Hello, I’m Mrs Helfy and I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
This may seem like a bit of a strange thing to announce, but I am not ashamed of having this condition and nor should I be. Society has a way of making people feel embarrassed about certain health conditions – especially women. We are meant to be the perfect specimens of health and should at no point talk about anything to do with bodily fluids. It’s about time that we stop shaming people for something that they shouldn’t be ashamed for!
What is my IBS story?
From 2010-2015, I was working in Westminster as the Personal Assistant to my local Member of Parliament – a job that I dearly loved with all of my heart. In 2014, my boss made the decision to not stand for election again which meant that our office closed down. The prospect of my job coming to an end and being made redundant caused me a great amount of stress, which I later went on to find out was the trigger for me getting IBS.
After a couple of weeks of really intense pains, my husband convinced me to make an appointment with my GP. She did all the usual tests – blood tests, stool sample and internal examinations. After my test results came back, it was revealed that I had elevated levels of faecal calprotectin – meaning that I had inflammation of the gut. This didn’t necessarily mean that I had IBS, but it was certainly a possibility. The next step was to rule out anything more serious, such as bowel cancer.
My GP referred me on to the gastroenterology department at our local hospital in order to get a diagnosis. When I met with the Consultant, he decided that we should do a series of tests to narrow down what might be causing my problems – including but not limited to a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is a way of doctors being able to inspect the lining of your large intestine. They insert a long and flexible tube with a camera on the end of it and slowly push this through your system. In the lead up to the examination, I found myself getting incredibly embarrassed about the prospect of having to have this done. The idea of a room full of doctors seeing me in such a vulnerable state was not overly appealing. When I look back now (the summer seemed to last forever… NO, BRYAN ADAMS, GET OUT OF MY HEAD), I really should not have been embarrassed. I was there to have a medical procedure done because I was not well. I hadn’t done anything wrong so there should not have been anything to be embarrassed about. I couldn’t help it, though. Society has made us feel that we should be ashamed of these things so it’s only natural that I felt this way.
After having my colonoscopy and various other tests (MRI, ultrasound, etc) come back saying that they couldn’t find anything, I was starting to get frustrated. I just wanted to know what was wrong with me so that I could accept it and start to deal with it. Finally, my Consultant decided to refer me to a dietician. At long last, I was finally told that I had IBS and that there was a diet that I could be put on that might help. It’s called the FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for: fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. Essentially, there are a range of foods that most commonly cause extreme bowel irritation (and sometimes other symptoms) when you have IBS. All of the foods link back to having high levels of FODMAPs in them. The diet is about cutting out these foods and identifying which ones trigger your symptoms – pretty simple, really! When my dietician put me on this diet, I must admit that I was initially I was a tad sceptical… but guess what? IT WORKS. It really works! According to the experts, over 70% of people with IBS see significant improvements with their symptoms when they go on this diet. Thankfully, this happened for me. I was absolutely over the moon.
Although my symptoms significantly improved after cutting out certain foods (particularly garlic, onions, lactose and wheat) I still find myself having some symptoms remaining. IBS affects pretty much everything I do on a day-to-day basis. If I am in a place where there is not an easily accessible toilet, I get very panicky. If I get panicky, my IBS symptoms can worsen, so it’s a bit of a vicious cycle. If I go out for dinner, I have to research every little element of what will go in to each meal to see what I can eat. If I go to someone’s house for dinner, I have to explain to them what I can have which can be a bit frustrating for them and also for me. It’s a very irritating (in more ways than one!) condition but I am slowly learning to live with it.
So that’s it! That is my story. What’s yours?