Living with IBS: Sophie Eggleton’s Story

It’s IBS Awareness Month – wahoo! – and there’s no better way to kick things off than by sharing Sophie Eggleton’s story. