Consumed by ibs
If you're looking for the show notes for the first episode of My IBS Story (Podcast) you're in the right place!
This is an open and honest account of what it was like for me to live with IBS, it may be too much information for some, but I've chosen to be open about this stigmatised and taboo condition, so let’s talk all things IBS, poo, pain, metal health and more!
Purpose of this episode: to share my story of living with IBS, unfiltered! From the physical symptoms and mental health issues I experienced, to how the IBS affected my daily life, including my sex life.
Want the full transcript? Click here.
If you want to skip ahead:
What is IBS?
IBS stands for irritable bowel syndrome.
It is a chronic, functional bowel condition – basically the bowel functions differently than how nature intended it to.
IBS is experienced differently person to person, one person’s symptoms may be completely different to someone else’s.
There are 4 types of IBS (it just depends on your poo - see Bristol Stool Chart below)
IBS-D, diarrhoea predominant – the most common type of IBS
IBS-C, constipation predominant [the type I had]
IBS-M, mixed between diarrhoea and constipation, also known as IBS-A, a standing for alternate
IBS-U, unclassified, when someone’s poo does not accurately fall into the above categories.
20% of the population have IBS….that’s 1 in 5
Gender: IBS is more common in women than men
Age: most common in people aged 20-30
Ethnicity: IBS affects people from all ethnic backgrounds
Symptoms: IBS symptoms can be mild, but some people do experience severe IBS symptoms.
The symptoms can have a drastic impact on the person's life.
Natalie's IBS Story
Now that I have dropped the shame and embarrassment of living with IBS, here’s my open account of how IBS affected my life.
I had IBS-C for 14 years.
The first time I can confidently say I had IBS: on holiday with my family in Jamaica at an all-inclusive resort, aged 16. I had a 10-day streak of constipation, this was the first time I truly realised something wrong . My parents took me to the onsite Doctor who prescribed me laxatives which eventually had the desired effect. Below is a photo from that holiday when we met Lionel Richie & Lennox Lewis.
I had the following symptoms for around 7 years before I was diagnosed with IBS (16-23 years).
Type 1 poo (Bristol Stool Chart)
Chronic constipation (IBS-C)
Bloating & distention
Tummy pains & cramps – sometimes so bad curled up on floor as if I had been winded!
Next I started to have all of the above PLUS anal fissures (skin tears in and around my rectum (yes, my bum hole) which caused bleeding in and around my bum) from the years of constipation.
Note: According to the medical literature I have read rectal bleeding is not common with IBS. If you have this and haven't had it checked out, please see a medical professional.
My body was screaming out for help, and this lead to me eventually being diagnosed with IBS aged 23 – to read/listen about the roller-coaster of getting a diagnosis click here.
Mental health issues due to the IBS:
The IBS really took over and I did become a different person as a result.
When I was diagnosed the GP told me that IBS was a "lifelong condition", "there was no cure". So I believed that I was going to have to co-exist with IBS, live on a low FODMAP diet and have a life on laxatives from the age of 23 until the day I die!
I felt helpless, hopeless. I thought “what’s the point?” There was no end in sight, I was told it was me & the IBS for life...and was meant to be at the peak of my life!
Photo below is of me having an IBS flare up in 2016. Feeling very sorry for myself - we were at high altitude (Lake Titicaca) so I was feeling the pressure inside!
I felt misunderstood, others the same age were enjoying life and I wasn't able to find the joy in almost anything.
My gut was sluggish and I felt sluggish too.
I felt tired a lot and had low energy.
I started to lack confidence.
I started to experience social anxiety.
Overall I felt super stressed because of the IBS symptoms and how my body was constantly feeling. I felt low, depressed and anxious, I really wondered "where’s the light at the end of the tunnel?" And I also thought "if IBS is lifelong and I have anal fissures already where is the IBS going to lead?"
I had suicidal thoughts along this journey with IBS. I really did question when the pain and suffering was going to end? And whether I wanted to be here to exist with the IBS.
Daily life and the IBS:
Living with IBS felt like a constant endurance test. I wasn't happy with how I felt in my body - it was painful, inflamed and sensitive. Before I was diagnised I didn't let the symptoms hold me back - I traveled, went to uni, got a job etc. BUT I was putting a brave face on - inside there was a physical, emotional and mental struggle going on.
