Before I start with this week’s column, I just wanted to say another huge thank you to everyone that has tweeted, emailed and messaged me over the last few weeks. I have been overwhelmed by the number of people opening up to me and sharing their stories and experiences. It’s so lovely to know that I’m not alone and hopefully it offers you a reassurance too. I have had several messages from individuals who read my article and realized that the symptoms they’d been suffering with were IBS, prompting them to visit their doctor and get help. I think it is hard initially talking to people about it, especially if like me, you’re a private person anyway but once you open up, you realise that there are people who understand and people who can help. Although I’ve had a pretty bad bout of stomach symptoms recently, reading all your wonderful comments has really been a boost for me. So, thank you.
Similarly, I am amazed to be able to say that Patient.co.uk, one of the biggest health forums on the web, has picked up my IBS series and will be documenting it over on their patient stories section. Hopefully this will enable it to reach a bigger audience – spreading what I hope to do – chip away at the unnecessary stigma associated with the condition. If you’re reading this having come from Patient – welcome!
If you’ve read the headline of this post, you may have gathered that this week I will be talking about University and how having a condition such as IBS can affect your studies. If you’re in a job, this may not be applicable to you (although I’m sure you can relate to some of the below), however I have had a vast number of emails from young girls in the same situation as me – either in their first year of University, or about to start, so I felt it was a topic well worth covering.
Starting University is a big ‘leap’ in life to begin with. You’re moving away from home, from your comforts and from what you know. You’re stepping into the unknown. Living with new people, settling in a new area and working out what’s what. It’s difficult. I completely sympathise with that. It’s even more difficult when you have IBS. But it’s not impossible. I’ve always followed the mantra that IBS only makes me work even harder. If I miss an hour’s seminar, I’ll do three hours at home to make up for it. But of course, lecturers don’t see it that way and I appreciate it can often look like I’m just ‘skipping out’ because I’m hung-over or simply cannot be bothered. Oh I wish I had the freedom to make decisions based purely on that. I wish.
I have always tried my utmost in everything I do, so not being able to be in University – and thinking that my lecturers are just under the impression I’m skipping my lectures, leaves me with an overwhelming sense of guilt. I have doctor’s notes galore and have informed my tutors, but there’s always a niggling voice in my head that tells me I’m being pathetic and I should just ‘get over’ my symptoms because I can’t be successful if I have this condition and let it rule my life.
Being successful is one of the things I want the most, and I’m determined not to let this condition rule me. But I know it’s going to be one of the biggest hurdles I face. I know I will have to work for someone else first, but eventually, I’d love to have my own business in the media industry (hopefully my blog) so that I can dictate my own working hours and not worry about what other people think about my stomach – or similarly, be too far away from the bathroom in case of a flare up. I love events and I love being social, it’s just quiet crowded situations I panic in, because I don’t know what ‘publicly acceptable’ excuse I’d use to get out.
I feel like to an outsider, IBS sounds like a breeze, but honestly – it’s not. It hasn’t ‘ruined’ my life as such, because I have achieved so many things that I am proud of, like getting my driving licence, getting onto one of the best courses in the country at University, getting AAB in my A Levels, and 5 A*’s and A’s at GCSE, as well as an A in Maths (how did that happen). I have had so much support, but so many bouts of problems and flare ups. I hate thinking I’m causing people stress or upset, and for the most of it – I keep things to myself because I don’t want to bother others. I have a lot of pride in earning my own money and aside from an allowance given by my dad each month (thanks Dad) because I don’t get any extra government funding or help, I have so far paid my own way through University.
Unbeknownst to me, there is financial and emotional support available at any University in the UK, Scotland or Wales, that caters for sufferers of IBS. I only realised when it was mentioned to me in passing that it might actually be able to help, however I really wish I’d discovered it when I began my course in September. It’s called the DSA (Disabled Student Allowance). At first I was put off applying because of the label. I’m not ‘disabled’ or don’t consider myself to be, and didn’t want to take unnecessary funding away from those that need it. However, my adviser suggested it was worth applying to see if I was eligible.
