To start off, I would just like to say a huge thank you to all those that read, commented and tweeted about my previous post. It was overwhelming that so many of you were so supportive and kind, taking the time to tell me about your experience, or someone you know that suffers. I do feel like I’ve made an impact, however tiny, in reducing the stigma and over the next few months – I hope to keep chipping away at what is a largely unnecessary taboo.
Just like some of you said, IBS is no difficult in intensity then asthma, or a heart problem or a bad back, so why should it be dealt with differently. There are so many of us that suffer with IBS, and it’s so lovely to have spoken to some of you about it – that we shouldn’t suffer in silence any longer. I wanted to RT and reply to all of your wonderful tweets, but I also didn’t want to bombard people on my timeline, so instead – I’ve decided to share them all below. If you’re reading this without having read the last post, you can do so here. We’re not alone. Which is reassuring.
This week I’m going to be talking about IBS and your career, in addition to reviewing my first week of Symprove. I am by no means an expert, but hopefully sharing my personal experiences may be of some comfort to someone out there. Here goes.
Without sounding big headed, or arrogant, I do consider myself to be a very driven, hard working and passionate person. I have aspired to work in the world of journalism from a very young age and all of my efforts in school, sixth form and now University have been driven by my motivation to become a renowned journalist. I love writing. For me, it is therapeutic. I could write all day long. Equally I love sourcing news, I’m very nosey and I genuinely care about the world around me. To be successful is my lifelong ambition and although IBS hinders my ability to (at the moment) attend lectures, seminars and extra classes, I am determined not to let it define me. I won’t let it stop me.
Being in a working environment and suffering from IBS symptoms is something I can relate to. Last year whilst on my gap year, I got a job at an international company – in their PR department, and later – for a blogging campaign they were running. It was an amazing experience and I met so many wonderful people, many of whom I still consider friends. At first, I was still in my ‘all clear’ period, where symptoms weren’t a worry, but after my first 5 months, the feared symptoms began rearing their ugly head. Stomach pains so bad I had to double over, a bubbly, anxious stomach that seemed to be cured by nothing and similarly (and unfortunately) frequent trips to the toilet. It wasn’t pleasant and it made things like sitting in meetings or being hunched over my desk all day seem near impossible. To anyone else, they were probably just aspects of daily work life. But for me, they were agony. I dreaded them. Feared them.
It got to the point that it was so bad, I was having to either work from home or call in sick. Or a mixture of the two. I felt so guilty. I was letting people down, being seen as unreliable and I couldn’t properly do the job I LOVED doing. And worst of all, there was nothing I could do about it. I felt like my body was dictating and driving my every move, without my consent.
Luckily my immediate boss was very understanding and really genuinely cared about my wellbeing and how I was managing it. She was understanding if I needed to work from home, or come in for just a morning or an afternoon. But it would be naive to think that it wasn’t affecting what the rest of the team thought about it. It’s not like I could announce ‘I have IBS, feel sorry for me’ to the rest of the office. I was largely, still suffering in silence.
I avoided meetings, because they were quiet and often affected my ability to rush out if I needed too. I had a fair few of mortifying moments during meetings that was enough to put me off ever going to one again. Many of them weren’t necessary either (they really could have been dealt with by email), so I felt I was putting myself through unnecessary stress. When I (hopefully) run my own business, I hope to be sympathetic to all conditions and host ‘Skype’ meetings instead, where the pressure is taken off, or a ‘live’ chat where we can all make suggestions. I know before I start my own business, I will inevitably have to work for someone. And I will have to go to a meeting. But I’ll cross that hurdle when I come to it.
In the end, although I found no ‘miracle’ solution, I tried to not feel as guilty when I had to work from home or miss a meeting – making up for it in other ways, such as working harder to fulfill a brief or putting in the hours elsewhere. In meetings I couldn’t miss or days I HAD to be in, I’d take little snacks and a big bottle of water in with me, which usually helped keep things as under control as possible. I do think having other people know about the condition would have helped, but in hindsight I wasn’t confident enough at that point in time to talk about it. I still feel rather un-confident talking about it now. But hopefully it’s for a greater good.
Despite this however, I have never ever thought to myself ‘ah you know what, I’ll just give up with this lark’. By lark, I mean work. It is tough. It’s tough enough being successful in a job full stop. Let alone when you have another factor to add to the equation. You might find yourself choosing your career path based solely on your IBS. But please don’t let that be the case. Your IBS shouldn’t be allowed to define you. When you have a hold on it (and it WILL happen), you don’t want to regret not fulfilling the path your destined for. But then again, it’s not worth being dreadfully unhappy in a career where you are suffering too. It’s a very difficult balance. But I’m determined to be successful in my chosen career – journalism, with or without the extra hurdle of IBS. You WILL find ways around things. It’s just a matter of when. My mum has always been the strongest advocate for me in terms of not letting my IBS rule my life. And although it does at times. It won’t rule where I want my career to take me. And it won’t rule my success. I’m determined about that. I just hope I’m right.
