IBS: The Big Squeeze

If you are unlucky enough to have IBS, (irritable bowel syndrome), you have my sympathy. It’s shit. Literally

What’s IBS?

IBS is a condition that affects the digestive system causing stomach cramps, diaria diahorea diarr the shits, bloating and constipation.

It’s common.

It comes and goes.

It’s usually life-long.

There’s no cure for IBS but it can be managed with medication, relaxation therapies, changes to diet and carrying spare bog roll.

With IBS some people poo for Britain. Others can’t poo. Some unfortunate sods alternate between the two.

Me? I have constipation dominant IBS, but it hasn’t always been the case. Do you want to know more? Or have you hit the X tab yet?

My IBS started when I was under a considerable amount of stress. My, (then), husband was having a nervous breakdown and his timing was especially crap because I was about to give birth to our second child. My digestive system took a direct hit and subsequently threw in the towel. I was 21.

At the start of my IBS I wasn’t constipated. On the contrary. The slightest hint of adrenalin and I was releasing the ‘sewer snake’. Bizarrely I needed a poo every time I went up into the loft, I have no idea why, it’s not as if our loft was an exciting place, it was cramped and full of stuff we couldn’t be arsed to take to the tip. Even so, within minutes of climbing up there my colon would start doing the can-can and I’d be taking the loft-ladders two steps at a time trying to get down to the bathroom.

By then, the time-scale between ‘stirrings’ and potentially soiling myself had reduced alarmingly. You get my drift?

Twenty, (plus), years on things have changed. I’m invariably constipated. Bummer, right? Alongside this is right-sided pain and bloating. These days I only have to side-glance a pea and I look 6 months pregnant!

Oh, and I fart a lot.

Ladies do not fart!

One, I’m no lady.

Two, everybody farts.

Even kittens!

So first, let’s define constipation.

  • infrequent poos
  • difficulty or straining when you poo
  • feeling of being unable to completely empty during a bowel movement, or the sensation of wanting to go but not being able to.
  • you fart for Britain.

I don’t know about anybody else, but my pain goes away a bit when I finally do manage to ‘download some brownware’.

Living With Constipation and IBS

Diet

I find it helpful to keep a food diary to see which foods give me gyp. Dairy and wheat are the usual suspects, but a lot of other foods can aggravate IBS symptoms.

Eating your food as close as it is to its natural state will benefit you and your bottom. As a general rule, if something has an ingredient list a mile long – it’s best to avoid. Also, overdoing the fruit and veg could make things worse. Remember me and peas?

Big one this: Never skip meals!

Also, stop eating when you are full.

Look, if you can’t breathe, there’s no room for pudding. You’ve had to undo your stretch-fit jeans as it is!

Laxatives

Sometimes it’s necessary to take laxatives. Occasionally I have to give myself a rid-out with prescription laxatives. This is only when the other methods have failed. Or I’ve been on the codeine. Eight sachets of this stuff and my colon surrenders itself completely. It’s what the GP calls a ‘bowel reset.’ This is a last resort and it’s under the supervision of my GP.

*It’s NOT a good idea to rely on laxatives indefinitely!*

Water

Dehydration causes constipation, so fill up on the H20!

Exercise

Moving about helps to keep everything flowing within the digestive system. There is a reason that most bed-bound people become constipated. Walk. Swim. Breakdance. Whatever. Just move.

Relaxation

If you have IBS, chances are you are stressed-to-shit, (if only ha ha), so it makes sense to address your stress-levels and do as much relaxation as possible.

Straining

Just typing this sub-title brings tears to my eyes!

One must always try and resist the urge to strain out a bowel movement!

We’ve all been there. Stranded on the lav with Mr Turtle’s head and his front legs hanging out of our lower orifice. It’s like the colon REALLY wants to go for it, then half way through says, ‘ You know what? Sod it. I’m bored now. Laters, yeah?’

What to do? We can’t sit there indefinitely with poo hanging out of our arses, can we?

Do we reach round and help Mr Turtle out? *boaks* Or do we take a deep breath in – grab onto the sides of the toilet seat – and bloomin well go for it?

Then there’s the pain..

Once I had to peer into the pan to make sure I wasn’t passing glass shards because that’s what it f**king well felt like!

It felt like labour. I was having to do the hoo-hoo-hoo breathing and everything.

I was cold and sweaty.

This was hardcore defecating and it comes to no surprise to me to learn that a lot of people die on the toilet. Granted most of those are elderly or have heart conditions. It’s a spike in blood pressure that finishes them off, apparently.

In the end, I birthed what felt like an 30lb baby through my bum-hole. In reality, it was a turd the size of a raisin. I was both awed and horrified at how something SO small could cause me SO much pain. It was a lot like giving birth, actually – only minus the drugs.

A straining session for me ensures a visit from Emma Roids (piles) where it hurts to sit down. Standing up’s isn’t much better. Plus, they itch like buggery!

