Hi blog world. Today I wanted to touch on the relationship that IBSers have with their stomach. Often everyone talks about the relationship with ‘the self’ but I think for us it’s a lot more about how we approach our stomachs and whether we are friends with our tummies.
One of the most significant things for me is how my relationship with my stomach has changed. I hated my stomach in my school days as a young teen. It wouldn’t let me eat what I wanted, I had pain every single morning and in every first class of the day I remember complaining to friends about feeling ill. My memories of school trips are just plagued with memories of bad stomach issues, I didn’t feel ‘normal’ like everyone else, I didn’t even know what was truly wrong – the list goes on but the main thing was that my relationship with my stomach was truly awful. I almost feel bad for how much I hated it at that point. Even when I got diagnosed with IBS by a really lovely doctor around the age of 14, and still even up to about a year and a half ago, the relationship between my tum and I was not great. This was all until I started realising that I had to become friends with my stomach, partly through something my therapist had told me. She had asked if I had ever tried just reasoning with my stomach, for example when I went out ‘please just let me have a few hours of pain-free time so I can enjoy being with friends’ for example. That caused a little lightbulb moment for me. I realised I needed to become friends with my stomach in order for it to heal. I needed to have a better relationship with it because it needed my support to help me heal it. If I could build a good relationship with it, I would be more able to enjoy myself without worrying about it constantly whilst out living life. It is almost like its own person and to start reasoning with it was one of the most important things I think I have done in my personal IBS “journey” (cringe, I hate that word so much but it’s relevant).
I suppose that forms part of the 1st stage of realisation, as I talked about in the last blog, but at the same time it is what propelled me on to the 2nd part, which for me is sticking with the changes you commit to. Whether that’s sticking with a course of therapy to treat the causes of the IBS (for me, that was anxiety). Or it could be sticking with the difficulties of doing the FODMAP diet. Overall sticking with the realisation of needing to change and sticking with the changes you want to make. For me realising I needed to become friends with my stomach and form a better relationship with it, formed part of my realisation that sticking with the changes would help me heal and with that help me start to feel better.
Actually, this relates to a conversation I had with my dietician last week. You can’t just treat IBS by solely focusing on the food, or by following what most GPs do and just treating the symptoms. It’s not all about diet. It’s about sticking with a change of mindset. And with that, I mean you have to treat the causes which involves sticking with that change of mindset. That’s like any illness. With a cold you can’t just take paracetamol and ibuprofen as they only temporarily make you feel better. You have to treat the root causes e.g. tiredness, eating healthily, work stress etc. My dietician stressed the point of starting the FODMAP diet when you are at a stage where external things including stress and anxiety have been more calmed down. Keep that in mind, because FODMAP and diet is an extra thing which may only help once you have really looked at the root causes of IBS, since we know that IBS is such a mind-related condition.
That’s not to say my IBS is not often triggered by stressful periods, but I mean that my change of mindset and sticking with that changed helped me calm some of the root causes of the IBS. That’s freaking hard whilst being a student, everything is pretty much stress for the 3 or so years you’re at uni, AND I chose to do a course with a compulsory year abroad so I was probably signing up for more stress from the get-go. But it’s do-able and possible. I am just a normal human being (kind of) like any other human being or even you reading this, and I think I am a good example of someone who thought they couldn’t do it, but has realised they can and are doing it.
Having a better relationship with my stomach in the last year and a half has allowed me to go out and enjoy myself, enables me to, more often than not, look AND feel as genuinely happy as I look in this picture, (even if I had just eaten a cupcake that WAS NOT wheat free, no regrets it was salted caramel). I reason with my stomach often, and just remind it to stay calm, that everything will be okay even if in that moment it doesn’t feel ok. Also, as weird as this sounds, I thank it for dealing with the IBS and all the related horrible symptoms that it takes the brunt of. So as odd as that seems, forming a good and peaceful relationship with your stomach, just as you would do with a friend, helps in more ways than I can probably even describe. This doesn’t mean you have to pat your stomach and have a conversation with it out loud, by the way!
On the subject of the dietician, I’ll be starting my elimination diet in the next few weeks and am completely intrigued to see what’s going to happen. I expect it’s going to be a tricky 8 weeks but I am just glad I have finally reached the stage where I am ready for this: where I am ready for the next stage of treating the practical side of things with IBS.
Hope that piece of tummy-relationship wisdom can help somebody out there!