James’s Story – IBS
Tell us a little bit about you
“I’m James and I’m 33 years old from Bath. I’m a big nerd really, building lego and playing PC/RPG games. I have a young dog called Oscar, and like to keep fit, so often head to the gym. I love cooking, trying different cuisine or drinking obscure teas/beverages!
I enjoy my job as an account manager and trainer for a coffee roastery. I spend a lot of time in cafes and bakeries, eating cake and drinking coffee!”
Can you remember when your Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms began?
“12 years ago, I developed IBS after a bacterial infection, so I have post-infectious IBS. I was in Bolivia with friends and though we’d tried many weird and wonderful foods, we tracked the dysentery back to a ‘dodgy’ curry. Ever since then, my guts have never been the same.”
When were you diagnosed with IBS?
“My doctor diagnosed my IBS a year or so after the amebic dysentery. I also have other health conditions, but find that my IBS is often shrugged off. The NHS do a super job, but my experience with them interacting with my IBS is different to the way they deal with my other conditions. There’s a clear treatment plan (or at least treatment options) for my other health conditions, I feel like with IBS you’re left to ‘just deal with it’. I was left to find out my own information.”
What are your symptoms?
“My IBS is mixed (IBS-M). The majority of the time, I have constipation. Most days I have cramping and a fair amount of bloating. Every few weeks though, I’ll feel an intense cramping and I’ll know the diarrhoea is coming. Suddenly I’ll feel my body being desperate to empty all at once.”
How do you manage your symptoms?
“With the diarrhoea, I’ll do my best to relax, get enough sleep and cut back on the running and cardio exercises. Staying near a toilet helps with the worry of being caught short, and thankfully my work are really understanding if I need to work from home.
As for the constipation, a cup of coffee in the morning can help to move things along, or if it really has been a significant number of days, I find a soluble sachet of fibre can help me. I often forget to drink water, which I know can make my constipation worse!
Peppermint oil can help my cramps and pain. But above everything is my practicing of cognitive behavioural therapy and self-reflection. This makes me aware of the way I’m feeling. I can reflect on and understand my emotions, so they don’t have such a hold over me and in turn, this helps me cope with my IBS.”
Have you noticed anything that can worsen your symptoms?
“Overeating or eating huge portions can make my IBS worse. I’m careful to keep to normal portion sizes. So much of it is about understanding your own individual tolerances and balance.
I find that stress can worsen my symptoms, whether this is my gut and brain talking or simply the fact that I eat ‘rubbish’ when I’m stressed and don’t sleep well! This is why self-reflection really helps, because I do believe my mood and emotional wellness has a massive impact on my IBS.
I’m fortunate to work somewhere understanding, with great people and a relaxed culture when it comes to talking about bowel habits. We were only recently laughing about never being able to trust a fart in the office!”
Do you find humour helps you talk about your IBS?
“I definitely find comfort in toilet humour, but I guess I’d rather have someone laughing with me than have them feel uncomfortable about what’s happening to me.”
How do you feel about your IBS now?
“It’s been a 12-year journey, and I don’t necessarily think my symptoms are any better. But what is better is the way that I deal with my symptoms.
Whenever I meet someone else with IBS, it’s like an instant bond! We’ll start telling each other about the worst thing that’s happened to us. Knowing other people experience what I do helps, I’m not the only person stuck on the toilet for hours from time to time!”
What advice would you give to someone struggling?
“First of all, don’t get drawn into the social media adverts with the miracle cures and the magic tablets. As tempting as they are, they don’t work. Find what works for you, and don’t forget to keep talking. You only have to find one person who relates to you, who understands and you can lean on. It will take time to find what works for you and it won’t get better overnight, but nothing in life does.
I’d also make your bathroom/toilet a place that you enjoy spending time in. Make sure it’s comfortable, make sure there’s things to look at and read. I hate boring toilets. The back of shampoo bottles become old quickly!
I have no problem talking about my bowel habits if it helps someone else come to terms with theirs. I really believe you have to get to a certain level of acceptance to move past the worry and upset. There’s a power in self-managing your symptoms, and accepting them too.”