Let me tell you now. There is NO dignity, whatsoever, in having to ram a three-inch suppository into one’s quivering bum-hole. Or anybody elses. Or in buying tubes of Anusol in the local supermarket. It’s hardly discreet is it? The clue’s in the name. ANUSol.

At this point, you’re either horrified (bordering on projectile vomiting) or nodding with profuse empathy. If it’s the latter, I pity you.

My last remaining tips are as follows..

Toilet Roll

Don’t buy cheap 2 ply. Your botty deserves better, no? Plus, yer fingers go through the cheap crap – which can be icky. Pay extra and pamper the poop-shute!

NOTE: Definitely, no IZAL. Using Izal is akin to wiping one’s arse with a crisp packet!

Blood in Poo

If you have piles through straining you may or may not experience blood when you wipe. Or you might see it in the pan. If this happens to you and it’s your first time, postpone the heart-failure. It’s most likely due to piles. Get it checked out, just to make sure.

Purge, When You Get The Urge

For this, I penned a lil poem.

Every time you need a poo.

Go t’ bathroom and sit on t’loo.

Look at your phone or read a book.*

Don’t delay cus it’ll hurt like fuck hell.

Changes In What’s Normal For You

If your symptoms change see your GP. 99.9% of the time it’s nothing to worry about, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Finally, talking about what’s going on with your bowels is only as embarrassing as you want to make it. It’s a normal (and essential) bodily function. Embarrassment costs lives. Opening up (shameless pun) can mean the difference between life and death. Nuff said?

  • Don’t sit on the loo for hours reading books or messing with youir phone. You’ll make yer piles worse!

Confessions of a Hypochondriac

Charles Darwin, Andy Warhol, Florence Nightingale all have something in common..

Ooh. What’s that? Intelligence? Creativity? Empathy? Fabulousness?

Well, all of those, but what I’m talking about is hypochondria.

A hypochondriac is someone who lives in fear of having a serious illness. This could even be despite medical tests never finding anything wrong. They may also have somatic symptom disorder known as illness anxiety disorder, health anxiety, or hypochondriasis.

I’ve written about my struggle with health anxiety before and I’m not ashamed to do so. The way I see it is this: The more we get mental illness out in the open, the more people can be helped, yes?

So if you’ve ever listed your aches and pains down in a diary or journal – you could be a hypochondriac.

Darwin, for instance, kept records of his own flatulence.

I like to think it read something like this..

Monday: Long. Rasping. Smells like something crawled into my colon and died.

Wednesday: Guffed. Put myself into a coma.

Saturday:  Woke up from coma & farted a 9.8 on the rectum scale.

Sunday: Attempted ‘danger fart’. Followed through. Mrs Darwin – NOT happy!

Darwin’s fart diary? That’s nowt. I kept records of my bowel movements. Yup, I lined the toilet with bog roll in order to inspect the contents of my own poo!

Then I wrote about my findings in my journal. *blush*

Note: A courtesy glance into the pan as you wipe your botty is NOT hypochondria. It’s normal. Advisable even. If there’s blood in your poo it could be an early sign of bowel cancer and early detection could save your life. We’ve all seen the Be Clear On Cancer ads, right?

Avoidance is probably worse than obsession because people ignore symptoms altogether, which was Andy Warhol’s story..

Warhol was a genius in his field, but he pathologically feared growing old and getting ill. He refused to go anywhere near hospitals and so he ignored a recurring gallbladder problem until the pain was bad enough to hospitalise him. Problem was, he’d left it too late.

Avoidance is a killer.

There is a midway between avoidance and obsession.

AWARENESS.

It’s normal to be aware of new symptoms and to seek help if problems persist, but I was doing went waaaaay beyond the realms of normality.

I compared my poo to the Bristol Shit Scale and one thing I learned from playing Miss Marple with my own crap is that EVERYTHING you ingest affects what comes out of your bottom. Even supplements!

P.S Calcium supplements can make your poo pale.

P.P.S They can also constipate you.

Pale bowel movements and hypochondria? What could possibly go wrong?!

DID YOU KNOW? Sweetcorn comes out appearing to have been undigested. Apparently it’s something to do with humans not being able to break down the cellulose husk? However, it is a good way of finding out how long the journey takes from food going in your mouth to it coming out the other end. In my case, sometimes the sweetcorn was outta there in a matter of hours. Sometimes it was festering for days..

Stress affects your digestion system. Fact. I varied from feeling nauseous and not being able to manage anything more than a dry cracker – to feeling ravenously hungry, even after a full meal.

When it comes to your bowels, stress can play havoc with them. Believe me! Some days I was crapping it up for Britain at 3am, whereas other days my poo got stuck in transit and I was stranded on the loo for what seemed like decades. One such day being when I, er, strained a bit and convinced myself I’d prolapsed my bowel.

I was on my own in the house – stranded in the bathroom with what felt like a grapefruit hanging out of my orifice.

I tentatively prodded the ‘mass’ with my finger.