I often worry when I tell people I have IBS, they will think less of me. Think I’m unreliable. Be wary of hiring me. It’s not necessarily something you’d mention in a job interview anyway. But at the end of the day, I think it is natural to have bouts of it being bad. Focus on the good. Focus on making sure you can be the best that you can possibly be. When you’re next at work, look around the room and wonder how many others might be suffering in silence too. Or perhaps glance around and wonder whether they would deal with IBS symptoms as gracefully and as well as you are. You’re still here. You’re still working. So you should be proud of yourself. And even if your IBS got to the point you had to quit work, as many of you were telling me on Twitter – don’t feel guilty. Pick yourself up, you’ll soon be back on track and focus on being the best that you can be. Whatever that is.
Week One: Symprove
Having suffered a particularly bad week, I was very eager to start trialing Symprove to see if the probiotic effects would lessen my symptoms – or have some sort of good influence. I am currently taking Mebeverine (Colpermin) before meals, which hasn’t had much of an effect if I’m honest but the doctor insisted I try it, just to make sure.
Symprove, just to give you a little background information is gluten and dairy free and aims to deliver billions of good bacteria into your gut, in the right way. Whilst taking capsules or probiotic yoghurts or drinks can be an easy way to incorporate them into your life, they actually don’t reach the correct part of you (in order to work for IBS sufferers) so many of them are wasted.
There is a little video on the website (here) which explains it far more effectively than I am attempting to, but in essence Symprove has a unique delivery system (because it’s a live liquid drink) so it ensures the bacteria travels through the stomach (without triggering digestion) so that they reach the correct area of the gut. Although many of us may not realise, having the correct gut flora balance is crucial to healthy digestion and the processes our stomach, gut and intestines go through – so although it’s not always the cause of IBS, making sure your gut is in balance is certainly worth trying. I will aim to look at the more ‘science-y’ aspect of how this works as the weeks go on (I will be blogging about this for the next 3 months) but for now, I’ll stick to the basics.
Arriving in 500ml bottles, you are instructed to take 10ml per 10kg of body weight, each day for three months – which is enough time to effectively ‘re-set’ your gut flora. I weigh around 10 stone (I’m 5’6) which is roughly 60kg, so I take 60ml each day, in the morning, five minutes before breakfast. There are two varieties – the ‘original’ flavour and the ‘mango & passion fruit’ flavour, the latter of which I have – and although I can’t vouch for the original, I actually really enjoy the flavour. It’s not unpleasant by any means, and I look forward to drinking it each morning. It’s very easy to incorporate into your day and doesn’t require much hassle. There’s no taking it around with you during the day and similarly, no long time period where you have to withhold food, so in this aspect of things – I’m very impressed.
With regards to the actual effects, I haven’t experienced anything drastic over the past few days – however it will take a few weeks for things to kick in. I haven’t had as many stomach cramps, aside from when I had a little alcohol on Saturday (think I shall have to give this up) and the urgency to go to the toilet hasn’t been quite as bad as in previous weeks, although there are always a number of factors contributing to any given ‘flare up’, so I’m not jinxing anything yet!
I am currently eating a gluten free diet (I’m a vegetarian anyway and have been for two years, so what I actually CAN eat is now very restricted) and I’m actually really enjoying Asda’s Gluten Free range. The bread is delicious (especially toasted or grilled) and is far lower in calorie than normal loaves, and similarly the wraps can be popped under the oven (with a bit of tomato passata, cheese and veg) for a healthy, quick ‘pizza’.
Thanks for reading this VERY long post. I do really appreciate all of your support, tweets and emails – it helps immensely with overcoming what has been for me, a lifetime of embarrassment and masking what I have. Not everyone feels comfortable sharing these things, but I would love to give some of your the opportunity to open up how you are feeling – and possibly write your own IBS post in a few weeks time, so do let me know in the comments below if this is something you’d be interested in. April is fast approaching, and I really do think we should all stick together in raising awareness for what I believe is an extremely worthy cause! Next week, I will be talking about studying with IBS and what support you can get, in addition to how I deal with Uni/IBS and how I dealt with IBS at school. I hope you continue with me on this journey and as always, if you ever need someone to talk to – please feel free to email me or leave a comment below.
IBS Series so far: