health

"I can drink coffee": The 5 lies I’ve told myself about having Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Confession: I have had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) since my late teens. 

I am now an almost 30-year-old high school teacher that is still trying to navigate living with IBS.

“What is IBS?”, I hear you ask.

Answers vary. 

Watch: The symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

It is a hidden condition that most people would rather avoid discussing, because toilet talk is ‘embarrassing’. 

IBS is a vague term that categorises triggers in an upset stomach: from vomiting to bloating to my personal favourite, diarrhoea. 

Before I unpack this any further, I’d like to state that my IBS really stands for ‘I Be Sh*ttin’. I stole that phrase from a meme, which is where I usually find solace in having this condition.

Here are 5 lies I’ve told myself about having IBS.

1. I can drink coffee.

Ah coffee. Delicious! 

It’s not coffee’s fault that it’s a stimulant. It is coffee’s fault that the smell and taste is addictive. 

I’ve heard people with a reliable digestive system can use their first cup of the day as a gentle prompt to, um, prepare themselves for the day (morning poop, you know!). 

I, on the other hand, don’t need a gentle reminder. Coffee creates a very forced, very aggressive signal that I need to be a near a bathroom - ASAP. 

It’s a contradiction, really. I just want energy in the morning, and when you have to bolt to a bathroom, there really is nothing more energising than that!

2. I’m just a little bloated.

Oh – this is just an absolute minefield. 

Is it my period, did I drink too much liquid or is my stomach really mad at ingesting some form of dairy? 

This is incredibly frustrating, because you can’t always determine where the bloating is coming from. 

If you’re lucky to experience this early in the day, then you can choose an outfit to make the bloating slightly more comfortable. It becomes complicated when you’re wearing tight dress pants to work, and you suddenly can’t do the clasps up. 

Most people experience bloating after a meal; it’s normal and nothing to be ashamed of. However, an IBS bloat is painful and usually accompanied by gas. Holding onto farts all day is NOT comfortable.

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3. It’s all in my head.

Sometimes it’s just easier to imagine that I am making this condition up. 

There are days where I have no symptoms and I’m free to do what I want. These days of freedom lull me into a false sense of security. 

A hike with no toilet, sure! A four-hour bus trip? Count me in! A walking tour of the city, yes please! 

Then the next day the gas, pain, and toilet trips return and all sense of freedom is gone. 

A hike - you mean shitting in bushes? A bus trip - you mean frantically searching for a pit stop? A walking tour of the city, you mean stay home so I can use my own toilet? 

The inconsistencies of IBS are infuriating, not to mention awkward when you're always cancelling plans. 

“Sorry, can’t make it. Have a date with my toilet!”

4. I can ignore you.

There have been many occasions where I've just needed to ignore my stomach. 

Some of you might be rolling your eyes and saying, 'have you tried a FODMAP elimination diet?' 

'Have you tried medication, or the miracle drops that settle your tummy?' 

Or my personal favourite, 'Have you tried not stressing?'

That’s like telling a woman to smile. 

I’m even more stressed, thanks! I can’t always put my life on hold. I need to exercise, socialise and work. On days where my IBS flares up, I sometimes just deal with the consequences. 

I’ll have a big glass of water and get on with my day… probably cry when I get home, but at least I did my best!

5. Toilets are fun.

Ok, you caught me. 

There’s not much to say here. Toilets aren’t fun. Running out of toilet paper isn’t fun. Running to find a colleague to cover my class and then bolting to the toilet is not fun. Hiding embarrassing noises in a public toilet is NOT fun.

The only time a toilet is fun is returning from a trip and greeting your home toilet. Ahh, now that is intimacy!

So now what? 

I’ve seen dieticians, had colonoscopies, been to naturopaths… and I’m still experiencing IBS. 

My condition is not life threatening, expensive or rare. I just want it to be normalised. 

Let me take a sick day without feeling guilty. Let me cancel plans without making up an excuse. Let me have a coffee without someone saying it's my fault I have IBS.

And if you ever want to chat, just assume I’m on the toilet. 

Feature Image: Canva.

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