As you do..

The only plausible explanation was that I’d forced my bowels out, right?

I texted OH: MY FUCKING BOWELS HAVE FALLEN OUT!

I rang the doctors and demanded to speak to my GP. Now, normally I avoid phone calls like Justin Bieber songs, but my fear of dying with my innards hanging out of my arse-hole overrode my phone phobia.

The jobsworth receptionist gave me the ‘You’ll have to make an appointment madam’ spiel, so I screamed at her that my bowels were hanging out of my bottom.

‘Ooh! Right. In that case, the doctor will phone you back as soon as possible.’

So my GP phoned back and listened as I hyperventilated in-between the words. My. Bowels. Have. Fallen. Out. Of. My. Bottom. He asked a few questions then said, ‘You’re constipated. I’m writing out a prescription for some Lactulose. Pick up in an hour’.

Lactulose? Why the fuck wasn’t I being taken to hospital to get my bowels shoved back up into their rightful place?

‘Wait, don’t you want to have a look up my bum?’

‘Well I can if you want me too, but from what you’ve described I’m 100% certain it’s constipation. You just need some stool softener.’

My GP obviously didn’t have a clue.

So I consulted another one.

Dr Google.

I can hear the sound of palms being slapped on faeces faces from here.

IDIOT! You type in constipation and two clicks later, you’re dead!!

Yes, I know, but fear overrides common sense. Also, you don’t need to make an appointment cos Doc Google is available 24/7.

Aside the usual cancer scaremongering, I was treated to some wonderful anecdotes of bowel prolapse. Not to mention graphic photographs of something resembling afterbirth protruding from people’s bottoms. Apparently prolapsed bowels are not uncommon with weight lifters? ‘Bob from Barnsley’ volunteered the info that the last time it happened to him (after an intense barbell lifting session) he simply poked his innards back up with his finger. ‘No fuckin problem’.

Quite.

Turns out my ‘prolapse’ was hard poo.

I’ll spare you the details of how I found that out.

Er, why are you talking about shit, you manky bastard?

Because IBS affects a lot of anxious people and until they know it’s IBS, they think it’s something terminal.

I thought it was bowel cancer.

It’s easy to understand how IBS can scare the living daylights out of people and a how health anxiety can develop, but if you ever find yourself poking around in your poo – it’s probably time to get some therapy!

There’s NO shame in being a hypochondriac.

Some of the world’s best have been hypochondriacs!

It’s hard to imagine Florence Nightingale (the most famous nurse in the universe) was in fact a hypochondriac, but she spent the last 57 years of her life bedridden convinced she was dying. Flo eventually flitted off her mortal coil at the grand old age of 90. Who says that doing sod all is no good for you?!

My health anxiety co-exists with a panic disorder, as it often does. The thing with panic disorder is that you get panic attacks, which are terrifying enough when they happen in the daytime, but the majority of mine happen at night. These are known as Nocturnal Panic Attacks and leading up to my crisis point I was having at least one attack every night, cue Insomnia! A tired mind is an irrational mind and all those normal symptoms of stress became life threatening to me.

There was a period where I was either pestering my doctors, the out of hours doctors or A & E. My health was my existence – my obsession.

I was having a mental breakdown.

Writing this post (specifically the literally shit bits) I can see the funny side, but at the time it was anything but funny.

IT WAS TERRIFYING.

I guess I was destined to breakdown at some point in my life because I am one of the many autistic people who’ve had to stumble through life undiagnosed. Once diagnosed we are labelled as ‘highly functioning’ though I can assure you that it’s a misleading term as most of us struggle to exist, let alone live.

I am also hyper-aware of changes in my body. Most people are unaware of such changes, but I’m special, innit?

Being naturally anxious (and obsessive) this makes me a prime candidate for health anxiety. Also, I’ve been exposed to death earlier than most as my family started dying off before I could say “Mummy, I’m going to be sick”. By the time I was 26 I’d lost all my grandparents, a school friend, my father-in-law, an aunt, an uncle and my father – The Reaper was on overtime with my lot!

When it’s written in black and white, it’s easy to see how I came to lose the plot. However, I knew I needed help, so I got some therapy. Got cured (ish) and I no longer stare at my poo longer than is necessary, or healthy.

Will I ever be free of health anxiety? Probably not, because worrying is stamped into my DNA. If they ever autopsy my body, they will find WORRIER written through me like a stick of Blackpool Rock!

There is a massive difference between controlling health anxiety and and it controlling you..

In between Andy Warhol and shit-prodders like me is awareness. It’s acting on persistent or unusual symptoms instead of ignoring them.

My advice is to learn about the effects of stress on the body. Start with this blog if you want. I’ve written about it enough times. Just search for health anxiety. Or read some books. Whatever. Just educate yourself because knowledge will help to remove the fear.

I write about my experiences to help people. No filters. I share my crap (literally in this post) so that people will see that there is no shame, whatsoever, in being mentally ill.

The End.