Uni: I went "out-out" about 10 times while, I became a hermit, I wasn't fun. I avoided things like clubbing, drinking, socalising.
Food: Once I was diagnosed I was living a life of restriction, aka the low FODMAP diet, I felt very frustrated, I loved food and I was a FODMAPPER for years.
Going out: AVOID THE FODMAP FOODS! When I did socialise, the hassle was real! I felt misunderstood, and thought it was annoying for others.
Restaurants: I’d ask “do you have a gluten free menu?" "I'll have X off the gluten free menu, oh...could I have that without the onions please?"
Farting on the dance floor & other inappropriate times made me feel embarrassed and shameful that my body could produce such a stench.
Drinks: Alcohol and fizzy drinks created general discomfort and bloating in my gut which made me feel so miserable.
Clothes: the looser the better! I felt fat, my tummy was sensitive and irritable from the bloating.
Work: I was unable to sit comfortably due to the anal fissures.
Toilet time: I didn’t feel I had long enough in my schedule to actually be able to deal with the constipation and squeeze out the bunny balls.
"Are you expecting?": Yes, I was asked at work if I was expecting due to the bloating & distention. An embarrassing moment for me and the person that asked!
Time off work: I had various medical appointments in work time and I had around a week off when I had an operation (Botox in the bum).
Staff celebrations and conferences: I had to avoid high FODMAPS so the usual birthday cakes, sandwiches, quiches, the usual stuff at a conference buffet or the things colleagues bring in to work to share, I could not enjoy.
IBS became my identity, I was living on a low FODMAP diet, the symptoms changed how I lived my life and who I was.
Friends: I wasn’t contacting friends as much, didn’t feel like socialising, hated doing pretty much any activity like going out for a meal, going clubbing, going to the cinema. I felt like no one understood so I started to withdraw and avoid.
Dating: I was always upfront when dating someone about "me & the IBS"...we came as a package back then.
Sex & Intimacy: I was in a bloated, painful and sensitive body so I really was not interested in having any kind of sex or intimacy. So my sex life and intimacy was affected by the IBS and as a result I had a low sex drive. And if me or my partner ever wanted to try out anal sex, well that would be out of the question due to the fissures!
Basically, life was less enjoyable, I was unaware that the IBS symptoms (bloating, distention, constipation, cramps) were affecting my mood, mental health, energy and overall quality of life.
Gradually, I landed up living a more sheltered life because of IBS, not doing the things that made me happy.
In conclusion, IBS affected all aspects of my life. I don't think there's a single thing that was unaffected.
Why is Natalie sharing her story?
I’m doing this podcast to be the light at the end of the tunnel for anyone suffering with IBS. No matter what type of IBS you have, or someone you know has, I want you to feel understood and supported.
And I also want you to know that there is a scientifically proven IBS treatment!
You do not need to live with the IBS, it doesn’t not need to live with you and I believe I can help you alleviate the symptoms of IBS, or even help you be free from IBS, just as I am...
Since 2018 I have been:
✓ No flare ups
✓ No anal fissures
✓ No more mental health issues
I have my life back!
It's now 2021 at the time that I wrote / recorded for this episode.
I hope you enjoyed listening to this podcast, found these notes helpful, I look forward to you joining me for the next episode.
The Next Episode
In Episode 2 I'll be talking about:
→ getting diagnosed with IBS
→ dealing with“no known cure” for IBS
→ what I tried to help alleviate the IBS symptoms
→ how I became free from IBS for good
Support for Thoughts of Suicide
UK: When life is difficult, Samaritans are available day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at email@example.com, or visit samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.
United States: Help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can call them for free 24/7 on 1-800-273-8255.
