I've been thinking a lot about IBS recently and researching it again. It's not because I'm hitting an age when I'm supposed to start talking incessantly about my bowels, but more because I never really do, talk about my bowels that is... Talking about your bowels doesn't tend to increase your friend numbers! The research is more to do with self-preservation.
No one who reads this blog is likely to have an inkling, given my reticence on the subject, that IBS plays a huge role in my life. I had my first run-in with it when I was still at uni in the 80s. All would be fine, then suddenly about once a month, I'd wake up bloated, in pain and unable to go to the loo. It would take a good two or three days of being extra careful before things would generally right themselves and I'd breathe a huge sigh of relief, well until the next time. And so that was the pattern I lived with through my twenties and thirties, some years worse than others, but on the whole bearable. Whenever things would get really bad, I'd be sent off for the usual, coelic and Crohn's testing, barium meal, endoscopy, colonoscopy, CAT scan or MRI and then I'd be told - 'Don't worry, it's just irritable bowel syndrome.'
Then it all changed. I contracted the worst bout of the winter vomiting virus in my life in the winter of 2012. I actually felt like my insides snapped. Sometimes I think they did. I woke up the next morning with my IBS playing up and assumed it'd all be back to normal in two or three days, it wasn't, and I'm still waiting... Every single day since winter 2012 has been marked by galloping indigestion, bloating (usually about 2 sizes over the course of a day), a feeling as if someone is sticking a red-hot poker right through the upper half of my stomach, lower back pain, muscle spasms in my intestine, an inability to go to the loo, exhaustion, need I go on? Interestingly, I recently discovered most sufferers can trace the beginning back to a viral/food poisoning episode.
The funny thing is - when you have these symptoms once a year, you take a sick day and lie in bed trying to get over them, but you can't do that when every day is a sick day, so I fully suspect those who suffer from IBS are probably amongst the workers who take the fewest sick days.
Anyway, I'm not looking for any miracle cures (unless anyone happens to have one) or sympathy. What I'm actually on to suggest is a change of name... You see irritable is just wrong - it's kind of like 'my baby's a little irritable today...' And that makes people think it is a minor inconvenience. If I had a pound for every doctor who has told me 'Don't worry, it's only IBS'... What sufferers actually need is a GP who happens to suffer from it! Irritable trivialises something that is actually quite difficult to live with. For starters, you can't wear clothes! That's a bit of a problem in a climate like Scotland. Anyone who thinks I tend to spend 85% of time in leggings because I think I have the figure for them, think again! Even the elastic in tights irritates my insides, so it's leggings all winter, dresses in the summer and pain whenever I have to dress formally for a business meeting. Then there's food - most self help books tell you to follow a low-FODMAP diet - ie eliminate these (see the lists with the reddish background) from your diet, ie eat as if you are a lactose intolerant coeliac sufferer who doesn't like spice, coffee or anything fried - that doesn't leave you with much scope! You also have to try to keep your stress levels low - it's not like my life has been in anyway stressful for the last decade, is it? (Did someone say Brexit?) It is physically and emotionally draining.
So without further ado, here's my list of suggestions:
Agonising bowel syndrome
Excruciating bowel syndrome
Red-hot poker bowel syndrome
Somebody's-tied-a-knot-in-your bowel syndrome
I'm-so-physically-exhausted-by-this bowel syndrome
Who-needs-to-poo-anyway bowel syndrome
You-can't-eat-what!? bowel syndrome
Can't-remember-what-normal-feels-like bowel syndrome
Will-this-ever-end bowel syndrome
Or in fact, maybe we could drop the word 'bowel' from it too, then sufferers might set up self-help groups instead of assuming the subject should be taboo!
I've never actually used this emoji before, but it seems kind of appropriate!