Have you seen that new movie, Constipated?
It hasn’t come out yet.
Have you seen the sequel, Diarrhea?
They had to release it early.
I’m sure that some of you cringed at these jokes, not just because of their corniness, but because they’re considered gross. It’s so interesting to me that our society still has so many taboos when it comes to bodily functions that happen to everyone.
I cannot begin to count the number of awkward encounters that I have had because I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). We’ve become comfortable with poop emojis and snapping while on the toilet (otherwise known as “crapchat”), but no one wants to talk seriously about digestion.
I had IBS for 20 years without knowing it, because no one around me talked about the frequency of bowel movements or troubling symptoms. I suffered constipation, debilitating stomach pains, painful digestion, and extensive bloating for years because I didn’t know that it wasn’t normal. The only people who talk about it star in commercials, like the Squatty Potty and Poo-pourri. Not gonna lie, I think that these commercials are hilarious. But part of why they are so funny is because they are shocking. According to society, no one should talk about poop except maybe comedians. And I think that’s crap.
Honestly, those of us with IBS don’t really want to talk about the frequency and pain of our BMs any more than you do. But when you ask us why we weren’t at Savannah’s party last week or why we can’t eat those nachos or why we spent half of your bridal shower in the bathroom, there are only so many times that we can cry stomach flu.
So, here’s a quick guide to what people with IBS want everyone else to know.
IBS is REALLY common.
IBS affects up to 20% of the population. That’s 1 in every 5 people. Studies have been done in Canada that show that IBS is the second most common reason people miss work or school. It is a real, common problem that we simply choose to ignore rather than engage in potty talk.
IBS is a catchall term.
IBS is a name that doctors and diagnosticians slap on any sort of pain or irregularity in digestion that doesn’t permanently damage your colon and is otherwise undiagnosable. It can be mild or it can be cripplingly severe. No person with IBS will have the exact same form, so we have to experiment with medication until we find one that works. Some people have constipation when food is pushed through the intestines too slowly. Some people have diarrhea when food is pushed through the intestines too quickly. Some lucky ones deal with both, going from one extreme to the other. All of us deal with gas, pain, and bloating. This pain can range from slight discomfort to feeling like you are being shanked in the gut repeatedly.
IBS is triggered by certain things.
Certain foods can make IBS worse for different people. It’s not that we hate your cooking, or that we want to seem hipster and only eat certain strange foods. Stress can also make IBS worse. So, we might not be frequenting those post-final parties because we are at home curled up in a ball, urging our intestines to function properly.
There is no identifiable cause or cure.
While there are triggers that can make IBS worse, doctors have not yet been able to pin down a real medical cause, though it is shown to affect more women than men. There is also not one solid cure. There are treatments and medication that can ease the problem to the point of functioning, but your body can even get used to that medication and lessen its effectiveness.
It can be chronic.
IBS can come and go. Some days are worse than others. Some months are worse than others.
If you don’t want to know, don’t ask.
I once had someone come up to me in front of my entire church congregation and say, “So, I heard that you had to go to the urgent care because you were so constipated. Is that true?”
We might not be comfortable talking about IBS with complete strangers, so if we tell you that we have stomach issues, don’t keep prodding if you don’t want to know. Trust me, we can tell you all about the gory details of hemorrhoids, enemas, colonoscopies, and squatty potties, but most of the time we would rather not scar people.
Respect our quirks.
Public restrooms can be a nightmare. Thin stall walls and echoey tile rooms are not fabulous places to be if you have IBS. And please don’t sit in the stall next to us if you can help it. If we can only use private bathrooms or can’t do it when anyone else is around, respect it. If we have to be in your bathroom for 20 minutes, don’t make a big deal about it. If we have to miss work because our insides are trying to kill us, give us some space. If we can only eat cheese every third Thursday of the month, don’t make fun of us.
We are all different. We all have different quirks in dealing with this strange, incurable issue, so please mind your own business as we do our business.
Do these symptoms sound familiar to you? Check out more about IBS here. If you think there is a chance you have it, discuss it with your doctor.