My IBS Story: Episode 1
Hello! I'm Natalie, welcome to my IBS story. I'm here to tell you my story of living with IBS for 14 years and how I eventually became free from the IBS, no symptoms, no pain, no flare-ups! I hope to be the light at the end of the tunnel for anyone living with IBS, the symptoms can be alleviated at the very least. So I am sharing my story so you can do it too :)
Welcome to the first episode! In this episode I'm going to be talking about the physical symptoms I experienced, the mental health issues I also experienced due to living with the IBS I'll talk about how the IBS affected my daily life and if you want to follow along with the show notes head on over to www.nataliemears.co.uk/episode1
Now my guess is that you already know quite a bit about IBS but for anyone listening that doesn't know much about IBS I'm just going to give a very quick overview...so IBS stands for irritable bowel syndrome it is a chronic functional bowel condition essentially that just means that the bowel is not functioning in the way that nature intended it to work. There are four different types of IBS and the way that the IBS is categorized into the four different groups is all to do with your poo and in the notes I've included the bristol stool chart and this chart helps identify the type of IBS category that you might be experiencing now those four types of IBS are IBS -C which is constipation predominant IBS, IBS-D and that's the diarrhoea (UK) / diarrhea (US) predominant IBS and this is actually the most common type of IBS there is! IBS-M...the m stands for mix so that's a mixture between constipation and diarrhoea (UK) / diarrhea (US) or it's also known as IBS-A for alternate so you alternate between diarrhoea / constipation constipation / diarrhea...and IBS-U and the u stands for unclassified.
ONTO SOME FACTS: It's thought that 20% of the global population suffer with IBS, that's one in five! It affects women more than men, and it tends to affect people age between 20 to 30. So that's a basic overview! Now I move on to my story :) I've chosen to share my story openly and honestly so that I can be the light at the end of the tunnel for other people suffering with IBS. From the age of 16 through to 30 I was living with IBS and I had the IBS -C (constipation predominant type) and for those 14 odd years I had to live a life of restraint, restriction and I had to feel really like I wasn't me anymore :( that was not a good place for a young person to be. In terms of the physical symptoms...the first time when I can confidently with 100% certainty say that I was suffering with IBS before I got a diagnosis was when I was 16 years old I was on a family holiday at an all-inclusive hotel and we were there for two weeks and during this holiday I had a 10-day streak of constipation (OUCH!) My stomach was severely bloated, my tummy was so swollen, there was a lot of pain in and around my stomach area, I started to feel quite nauseous and I was severely constipated. I hadn't gone to the toilet for 10 days - so that was the first time I can hand on heart say I was suffering with IBS! However at the time it was not diagnosed...so that was age 16 and from that point the physical symptoms I experienced continued. I continued to have constipation, I continued to have the bloating, I continued to have the distension (swelling around your tummy area), I would have stomach cramps, I'd have a lot of pain in around my tummy, I had a bit of backache every now and again I would have what I would call "toxic farts" - they were disgusting and extremely embarrassing! I felt sluggish a lot of the time because my gut was so sluggish and that really affected my energy levels...I was tired a lot of the time, I didn't feel like I was a fun person anymore because I wasn't able to muster the energy the excitement, the joy within me because I was weighed down by the physical symptoms and then roll forward to my early twenties - I was still experiencing all of those physical symptoms :( and due to the severe constipation that my body had been enduring for a matter of years by the time I reached my early 20s I started to develop anal fissures which is essentially tearing around the anal sphincter - this was incredibly painful! I had multiple anal fissures for a long time and these tears in my skin they would bleed when I would try to go to the toilet when I would stand up, when I would sit down, when I would walk...any movement would create further discomfort and tearing of the anal fissures in and around my bottom (OUCH!) I will emphasize that according to the medical literature anal fissures and bleeding from your bottom is not a normal symptom to have as part of IBS so if that is something you are experiencing and you haven't been to a doctor and had it looked at then I would really urge you to go to the GP to get it checked out just to make sure that they are anal fissures as opposed to anything else ;)
So from the age of 16 to 23 I suffered with those physical symptoms that I've talked about (minus the anal fissures) and from the age of 23 all the way through to 30 I continued to experience all of the symptoms, including the anal fissures...that was a long time to be living with all those symptoms! So those were all of the physical symptoms that I experienced when I had IBS! In terms of how those physical symptoms affected my mental health...well I became quite a different person, I suffered with stress, stressed that my body wasn't working properly, wasn't functioning properly...stressed that there was something wrong and "I'm not sure how to fix it"...there was no real light at the end of the tunnel :( I was just kind of going with the flow, trying to handle the physical symptoms.
