The final IBS straw that changed my life

Sometime in mid April last year, around 2am, I was desperately Googling solutions to the issue that had been plaguing my life for the past seven years. Clutching my stomach, with streams of tears rolling down my face, I had never felt so helpless, alone and vulnerable. And despite numerous trips to my GP, I was also clueless as to what on earth I could do about my current situation.

Those of you who can relate, will probably know that I'm talking about IBS, (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) a nasty condition characterised by alternating periods of diarrhoea, abdominal cramping, constipation, bloating, fatigue, nausea and excess gas. It's not the most glamorous of things to have, admittedly. However more than one in five of us suffer. So despite its embarrassing nature, it's something we should really be talking about more.

Diagnosed at the age of 14, I suffered with bouts of symptoms on and off up until the age of 21.

There were awful periods, where I couldn't even leave the house because I was bound to the bathroom.

And there were good periods, where I almost forgot I had it at all. Until the cramping and bloating reared its ugly head again and took control of my life.

To the outsider, it probably seems trivial. Everyone has had a bit of bloating, a bit of wind after eating food that doesn't agree with you and an upset stomach after a heavy night.

But to those who suffer, it is something that controls lives on an everyday basis, instilling an in-built fear of being caught in a situation you can't escape to the bathroom for.

While many forms of IBS can be controlled through medication, from experience I know that there's not always a one-size-fits-all solution and the condition can manifest into something so isolating, that it consumes you.

So lets get back to April last year, when I rang NHS 111 in desperation, convinced that the pain inside my stomach - which was so agonising that I was doubled over in pain - was going to kill me.

It sounds awfully dramatic but at the time, I honestly thought that the symptoms I was having could only mean that something terrible was going on inside me. Something the GPs didn't seem to understand nor seem in that much of a hurry to run further tests for.

I was at university and living in a house full of people who were insistent on playing loud, booming music at all hours of the day and night. So I suppose you could say I wasn't exactly relaxed or settled.

I was worried about my coursework and exams and had fallen out with friends. But despite the resounding factors which pointed to stress as the trigger for my latest flare up of IBS, it had never been this bad.

I was told rather unsympathetically that I should "get my emotions in check" by my doctor, something I just couldn't seem to do. And in hindsight, it was this moment that was my final straw.

No-one else was going to help me, so I needed to help myself. Whatever it took, I didn't want to be defined by the fact I had IBS. I wanted to be a normal 21-year-old who went out with her friends rather than staying at home to be near the toilet. What kind of a life was that?

So, it started with Google, as I'm sure things in the 21st century often do.

I decided to have an intolerance test done, because although I'd tried to cut things out of my diet - I'd never really kept a proper food diary or monitored what I was eating. Despite contrary advice from doctors, I really do believe that what you're putting into your body, really does part a massive part in how you feel.

I came off all of my medications, which were both blocking me up and making me go to the toilet in alternating periods.

The antidepressants that doctors had prescribed for pain, but in reality made me feel like a zombie, I binned (although if you're on a higher dose, it's important to note you have to wean yourself off these slowly).

I chucked all of the food out of my cupboards and fridge and started again.

I won't go into depth about my journey in this article, because I want to save it for another, but all I can say is that a year and a bit on, I feel like a completely different person - without sounding like a massive cliché.

I overhauled my diet for a trial period of three months (which I would advise in order to see whether things are really making a difference), started exercising and stopped hiding my IBS when others asked me what was wrong.

I needed that final straw to push me to change - and take back control. No-one should ever have to feel alone, rolling around in pain or hauled up in the bathroom. IBS is hideous (and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy) but despite doctors professing medication is the only option and that there's no cure, I truly believe that this isn't the case.

I don't want to proclaim that I'm cured completely just yet, because I still have my anxiety to tackle - which is now my only trigger when it comes to my IBS symptoms.

My experience at university really took its toll on my mental health and I still struggle with panic attacks, albeit less frequently. However, I am on a journey to getting rid of my IBS and regaining normality. And I'd love for you to join me on it.

I'm going to be open, honest and maybe even give a little bit TMI (too much information) at times, but I know that there are so many other people out there that suffer from this horrible condition.

And if talking about it helps just one person, then it's worth it.

You can follow me at @Scarlett_London on twitter or over on my blog at scarlettlondon.com.

Visit Patient's IBS discussion forum.




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