IBS and the workplace

Today is World IBS Awareness Day 2023 . Therefore I am going to ‘awareness’ you all about IBS.

For those of you who don’t know what IBS is, I thought I’d ask chat GPT who actually gets it spot on:

“Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that affects the large intestine, causing a range of symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and changes in bowel habits. However, there is no specific cause or cure for IBS, and the symptoms can vary widely from person to person. Therefore, treatment often focuses on managing symptoms through lifestyle changes, such as diet modification and stress reduction, as well as medications to alleviate specific symptoms.”

A few things to note:

There is is no cure

Everyone is different

…but what it doesn’t tell you is how much it can affect your life. Luckily, Wikipedia sums it up well:

“IBS can negatively affect quality of life and may result in missed school or work or reduced productivity at work. Disorders such as anxietymajor depression, and chronic fatigue syndrome are common among people with IBS”

Image courtesy of https://aboutibs.org/what-is-ibs/

I have suffered for around 20 years with IBS, it gradually got worse when I worked in London and got really bad leading up to my wedding (that was coincidentally 15 years today!). So I know that stress and worry can affect me, but I can also have a bad attack seemingly randomly. I’ve tried different diets and treatments which I won’t go into here as I’m happy to have, yesterday, got a letter saying I’m back up to the top to see an nhs dietician.

(As an aside, please don’t bombard me with ‘have you tried aloe vera juice’ (or similar MLM) messages… as this is not what this post is about!)

All of that is almost irrelevant as to why I’m sharing this. What I’d like to raise awareness of is how much this can affect me at both home and work. I moved back up to York from London after having my first child. That combined with finally admitting that I could no longer commute on the tube prompted the move. I had been so poorly every morning, I knew all the toilet stops on the Victoria & other lines and my journeys first thing were awful – I felt so sick, sweaty, hot & panicky. Luckily I had lovely workmates and bosses who let me come in a bit later and stay later if I had to (a bit of flexi working before it was ‘in’).

I have since, for the last 13 years, worked from home freelancing. I struggled on and off getting clients who didn’t mind me remote working. Until covid. Now people seem SO much more open to remote working. And this isn’t just a good thing for IBS – lots of people have reasons to WFH.

Annoyingly, I’ve had to turn down opportunities and maybe haven’t got as far in my career as I would otherwise have done, without having IBS.

I’m so jealous of people who can travel and commute without even thinking about it.

Or who can go out for a meal.

Just like that.

Without looking at menus.

Without looking for the loos before you’ve even got in the door.

Without taking and packing Imodium.

Without eating and being worried the whole way through a meal if you’re going to have to rush to the loo.

Or have pain.

Or wind.

Or all 3.

The latter of those happened to me on Saturday at the seaside after having some chips. So yes, it’s often at the most inconvenient times and with seemingly bland food.

A few things you may notice about ‘work’ me:

  • I don’t book in meetings early morning, as this is when I’m likely to be at my most poorly.
  • I don’t like travelling or commuting but can do it, especially if I can set off mid-morning onwards.
  • I generally avoid lunch meetings unless I know the menu will have food that will be ok (I’m also pescatarian to add to the mix – I’ve not eaten red meat or poltry for 30 years). I tend to eat very plain if I do have to eat. Sandwiches and jacket potatoes for instance.
  • This isn’t me being awkward or lazy, it’s just me trying my hardest not to be or feeling really poorly or embarrassed when I’m out or at inconvenient times. Plus you want me at my best, not worst.

Having IBS is literally shit. I have learned to live with it but sometimes it catches up with me. I know it’s not life threatening and I realise people have much harder things to deal with, but it’s something I don’t think a lot of people understand so hopefully by reading this you have learned something. And won’t invite me to breakfast meetings!

For more information on IBS take a look at The IBS Network

Lucy is a freelance designer based in York

Image courtesy of https://www.instagram.com/juulpuppy. I think! I’m a big Mr Man / Little Miss fan so thought it was an appropriate image.

#WorldIBSDay2023 #WorkingWithIBS #IBS #FODMAP #IrritableBowelSyndrome