So having IBS
(or being put under the IBS umbrella) is no joke.
I was diagnosed with IBS as I have issues with my stomach/bowel which they can’t diagnose, and Mike was diagnosed early last year. Now, because we both suffer we’ve come to some agreements to make living together go much smoother.
According to the NHS: “Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common, long-term condition of the digestive system. It can cause bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation. “
It effects twice as many women as men, and usually rears its ugly head in your twenties. It’s something you do have to manage long-term and it’s labelled as a lifelong condition. That means you’ll have bouts here and there for the rest of your life, generally, although you do find ways of managing it.
- Twinges and cramps in your stomach. I often feel these lower than my stomach too
- Bloating of your stomach, it becomes swollen and hard
- Diarrhoea, constipation, sometimes both at once
- The sudden onset of ‘needing to go’
- The feeling of when you go, not quite going enough
These are the main symptoms we experience – although it can be accompanied by exhaustion, feeling sick all the time, backache and problems with the bladder too. Because it is lifelong and the journey to managing it can be hard, it’s also linked to depression.
Obviously, IBS isn’t something people say to shrug off a day at work, or if they’re feeling a little under the weather. Because I work in an educational environment I have to know in myself whether me being off is my IBS or a possible norovirus. Mike has to manage his so he can be away from work the day, driving. Each person manages it differently and it does get easier as you begin to know your body – trigger foods, irritants and your own little therapies come into play.
Our 7 steps to IBS management in a relationship:
- being honest
- being none-judgemental
- having a ‘code word’
- forward planning
- having a ‘stop-go-can’t stop-can’t go’ cupboard
Being honest – the most important. We both have this condition, we both know the ins and outs (..literally!) and we are both mature about it. Sometimes. It’s really important to be honest with each other about things you feel have triggered a bout of IBS, or if you need to stop to visit a bathroom somewhere. If you have an attack when you are out and about, you need backup. Whether its tracking down a loo, or having a coughing fit when the other person needs to let out some wind – you manage. This is teamwork, people.
Being none-judgemental – lets face it. Being in a relationship with someone who has the same condition is a little cringey. You don’t get to hide the dark dirty secrets and pretend everything is sunshine and roses.. But that works better with IBS. You can’t judge one another simply because you’ll both be in the same boat at some point, right? Besides, you both own a pair of IBS pants (huge waistband, comfy, slouchy..) so keep that judging to yourself.
Having a ‘code word’ – another must have. Generally for the morning after the takeaway before. “I’m going to water the flowers!” means stay away from the bathroom, close all the doors and turn up the TV.
Compromise – dining out, we know you both want a spicy curry but one isn’t feeling up to it. Be good to one another and order a hot one, and a very mild one. We used to have to do this, but as we get older the wrath of spice isn’t worth it and we both settle on a mild choice. Same with fast food as it tends to be rich – Subway is our port-of-call when one of us isn’t feeling great as you can order a veggie delight salad bowl or flatbread which is simply just salad.
Forward planning – check with where you’re visiting for toilets, what food choices and make sure you have a pack of bottled water in the car boot. Personally (I mean very personally..!) I carry a packet of baby wipes in my handbag for activities like that too. Very worth while, and not just for IBS.
Communication – if you don’t feel up to something because of your IBS, you need to say ‘nah, feeling a little uncomfortable today!’ family members, friends and work colleagues are all pretty understanding and will often be the ones to step up when you need them to. I went to a Christmas meal with the girls from work, and refreshingly after we’d eaten, two of us looked at each other and knew we had to go. Not go, but go. That night and the next morning, it was humorous to have picture images sent of various bathroom doors. Bonding over the effects of IBS!
Having a ‘stop-go-can’t stop-can’t go’ cupboard – essential. We have a cupboard accessible to both of us at home, which has medication for diarrhoea, constipation, or both at once. It also has water based vitamins and Buscopan stocked up too. Buscopan is something I keep in my bag, and that Mike has in his work trousers – it really helps with the twinging and cramping IBS is known for, which honestly takes a lot of the stress out of having an attack in public. Cramps bring on sweats, a red face and absolute agony at times so being able to manage those is key.