Those of you who read my Twitter—and note that I don’t expect many to wade through my series of spam-like meanderings with any regularity—probably see me tweet during the wee hours of the morning complaining about something called IBS. “Oh, for fuck’s sake,” you probably say, rolling your eyes. “Grow a pair, Cooper.”
I did, thank you very much. But then my cats ate them, which shouldn’t really surprise me because I understand that they’re like catnip to—Oh. You didn’t mean what I thought you meant. Nevermind then. I’ll go mourn my lost lemongrass elsewhere.
Back to the point: I talk about IBS gremlins all the time. Actually, I talk about gremlins all the time, but that’s because either there’s a series of gremlins who are all associated with things that go wrong, or one gremlin who haunts my every step. I don’t feed them after midnight, understand. That way lies madness.
So here it is, after one in the morning on a day when I’ve got to go into work (a fabulous little side job wherein I stalk people for a living… only not really), and I’m suffering from that IBS gremlin again. So, I figured, hey, why not explain a little about what the hell this IBS thing is, anyway? And while I’m at it, maybe make some more old pop culture references and really date myself on the internet.
IBS: Not Just An Imaginary Friend
The extremely short version is this: IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (ewwww, sounds pleasant, no?). It is a functional disease. This means that while it is a disease, it’s one that can be lived with. (In all fairness, so is alimony, but that doesn’t make it any easier to bear.) What it means is that something is malfunctioning in my digestive tract. It doesn’t work quite the right way. I’m defective.
You can go visit that link I just gave you to get the whole, dry skinny, or read more about it at this terribly designed but otherwise helpful website, but the gist is sound. My guts don’t work like they should, and nobody knows exactly how, why, what, when, or wtf.
It took five years and as many doctors to figure out the underlying issue. I’d been diagnosed with lactose intolerance (not entirely correct), Celiac sprue, also known as gluten intolerance (wildly off the mark), anorexia (I ate like a horse), suspected of bulimia (ew, no), and lastly and certainly the least helpful of them all, psychological issues.
In short, it was all in my head.
The Incredible Shrinking Woman
I’m a little person already. Ready for some numbers? I freely share. Laugh and point at the freak that I am. I’ll slash my wrists and dig out my smudged eyeliner later. I’m five feet, five and a half inches tall. I typically hover at about 107 pounds. That’s 483.94726 kilos, to you non-Americans. (I don’t know, you figure it out!) Several years ago, I sank to just under a hundred pounds, and on someone like me, that’s a freaking mountain.
There came a point where the only thing I had keeping my feet on this earth was the weight of my ego. How’s that for truth? (Doesn’t exactly reek of truthiness, I know…)
At that point, I went through a handful of doctor visits that all culminated in my demand to see a specialist. I was referred.
My specialist was hot. I totally wanted him to specalist right on up in my grill, if you know what I mean.
‘Cept he was married. With two very darling twin babies.
Also, the mancandy Would Not Approve(tm).
He listened to me, nodding as I ranted about the intestinal cramps, the nightly pain, the suicidal thoughts of drifting away on a cloud of sleep medication (look, don’t judge ’til you’ve got gremlins treating your lower intestine like a frat party for months on end), the bathroom polka, all of it. And then he said, “Look, I can do a colonoscopy if you want—” Does anyone actually ever want a colonoscopy? I mean, really? “—but I think you have IBS. Take two fiber for three weeks and then call me in the morning, you sexy and overly skinny creature, you.”
That last part, I may have made up.
Curing IBS: I Am the Colon Queen!
Pun totally intended.
Let me be clear: there’s no “cure” for IBS. The Tweet spammers are wrong. There is, instead, things you do to improve your quality of life. In my case, I cut out fatty foods, red meat, dairy and egg yolks. These are known triggers for me. I have learned not to worry and to love the soy milk. Two years after my diagnosis and subsequent nutrition shift, I have gone from massive intestinal rock concerts to the occasional flare up.
Like, tonight. Right now.
Why? Because no matter how well I eat, sleep, or otherwise take care of myself, IBS will always share at least one common element from person to person. It’s quite simple: stress.
Approaching a deadline? Boom! Gremlin party at Karina’s. Missing a bus to work? Booyeah, let’s put the motion of the ocean in her lower intestine. Worried about how badly a particular piercing will hurt to get removed? Yeehaw, cowgirl, settle in for some sweet, sweet gremlin love. For crying out loud, have a brief stomach-twist at the thought of what your best friend is going to say when you confess that you lost her invite to your party in the mail? That’s a poundin’.
Anything, anything at all, that gives a normal person a moment of, “Oh, no!”, turns into hours of, “Oh, fuck all,” for me.
It’s Just Stress, Get Over It
If it were as easy as never stressing about anything, ever, again, I’d have this in the bag. But one does not simply turn off one’s stress, just as obviously as one does not simply rock into Mordor. There are things that can and can not be done. I can, and have learned to, control a lot of my stress to the point where the promise of an incoming gremlin frat party doesn’t send me into a downward spiral of misery. I have figured out what to avoid eating, and when I can get away with cheating.
Even at it’s worst now, it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be.
And people just don’t understand that when I say I don’t want to eat what they offer me, it doesn’t mean that I’m anorexic or on a fad diet or trying to lose weight. It also doesn’t mean that I’m going to “try just a little”, because, hey, dudeface, “just a little” could be enough to send me over the edge.
These sorts of comments are known as a “you suck” moment. Otherwise followed up with, “Hey! Don’t be a dick.”
But these are all vindictive thoughts and should be filed away for later venom.
Stick with me, it only gets endier.
IBS is a functional disease that is not, in fact, all in your head. Surprisingly, millions of Americans suffer from this disease. Fun fact of the day: a particulartly nasty form of IBS tends to affect women of a certain age (read: mine) and is worse than the IBS that tends to affect men.
Most people live with the discomfort because they assume a) it’s gross to talk about digestive issues, or b) it’s normal to feel this way.
But let me go on record saying it’s not normal to hurt or be uncomfortable after eating, or even anytime. Unless you’re pregnant or carrying a tapeworm, there should be no gremlins wriggling around in your guts. It’s not easy to balance diet with state of mind, and if it means that I hermit up for days at a time as I wrestle with my stress level, then by Thor, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Second fun fact of the day: I’ve never had an IBS attack come on from writing stress.
Isn’t that interesting?