This week I'm going to be talking about IBS and your career, in addition to reviewing my first week of Symprove®. I am by no means an expert, but hopefully sharing my personal experiences may be of some comfort to someone out there. Here goes.
Without sounding bigheaded, or arrogant, I do consider myself to be a very driven, hard-working and passionate person. I have aspired to work in the world of journalism from a very young age and all of my efforts in school, sixth form and now University have been driven by my motivation to become a renowned journalist. I love writing. For me, it is therapeutic. I could write all day long. Equally I love sourcing news, I'm very nosy and I genuinely care about the world around me. To be successful is my lifelong ambition and although IBS hinders my ability to (at the moment) attend lectures, seminars and extra classes, I am determined not to let it define me. I won't let it stop me.
Being in a working environment and suffering from IBS symptoms is something I can relate to. Last year whilst on my gap year, I got a job at an international company in their PR department and, later, for a blogging campaign they were running. It was an amazing experience and I met so many wonderful people, many of whom I still consider friends. At first, I was still in my 'all clear' period, where symptoms weren't a worry, but after my first five months, the feared symptoms began rearing their ugly head. Stomach pains so bad I had to double over, a bubbly, anxious stomach that seemed to be cured by nothing and similarly (and unfortunately) frequent trips to the toilet. It wasn't pleasant and it made things like sitting in meetings or being hunched over my desk all day seem near impossible. To anyone else, they were probably just aspects of daily work life. But for me, they were agony. I dreaded them. Feared them.
It got to the point that it was so bad, I was having either to work from home or call in sick. Or a mixture of the two. I felt so guilty. I was letting people down, being seen as unreliable and I couldn't properly do the job I LOVED doing. And worst of all, there was nothing I could do about it. I felt like my body was dictating and driving my every move, without my consent.
Luckily my immediate boss was very understanding and really genuinely cared about my wellbeing and how I was managing it. She was understanding if I needed to work from home, or come in for just a morning or an afternoon. But it would be naive to think that it wasn't affecting what the rest of the team thought about it. It's not like I could announce 'I have IBS, feel sorry for me' to the rest of the office. I was, largely, still suffering in silence.
I avoided meetings, because they were quiet and often affected my ability to rush out if I needed to. I had a fair few of mortifying moments during meetings that were enough to put me off ever going to one again. Many of them weren't necessary either (they really could have been dealt with by email), so I felt I was putting myself through unnecessary stress. When I (hopefully) run my own business, I hope to be sympathetic to all conditions and host 'Skype' meetings instead, where the pressure is taken off, or a 'live' chat where we can all make suggestions. I know before I start my own business, I will inevitably have to work for someone. And I will have to go to a meeting. But I'll cross that hurdle when I come to it.
In the end, although I found no 'miracle' solution, I tried to not feel as guilty when I had to work from home or miss a meeting - making up for it in other ways, such as working harder to fulfil a brief or putting in the hours elsewhere. In meetings I couldn't miss or days I HAD to be in, I'd take little snacks and a big bottle of water in with me, which usually helped keep things as under control as possible. I do think having other people know about the condition would have helped, but in hindsight I wasn't confident enough at that point in time to talk about it. I still feel rather un-confident talking about it now. But hopefully it's for a greater good.
Despite this however, I have never ever thought to myself 'ah you know what, I'll just give up with this lark'. By lark, I mean work. It is tough. It's tough enough being successful in a job full stop. Let alone when you have another factor to add to the equation. You might find yourself choosing your career path based solely on your IBS. But please don't let that be the case. Your IBS shouldn't be allowed to define you. When you have a hold on it (and it WILL happen), you don't want to regret not fulfilling the path you're destined for. But then again, it's not worth being dreadfully unhappy in a career where you are suffering too. It's a very difficult balance. But I'm determined to be successful in my chosen career - journalism, with or without the extra hurdle of IBS. You WILL find ways around things. It's just a matter of when. My mum has always been the strongest advocate for me in terms of not letting my IBS rule my life. And although it does at times. It won't rule where I want my career to take me. And it won't rule my success. I'm determined about that. I just hope I'm right.
I often worry when I tell people I have IBS, they will think less of me. Think I'm unreliable. Be wary of hiring me. It's not necessarily something you'd mention in a job interview anyway. But at the end of the day, I think it is natural to have bouts of it being bad. Focus on the good. Focus on making sure you can be the best that you can possibly be. When you're next at work, look around the room and wonder how many others might be suffering in silence too. Or perhaps glance around and wonder whether they would deal with IBS symptoms as gracefully and as well as you are. You're still here. You're still working. So you should be proud of yourself. And even if your IBS got to the point you had to quit work, as many of you were telling me on Twitter - don't feel guilty. Pick yourself up, you'll soon be back on track and focus on being the best that you can be. Whatever that is.
Read more of Scarlett's article here on her blog.