(Feeling like this) did lead also to some social anxiety, I was very nervous about being around people because of the symptoms and I would be very nervous about meeting new people...even the people that I did know, I didn't really want to be around them because I felt like they were going to judge me and my body...it really affected my confidence too. I started to get depressed particularly after having the diagnosis and being told that there was "no known cure for IBS" when I was told that, that really had a negative impact on the way I felt about myself, the way I felt about my body and I did feel very low at some points during my journey with IBS. I felt very isolated, I felt misunderstood and I felt like there was no point in being here because I'd been told there was "no known cure", you're gonna have to live with this for life so I felt incredibly helpless and hopeless at the time...so yeah, living with IBS or having the diagnosis of IBS did not affect me in a positive way it's safe to say! So that is a very honest reflection of how the IBS affected my mental health during those 14 years when I was living with all of the symptoms of IBS...so moving on to how the IBS affected my daily life...so it started around the age of 16. I wasn't diagnosed from 16 to 23, during that time how it (the IBS) affected my life...I just kind of got on with it. I didn't really know there was something wrong with my body per se because I didn't have a diagnosis. I knew that I was not happy with the way that my body was working, I tried to not let it hold me back so I tried to live as normal life as possible as a 16 year old through to 23 year old. I would still go traveling, I'd still go on holidays but I would be suffering inside. I would be suffering physically, emotionally and mentally, but I was trying to keep a brave face on, and just try and make the most of things.
Then when I went to university, Freshers week there was lots of opportunity to make new friends, to socialize, to get drunk and none of this appealed to me! All of this made me scared, made me nervous and anxious. So when I went to uni, I was a bit of a hermit. I went out maybe 10 times (over 3 years) to go out drinking, to go out clubbing. I avoided it and I avoided it because I didn't want to go dancing and drink alcohol because my gut really couldn't handle it (IBS symptoms would go crazy!). It would react, I didn't want to fart on the dance floor and I didn't want to have to deal with it! Because my friends are going to think I'm weird, not fun and that's not me! I knew that that wasn't me but I didn't know how else to handle it so I would avoid situations like going out drinking and socializing and that kind of carried on throughout my life even when I was diagnosed with the IBS when I was 23 years old. I still didn't want to socialize much, I still didn't want to drink, I still didn't want to make new friends, I would avoid those situations as much as possible.
Then when I started to go to the workplace the IBS continued to affect me then and not in terms of socializing with colleagues (that felt more comfortable to me for some reason) it felt more safe maybe because I was in quite a small team but in terms of being in the workplace I would find sitting at work difficult because of the anal fissures - it was painful to sit down, I was very mindful of colleagues noticing how long I was in the toilet for because Ii was severely constipated...it was going to take me a long time to go to the toilet to have a poo! So I tried to avoid as much as I could because I didn't want to be judged, I didn't want someone saying "Natalie, you're spending too long in the toilet" and I didn't want to be sacked because of that so I tried to kind of keep it a secret at work. But when the anal fissures got worse and worse and worse I did eventually have to tell my colleagues what was going on because they could see I was in so much pain! FUNNY STORY: when I was at work I was at the printer just kind of standing there like I normally did, someone in the organization came up to me, a lady and actually I'd never spoken to her before, I didn't actually recognize her but she came up to me and she asked me "oh are you expecting?" like literally, just kind of peered around to get eye contact with me said "are you expecting?" and I looked at her and I thought what? expecting what? And then I realized...oh expecting a baby! and I said to her "oh no, I'm not expecting, I've got IBS". She looked so embarrassed! She just kind of looked at me, nodded and walked away because she didn't know what to do. I did find it slightly humiliating or ashamed of my body that this person actually thinks I'm pregnant because the bloating's so bad. So yeah, I just wanted to share that because I think this is quite a common thing the females with IBS experience - they normally get asked the question "are you expecting?" at least once because of the bloating. It does actually look sometimes like you are pregnant, it depends on how severely you get bloated but yeah nonetheless a bit of an embarrassing experience for me and for the lady! I had to have time off work going to the GP, going to GP appointments, going to specialist appointments, even having time off work after having an operation which I'll talk about in the next episode. So that's how IBS affected my work life, I believe significantly.
