If you visit our “Meet Us” tab on this blog, you will see that Sara and I both share a secret about each other. In her response, she writes, “It’s hard to tell you a secret about Cazey because he’s often an oversharer on the blog (I mean, did you read about his anxious bladder?).” Except she originally wrote IBS.
Me in the past: “I have never ever written about my IBS, and that is not something I want to share with the general public.”
Me today: “I would like to talk about my IBS.”
The story begins senior year of college. I was president of two clubs, treasurer for a third, applying to six grad programs, completing an Honors thesis, and just trying to live, which is sort of hard when you have a meeting every night and you can’t skip the meeting because you’re running it.
Fast forward to November. I came home every night with a debilitating stomachache and collapsed on my bed to send follow-up emails and integrate the Poisson distribution for homework. (Casual.) I did not notice this was happening every night until Thanksgiving break when my parents asked why I was splayed on the couch.
Mom: “How long has this been happening?”
Me: “Like, two weeks.”
Mom: “Every day?”
Me: “I think so.”
Mom: “You need to go to the doctor.”
Two months of doctor’s appointments, one colonoscopy, and multiple blood tests later, I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, more widely known by its acronym IBS.
Me: “Wait, I have that acronym that’s in every commercial featuring an old couple walking hand-in-hand with their golden doodle under trees in the afternoon sunlight? I do not!”
But I soon learned IBS is basically an umbrella term for any gastrointestinal disorder that doctors and tests can’t identify. My diagnosis was handed down after subsisting on soy milk and fake cheese for the better part of a semester. And no bread because gluten. (Yes, I became one of those people.)
The probable culprit for my case was stress.
Me: “But I’m not stressed. I don’t even have time to think about stress. I need to run to a meeting now.”
I actually found my condition humorous based on its cause. I disclosed it to friends with a laugh. Meanwhile, my friends gaped at me as if I had admitted to being infected with Ebola.
I soon learned that people have this automatic assumption when you say you have IBS. They immediately stereotype you as a bathroom squatter. Or not using the bathroom at all. So then I find myself qualifying: “No, no, when I say I have IBS, it means I have chronic cramps, but no, I do not have diarrhea and am not constipated. Please, I am a virginal bathroom user. I mean, I have other symptoms, but there is nothing actively coming out of me. Or not coming out of me. Not to shame those that have that problem. Like, we can’t help it. Why are we victim shaming?”
That’s really the point of this post: Stop shaming us IBS sufferers. We are not disgusting nor are we being difficult when we suddenly bail on plans. Sometimes, the pain is just that bad. I just want to lay on a mattress and pretend it is tomorrow and this has passed. Metaphorically, not actually. (Again, no shaming if it’s the opposite!)
I hoped my IBS would disappear after college graduation. It lessened, but I have realized it just becomes dormant: Whenever I go through a stressful period aka all of grad school, I have an episode. The worst/best part is, it usually hits after the stressful event.
Friends: “Let’s go celebrate killing Cerberus!”
Me: “Yes, let’s! Wait, I need a rain check, because I suddenly can’t move. I think I have appendicitis; at least that could be cured.”
I can keep my episodes more infrequent if I regularly take my medication, which is this little blue pill I pop under my tongue that’s not called Viagra. I sometimes question taking medicine every day, but *shrug* talk to my stomach spasms.
Since being diagnosed, I have met more people than I would have expected who also have been diagnosed. They’ll divulge the condition in hushed tones, as if embarrassed, and then I’m like, “Me too! You understand!”
We then usually share colonoscopy stories. It’s not every day you meet a 20-something who has had a camera enter their body through the backdoor.
Aside: Honestly, the colonoscopy was not that bad. The cleanout beforehand wasn’t either. I went to see “The Hobbit” while fasting and actually took my first dose of laxatives in the theater. The last half hour was the dwarves trying to escape the mines and me afraid something was going to escape me too, but phew, it didn’t. I also had my colonoscopy on New Year’s Eve, so if anyone can complain, it’s gonna be me.
Our society consists of such prudes about bathroom-related issues. And while IBS does not always entail a need for the bathroom, it can definitely be related. I’m not endorsing we start sharing fart jokes, because I’m actually not a fan of that crap (no pun intended – well, maybe it is). But seriously, we can treat conditions like IBS with less disdain than Jamie Lee Curtis references and still sidestep a deluge of bathroom humor if that’s not your cup of tea.
So next time you meet someone who reveals they suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (gasp! shudder!), please don’t recoil as if they’re flinging feces in your direction. They are not a leper. But if you treat me that way, I’m going to act like you’re a leper.