by Sophie Lee
I've suffered from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for 20 years. One night when I was 12 I experienced a bout of food poisoning that was so severe I never really recovered. Whatever happened to my bowel that day transformed a perfectly normal digestive system into an instrument of torture.
Over the next two decades years I suffered from diarrhea, constipation, bloating, fierce abdominal pain and all manner of stomach noises, spasms and discomfort. I would go days without a bowel movement and then be stuck in the bathroom for an hour.
I almost quit my first ever full-time job because I was in pain all day, every day, and I just couldn’t cope. I lost friends because I was so secretive about my embarrassing symptoms and could never bring myself to explain exactly why I didn’t want to eat at a restaurant or go on vacation. I lost hope as doctors prescribed fiber supplements and laxatives and looked surprised when I broke down and cried.
Eventually, after trying everything from hypnotherapy to colon cleansers, I found a diet and supplement regimen that really helped me. I felt much better physically, but emotionally I was still struggling with the years of pain I had endured, and the attitudes to IBS I had encountered. People thought that IBS was a minor inconvenience, or “all in your head”, or cured by cutting out coffee. They thought that it was disgusting and not to be mentioned. They thought that it was shameful.
So I decided to come out of the IBS closet and write a book about my bowels. When I told people what I was writing about, the most common response was, “Oh that's brave!”, which only made me more determined. Brave? I have a medical problem that happens to involve poop, why on earth should it take courage to be honest about that? Why are we still so squeamish about our guts?
The embarrassed silence that has surrounded IBS for so long needs to be broken. Keeping quiet just makes it harder for everyone: for our doctors, for fellow sufferers, and for ourselves. I can still remember the feeling I had when I first read the words of IBS patients describing how they struggled with their illness; their words were my words too. Knowing that I was not alone was incredible, but knowing that I was allowed to talk about my own symptoms was even better.
I don't think it was brave to write about my bowels, but you need a massive amount of strength to cope with IBS. If we all start talking about our symptoms, maybe one day the world will understand that.
Sophie Lee is the author of Sophie's Story: My 20-Year Battle with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and runs the website IBS Tales at www.ibstales.com