To apply, you simply download a form from the website, send off any medical evidence (doctor’s letters, medical advice etc) and wait for a letter to be sent back to you. If accepted, you are then required to attend a DSA Assessment, which is a very informal meeting with someone who talks through your needs, what problems the IBS is causing and how this may be affecting your studies. The DSA can offer things like note taking in absence, so if you have to miss a lecture – a note taker is able to go along to your lecture, take notes and send them to you via email. Of course, it still requires you to follow the notes alongside the PowerPoint slides, but at least you can be rest assured you have it covered. I was also advised to have a digital recording device, so that in lectures – if the stomach pains were so bad I couldn’t focus on taking notes (which on occasions they have been) I could simply listen to the recording later on.
Of course, what the DSA can’t do is cure your IBS. Or solve the problem entirely. But it is reassuring to know that there is someone at the University who can help and someone to give you support. Sometimes all you need is to pour out how you’re feeling.
University is a tough slog. For anyone. But I think the main thing to try and do is to take baby steps. You can’t do everything at once and if you’re lagging behind a little, don’t panic, just inform who needs to be informed in an articulate way (I have been tempted to email teachers with a rather scrawled panicky AHHHHH, help, I can’t do this?!!!??!) and get organised. I know with IBS things are so temperamental you can’t really plan ahead but having a sense of routine or organisation does help. You CAN do this.
My course is a particularly intense one, but then again – journalism is an intense career path to venture into, so I guess I’m only preparing myself for what is to come, however I am determined not to let IBS phase me, or make me back down from what I want to do. It could if I let it. And it’s so easy to let it rule your life, but no matter what lecture I miss or how stressed I feel – you do have to give yourself credit for what you’ve done so far. Looking around a huge, intimidating lecture theater is scary, but I wonder how many of those people in that room are suffering also? Or how many could handle it as gracefully as you, even for a day, if it suddenly struck them? I know it’s difficult to think of the positives when you’re wrapped up in a catch 22, never ending bubble cycle. Anxiousness about your stomach flaring up, makes your stomach flare up because your anxious. But you’re not alone and although it doesn’t take the irritation and the daily aggravation away, it is a tiny consolation that you’re not the only one going through it.
Symprove Week 2
Although I was trying out a purely Gluten Free diet last week, I was still suffering from severe abdominal pain, so I decided to eat normally – and just focus on the improvements that Symprove was helping with. I had an exam last week, which always means that it flares up much worse than usual, however things have calmed down a little now and my stomach feels much more relaxed and less (the only way I can describe it) fizzy.
Symprove is so easy to take (5 minutes before breakfast) and I still really look forward to taking it every morning. I’m still in the very early stages (I have a 3 month course) but any ‘toilet issues’ I had prior have now subsided almost completely and I feel as though I’m back to about as normal (as is normal for me – I’m trying to keep this as un-graphic as possible). I don’t want to jinx things, because normally if I say something out loud – or write it down, sure enough, it’s soon back to the complete opposite, but I’m hoping things stay this way as it’s far easier to deal with. Unfortunately I am still suffering from stomach cramps, at times so painful the fetal position is the only comfort, however weirdly enough – the pain is only there when I’m lying down or hunched over. I’m not entirely sure what this could mean?
I still feel bloated after eating (even if it’s gluten free) however no-where near to the same extent as previously, which I guess is a positive sign. I’m looking ahead and looking forward to the next few weeks. I’m hoping that Symprove continues to have positive affects on my symptoms and that like many others who have tried it, the benefits continue long after I’ve finished my 3 month course. It is an expensive treatment, however as someone who has tried EVERYTHING doctors can possibly prescribe for IBS (Meberverine, Buscopan, Peppermint Oil, Lactose Free, Gluten Free, Food Allergy Tests, Ultrasounds, Blood tests etc) in my eyes, anything is worth a try. I seem to be continuously Googling ‘Gut Flora’ and the benefits getting it right can have on your body. I don’t think I’m in the right stage of research to be regurgitating it just yet, but I can’t wait to hopefully focus an article on it in the coming weeks.
Thanks again for reading my third installment, if you missed the first post, you can read it HERE and similarly, if you want to catch up on the second post, you can do so HERE. Feel free to read my series on the Patient website HERE, or follow me on Twitter (@Scarlett_London) HERE. See you next week!
* just to clarify, Symprove is providing a 3 month media trial for me, however as you well know from my previous posts and other articles, this does in no way affect my opinion of the products. You can’t ‘fake’ having your IBS symptoms go away (although I wish I could), so I am always going to be transparent with regards to how it is (or isn’t) helping me.