I felt seriously fat, I felt slow, I felt sluggish as I said before and I think the IBS had kind of a cumulative effect on me. It was affecting my energy, my mood, it affected I think all aspects of my life and I guess it's really important to talk about eating patterns as well because when you are diagnosed with IBS (when I was 23 and got the diagnosis) I was told about the low FODMAP diet. I found in terms of my daily life that low FODMAP diet was so restrictive and it was seriously frustrating to not be able to eat the food that I wanted to eat! I was actually eating the low FODMAP diet for a matter of years and that got me down as well because it's just so restrictive. I wouldn't bother to go out for a meal because it was just ridiculous having to ask for a gluten-free menu and then when you order something "oh can I have this off the gluten-free menu but without the onion without / the garlic without / the mushroom, whatever FODMAP was in it "oh, can I have it without it" because you know all hell's gonna break loose in my gut if I eat that. And again this affected my mental health because I absolutely loved food and being restricted in what I was allowed to eat it made me really sad and it made me feel different, like is this really honestly the life that I need to live?! It was not a good place for me to be and it's not a good place for anyone to be to live on this restrictive diet to try and manage the symptoms of IBS. But at the time I had no other options so of course it's what I did to try and live in a little bit less pain to try and avoid even one flare-up.
Another classic thing of living with IBS, at least for me, was my clothing choices! Every single day I would be choosing loose clothing, so floaty dresses, loose tops, leggings anything that's stretchy or flexible or loose I would go for those things. And of course it affected my sex life.
In terms of my sex life, the IBS did not stop me from getting a relationship however it definitely stopped me because I felt very self-conscious because of the size of my tummy and because it was so sensitive and sore I wouldn't want my partner to touch me there. That really got in the way of intimacy, it got in the way of feeling loved and I just wanted to share a bit of intimacy with my partner at the time and I didn't feel like I was truly able to do that. And of course, when i got the anal fissures, even if anal sex was something that I wanted to try, there was absolutely no way that was gonna happen! So yeah, the IBS even rippled into my sex life and I'm sure for many people that have IBS it affects their sex life too if I wasn't in a relationship and I'd be looking for a partner I decided to be really upfront with them about the IBS because there was no hiding it, you know, if I was going to be in a relationship with someone there was no hiding the IBS! There was no hiding the bloating, there was no hiding the anal fissures, if I was gonna be sexually intimate with someone because it was gonna be painful for me, if I was gonna have sex because it's stretching the skin around there and so I decided to just be upfront because I was coexisting with the IBS. I felt like me and the IBS came as a package so I had to show that person the whole me and see if they wanted to be involved with that, or not! To be honest I felt like my whole entire life completely revolved around the IBS and it actually did become my identity. At the time I think I was completely oblivious to this but the longer I was living with the IBS, the more and more it was taking over my life and it just became part of me, part of who I was and I personally think this is not healthy...to say I can't eat this because of the IBS, I'm kind of blaming the IBS for why I'm not able to live a life that I want - that feeds the mental torment. The fact that I'm not able to live the life that I want, the IBS is in control of me and I'm not in control of myself.
I very much took on that identity and I felt incredibly helpless hopeless and I think that's why I got so low because I just felt like there was no other option other than to just be controlled by the IBS. So yeah, the IBS just put barriers everywhere I turned. I wouldn't even bother to go to the cinema because...could not be bothered! So from the age of 16 to 23 I suffered with those physical symptoms that I've talked about minus the anal fissures and I suffered with some of the mental health aspects but really those those mental health issues kicked in when I received the diagnosis age 23 and from the age of 23 all the way through to 30 I continued to experience all of the symptoms, including the anal fissures. That was a long time to be living with all those symptoms! And all the medical professionals that tried to help me...the thing is they tried to help me. They didn't actually help me. They gave me things to try and those things that I tried didn't work, they didn't really ease the pain, the suffering psychologically or ease the pain physically. It was just kind of going through the motions of things to try to help the IBS, to manage the IBS. But actually none of it actually worked, none of it was gonna work long term for me and I needed to find an alternative solution!
I've been free from IBS now for nearly three years (since 2018), when I was 30 years old. I am now 33 at the age of recording this and I have no physical symptoms, I'm free from the mental health issues, the emotional issues that I faced when I had the IBS and I definitely don't have the anal fissures anymore either! So in the next episode I'm going to be talking about how I eventually got the diagnosis with IBS, all the things I tried to help alleviate the symptoms of IBS and I'll also be sharing how I became free from the IBS. I believe you deserve to be free from the IBS :) or at least have some of those symptoms alleviated :) and I believe it's absolutely possible because it's happened for me! I'm living proof that after having lived with IBS for 14 years, I no longer live with the IBS :) and my sole intention of sharing this information with you is to help YOU, and to shine a light at the end of that dark tunnel that you may well be in if you're suffering with IBS...so if you found this episode interesting and you're keen to learn more I look forward to speaking to you in the next episode!
Thank-you for listening :) xxx