I’m going to be real and vulnerable with you. I have suffered from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) for 23 years by my count. And this is an honest account of an IBS sufferers story.
The story I’m about to share with you I have never shared with anyone before, at least not to this detail.
My experiences with IBS may be different from others, but the anxiety I’ve carried around with me has impacted my life in an extreme way. My IBS has affected Every. Single. Decision. I have ever made about my life.
IBS has Affected Me Physically and Emotionally
Only now that I am older have I been able to open up about my IBS experience. I used to call myself a silent sufferer. I always felt that I suffered alone and that surely everyone else is healthy and has zero capacity to empathize with my situation.
Silent Sufferer no more
Fortunately, or unfortunately, I’ve learned, over time, that I’m not alone. What I’m about to share with you is my personal journey. I’m not looking for sympathy. I only share this so that others who feel they are suffering alone and can find hope in my story.
If you are an IBS sufferer, my hope is that by sharing my story you are able to help your parents or spouse or children better understand your situation. Let them know that it isn’t “all-in-your-head.”
Where it all began
My IBS journey started in 2nd grade. As a kid, you have no idea what is going on with you. All you know is that I kept getting constipated and then I would get diarrhea once a month. I had no way to understand that this was even an issue. It was simply uncomfortable, painful at times, and embarrassing.
Grade-school and middle-school were not that difficult to get through. I don’t want to diminish the impact my IBS had on me during that time. It simply wasn’t as bad as what I went through in high-school. My days in high-school were almost unbearable and gave me suicidal thoughts more times than I’m willing to admit.
I vividly remember trying to help my mom understand what was going on with me. One morning I went to her. She was putting on her make-up for her work day. I walked into her bathroom and told her that I needed to stay home from school today, that I had diarrhea. She said to go take some Imodium AD and head to school.
I tried to explain that this wasn’t “normal” diarrhea from bad food or a stomach bug. I said something like – I get these cramps, sharp pains, and gurgling in my stomach. However, she wasn’t understanding.
To give you some context, I probably went to her at least twice a month with this request. What she didn’t know at the time, was that this situation was a daily occurrence for me. I only went to her when it was simply unbearable for me to handle the pain anymore.
What she also didn’t realize was that I had taken Imodium AD many times before and it made my symptoms WORSE! For the next two days, I would be completely constipated. Then I would have one of the worst attacks, as if my body was purging itself. This was coupled with cramps as sharp as knives stabbing my stomach. The pain would usually last at least 30-45 minutes.
My IBS symptoms got worse as I got older
Looking back, it was probably because I started to suffer from extreme stress and anxiety and hadn’t learned healthy ways to cope.
There were many nights that I would pray to be home schooled. I would daydream constantly about being home schooled so I wouldn’t have to suffer in a public place.
I would also pray if I was going to have an attack that day, that it would either happen before school or at lunchtime. This way I could excuse myself and use the large bathroom near the auditorium. No one ever used that bathroom so it would be empty and give me privacy.
That was the biggest issue for me – PRIVACY
The anxiety of having an episode when I couldn’t seek privacy brought on full-blown panic attacks. I would suffer silently to myself wondering why I was such a freak? What was wrong with me? Clearly, no one else suffered like me. Look at those kids over there eating pizza, french fries and downing two cans of coke. If I did that every day I surely would die – either from my IBS or from the anxiety.
I quickly made the connection that if I didn’t eat, I didn’t have an IBS attack. So I would literally try my best to not eat at all during the school day. But then of course, there was the issue of my stomach growling during class. I alleviated this by nibbling on granola bars or trail mix throughout the day. Something about the combination of it not being a lot of food and being just enough food kept my symptoms during the day at bay.
My mind was always analyzing and figuring out what combination of foods, water, and life-schedule worked best for my body.
Trying my best to make my life work with IBS
I remember learning that the high-school Yearbook staff had 2 periods for class. These 2 periods were also over lunch. So that equaled almost 3 hours of Yearbook class. The marvelous thing about this was that they didn’t have to be “in-class”. They were out taking pictures of students and running errands to get pictures developed (this was pre-digital cameras).
I knew then that I HAD to be part of this class and thankfully I liked to write & take pictures. 🙂 I prayed and prayed that I would get an interview by the teacher. And lucky for me I did. I nailed the interview and spent my Sophomore, Junior and Senior year on the Yearbook staff. Honestly, I think this saved my life.
IBS caused my suicidal thoughts
I would have constant thoughts of suicide because of my IBS. I thought that I got a flawed body, that something happened when I was born to make me this way. And there was no way to “fix” what was wrong with me.
I just didn’t see how I could function day–in and day-out with the stressors of school, peer pressure and the hours we were required to be at school. Every single waking moment was spent thinking about my IBS and how to avoid embarrassment because of it.
No one understands what it is like
People who have never suffered from a chronic illness or disease have no way to empathize with your suffering. It is not their fault. Honestly, how could they? All they’ve ever known was health.
I’m sure like me, you roll your eyes when they are sick and they act like they are literally dying. You quietly think to yourself “if you only knew what REAL pain felt like.”
Thankfully and by the grace of God I survived high-school.
Finding support for my IBS
My only regret is not seeking help sooner. I’m comforted to know that I’m not alone anymore. And if you suffer too, I hope you now know that you aren’t alone either. You do not have to silently suffer.
I’ve found a few websites and forums online that help IBS sufferers. I encourage you to visit and engage in conversation. There is something very freeing about owning your IBS story and talking with individuals who have gone through the same thing as you.
Your story sets you free
Since writing this, I’ve been able to feel a sense of freedom from my story. I don’t have to let it define me any longer. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make a decision without considering my IBS, but I’m okay with that now. I’ve accepted it as part of my life and I am okay with that.
My IBS caused my pursuit of Financial Freedom
When I learned about financial freedom in my early 20s, I had never heard of the concept before. Because of that introduction to a different lifestyle where I do not need to “work” at a “job”, I have been on this journey ever since. Let me be clear. The honest reason for my desire to be Financial Free is because of my IBS.
Having an inflexible schedule such as a job from 8-5 Monday-Friday is an IBS sufferer’s worst nightmare. It wasn’t enough that I had to suffer during the school hours. But now extend those and throw in a dash of office politics and you’ve got yourself a shit-storm (pun intended).
I’ve learned over time that if I have a flexible schedule, with the ability to work from home, that my IBS symptoms are not at the forefront of my life. I’ve learned that stress and anxiety aggravate my symptoms so I try my best to alleviate every single stressor in my life.
This was a driving force behind my desire to begin blogging. I wanted to first use this platform as a way to share my deepest thoughts and my personal growth with others. It has grown into so much more.
Friends & family may not understand, but they love you and support you
My family and friends and those that know me may find my story surprising. My fiancé is the only person that has any idea the depths of my illness and how it has impacted my life.
I have been a prisoner to this illness for as long as I can remember. It has impacted every single life decision: what jobs I accept, what jobs I turn-down, what college classes I signed up for, how long the classes are for, where I eat, what I eat, my exercise routines, how far I have to drive, what times I travel to places, the list goes on and on and on.
If you suffer from IBS or a chronic illness, please know you are not alone. I have great empathy for you and want to give you a HUGE virtual hug.
I’ve learned that my story has made me the person I am today. I don’t think I would have the capacity for empathy and the depth of love I have today if it wasn’t for what I’ve gone through, and continue to go through.
I want to hear from you!
Do you suffer from IBS? Know someone who does? Learned something new about the illness? Share your stories in the comments section below! I want to hear from you. 🙂
P.S. I will be writing a follow-up to this story. In that post, I will share what I have done to “control” my IBS symptoms and answer some questions people have asked me.
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