IBS and Me -- Or, Everybody Poops, But About Once A Week I Do It Too Much

So, if you've checked out my blogroll you may have noticed that there are several blogs that I read that refer to IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome. That's because about three years ago, between my junior and senior years of college, I was diagnosed with IBS. The purpose of this post is to shed some light on IBS, cases of which seem to be increasing exponentially over the past few years. Also, I just need to talk about this stuff. Warning: This post will contain too much information, of the poop variety. If it grosses you out (and it grosses me out), STOP READING NOW.

History: Not Enough Trips to the Bathroom?
Pre-14 years old, I was never one to have a BM every day. It happened more like 1-3 times a week. From what I can remember, the weeks when I went 3 times were fine. I didn't feel constipated, everything was a normal consistency, and I truly think that 3-4 times a week is my "regular". That said, the weeks when I would only have 1 or 2 BMs were definitely more of the "I have to go but it won't come out" variety, and I remember several times when my grandmother or great aunt or some family member making me drink hot prune juice so I would go. Gross. I HATE prune juice. Ick. Anyway, once I hit puberty my body went haywire in many ways, and I got extremely depressed over something that I wish I had known was not that big of a deal.

I also had an issue with using the bathrooms at school, as in, I wouldn't. I am still an Olympic pee holder (because I don't drink enough), but I have now learned that when I have to BM, I should just go, unless the bathroom looks apocalyptic. By my junior year of high school, when I started working full-time at Target, I was noticing the occasional instance of really bad cramping with a couple of hours of diarrhea. Senior year, when I only was only taking two classes then going to work at Target, I would just experience the cramping with one regular BM. And from the end of high school through my first two years at Cornell my tummy was fine.

Symptoms: Too Many Trips to the Bathroom
Freshman year was an easy year for me. I wanted to ease into this college thing, so I only took four classes, all introductory types. Sophomore year was for really getting into being a psych major, and...well, that didn't go so well. At the end of the year I discovered that my grades didn't qualify so I couldn't claim myself as a psychology major. After doing a little research, I discovered that there were virtually no requirements to claim myself as a sociology major, and that it would be possible to complete the entire major in the two years that I had left. So my junior year was stressful as hell, taking five (possibly 6, I can't remember) courses so I could play catch up and graduate on time. And this is where the problems started.

Within the first two weeks of fall semester, I was having painful cramps and diarrhea every Tuesday and Thursday morning. It coincided with a boring Evolutionary Theory class that started at 10:10am. I thought that it must have been the white chocolate mocha latte that I was drinking, so I started drinking water instead. No relief. Stopped eating the wonderful chocolate croissants for breakfast. No relief. I think that I didn't have a class right after it, so I could go home. But the next semester I did start to miss classes, although I was now having diarrhea about every 5 days, instead of twice a week. In the summer, I went to the campus doctor, and he diagnosed me with IBS.

Diagnosis: You Mean I Have to Poop in a Cup?

The process of diagnosing IBS is basically a process of elimination. They do blood tests, stool samples, and the basic physical. If they don't find anything wrong, they tell you that you have IBS. Now, I'm completely aware that this is suspicious and fully expect that in 10-20 years doctors will have split the symptoms of the 58 million people suffering from "IBS" into several diseases, disorders, and syndromes that are more specific and detailed than "Well, there's nothing else wrong with you, so it must be IBS". At least I hope so. Here are some links if you want to know more about what IBS is, exactly. Anyway, I was diagnosed the summer of 2006 and given NO CURE...

Treatments: Deal With It, and Try Not to Cry on the Toilet
...because there IS NO CURE. Craptastic, I know. What I've learned so far is that everybody has trigger foods that will cause an attack. Unfortunately, everybody's trigger foods are different. There is a general consensus about beans, spicy foods, too much dairy, and too much greasy food. The trigger foods aren't even consistent triggers, causing much frustration for many people.

My IBS tends to work like this: I'll eat something that I shouldn't have for dinner. I may become really gassy. The next morning I have diarrhea, from about 9am to 1pm. Sometimes it ends at noon, or even 11am. Then I go about my day feeling normal (and trying to forget the morning). Often there are no serious cramps, but sometime there are and that's when I really become depressed. I also am more likely to take Imodium when I have bad cramps, to end the attack sooner. Typically, I suffer an attack about once a week. Maintaining a careful diet can reduce attacks, and this requires keeping track of what you eat and what seems to trigger an attack. Stress tends to be another big contributor, as it has been in my case. I think that my stressful junior year was what tipped me over the edge with IBS. The first semester of my senior year was easy academically, and I only had 4 attacks the whole semester. I thought I was cured (HAH!!!). Then it returned, and I was miserable again. The next and most recent time that I had a respite from the attacks was for 6 weeks around the beginning of this year. What affected my mood so much? I was dating a guy who was briefly mentioned in a previous post. I shall call him The Handyman. Actually, the first 3 weeks we were just friends, and the last 3 weeks we were...more than just friends. Anyway, I had been taking iron pills at the time and thought that those were the reason why I hadn't had an upset stomach in so long. Until The Handyman moved out of the state. The iron pills didn't do shit. It was that cutie-pie high that some silly boy was giving me that had given me 6 weeks of relief.

Since he left, I've been experiencing diarrhea, more often with cramps, for about once a week. Lately, that once a week is the only time that I'm having a BM, so I end up debating whether to let it run its course or take some Imodium to end the pain. I should note, however, that emotions and stress may affect IBS, but it isn't the cause. The links above should explain the potential causes of this syndrome. I'm considering going on anti-depressants to see if it helps once I have a job with benefits. I've also created a tea concoction using chamomile and mint that may soothe my stomach. And I may have to use it tomorrow, because right now my stomach is kind of bubbly...

Before I close another epically long post, I do want to note that my version of this condition is pretty mild compared to some of the stories that I've read online. There are people out there who have diarrhea, or at least really bad cramps, every time they eat. There are people out there who have quit their jobs (or gotten fired for too many sick days) because they have accidents, people who won't even leave their houses. There are people with the constipation version of IBS who have to deal with serious physical complications such as hemorrhoids and obstructed bowels and other horrible things, some of which, untreated, can kill. It makes me very sad that myself and 58 million other people can't go longer than a few hours without thinking about our shit, and that some of these people's live revolve around it.

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