if it helps one person feel more comfortable in themselves, that’s all I want. At times, I’ve felt so lonely. I’d hate to think anybody growing up now would feel the same as I did back then.

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“If you’re reading this and thinking ‘oh wow, this is what’s happening to me,’ please open up to people. It can feel embarrassing and hard at first, but as long as you find the right, supportive person, you’ll find that talking can help you so much.”

Whether it’s a friend, family member or a charity like Guts UK — just talk. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in your own head, thinking you’re the only one struggling.

You don’t constantly have to feel like you need to make excuses to not go places or make excuses to leave the table or anything. If you’re open with the people you feel safe around, they know what you’re going through and they know how much it affects you, trust me, it just makes life so much easier.

When I eventually started talking about it with my friends, the amount of them who had been going through something similar was mind-boggling. I know talking about needing a poo is embarrassing, but in the long run, it’ll be so worth sharing.

Now when I feel that my gut really isn’t going to be my friend and I know I’ve got a busy day that involves leaving the house, I’ll bring IMODIUM® with me and take it for relief from diarrhoea. Especially if I know there’s limited access to toilets. Plus, it calms my nerves, as it’s a comfort to know I’ve done all I can to prepare myself for the day. And because my anxiety affects my IBS, the calmer I am, the less likely I am to face a bout of diarrhoea! And when I do get to enjoy a hefty dose of cramping, I find heat is my best friend. Never underestimate the power of a hot water bottle!

Working from home has been a major godsend for me as well — and when I do go into the office once a month, it’s such a joy to see everyone that my anxiety about my IBS doesn’t feel so intense.

And seriously, don’t waste all your time and money on so-called miracle cures — if there was a cure for IBS, everyone would have it! Focus more on what can help you manage your symptoms. There’s plenty of stuff out there for constipation, bloating and diarrhoea (which I’ll forever be grateful for!).

So speak up and talk about poo, you might just help someone else feel a little less alone — and yourself in the process.

IMODIUM®, GB’s leading anti-diarrhoea brand¹, and Guts UK, the charity for the digestive system, have joined forces to support your gut health with 100 combined years of expertise. You can learn more about how they are working together here.

If you are struggling with anxiety, IBS, persistent or chronic diarrhoea, we recommend you speak with a doctor for further guidance.

1. For claims verification please call 0808 238 9999. Source© NielsenIQ data, Value, Units, anti-diarrhoea category (client defined) 52 w/e 17.02.2024 (GB Total Coverage).

IMODIUM® Instants contain loperamide hydrochloride. For acute diarrhoea (aged 12+) and for medically diagnosed IBS diarrhoea (aged 18+). Always read the label.

Johnson & Johnson Limited will donate £20,000 to Guts UK Charity (reg. charity no. 1137029) in relation to this 2024 charitable campaign and are working collaboratively with the charity to raise awareness, including creation of a media campaign and patient education materials.