Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is the Sarah Palin of ailments; nobody takes it seriously. We live in a world where it seems every week is some version of an official 'health week' and where buzzwords like work-life-balance and stress management are used daily. But IBS is still a condition whose name is met with disinterest, an eye roll and sometimes a snort of derision; and that's just from the doctors.
I have IBS. Or at least that's what I've diagnosed myself with, because getting a doctor to help you come to that conclusion seems nigh on impossible. Now that I understand it more, I know it's a nutritional and digestive problem, the symptoms of which are exacerbated by stress. But for many years I was left to conclude that constant bloating, stomach pain and a mortifyingly noisy stomach were merely hideous quirks of my traitorous body. It was only last year, at a hugely stressful time in my life, when the noisy stomach became the warning sign that whatever I'd just eaten would soon be exploding its way out (so sorry, beg pardon) that I began to worry. Not the best state of mind for IBS by the way, worrying.
The irrational part of me thinks of doctors in the same vein as the old cliche about mechanics; that I'm going to go in there with a sore throat and sniffles and come out with an under active thyroid and a tilted uterus. So it took a couple of years after this all began (my powers of procrastination are endless when there's embarrassment involved), before I told a doctor about what had I named my "inside farts". He poked and prodded my stomach, asked me if anything hurt and when I said no, he concluded nothing was wrong with me. Thus cleared of any medical issues, I instead tried to structure my life around avoiding my new enemy; silence. You'd be amazed how quiet the world is when all you want is noise.
As I eventually figured out, the brain and the gut are inextricably linked. When one's not happy, neither is the other. IBS is a product of our times, both the nutritional and the mental aspects. It's the result of your body not being able to digest 'complex' foods like whole grains, yeast, corn or potato. Those inside farts are just the result of my gut refusing to break down my food.
But without that knowledge, what was there I could do? As far as I know it's still not socially acceptable to walk around expelling gas willy-nilly, so (in company) I did all I could to stop them becoming outside farts. Find me alone though, and it would have been the polite thing to hand you a gas mask as you approached. But it's a pointless attempt at dignity. Inside or out, they still sound the same.
Finally, armed with the findings of my research, I went to another doctor and self-consciously laughed through tales of diarrhea lasting two straight months, bloating, flatulence and never-ending stomach gurgles. He stared at me blankly and then turned to his computer. Not a word. After eventually giving up on whatever it was he was trying to print, he told me to go to the Patient.co.uk website myself and do some reading. Then I again had my stomach prodded for gestating aliens.
When nothing ripped a hole in my chest and attached itself to his face, he seemed happy to leave it there. It was only after I prompted him that he ordered the blood and stool tests I knew were needed to eliminate other potential gut problems. His face during all this showed absolute disinterest, mixed with a sprinkling of disdain. I don't know what else I could have done. Unless a doctor wants to hang out with me for a couple of days and stake out a prime viewing spot by the toilet, it's pretty hard to prove how debilitating IBS is. I guess with the NHS rule of only ten minutes per patient something's got to go, and maybe they've all decided that thing is empathy.
It could be I just had bad luck with my doctors. I'm sure there are those out there who would have made my treatment process a lot less painful. But from reading IBS forum discussions, I know others have had the similar experiences. Granted, nobody's going to die from it, but it's embarrassing, isolating and at its worst, takes over your life. If I'd just been able to put a name to it sooner, my last few years could have been a whole lot more blessedly silent.
Now about that tinnitus...
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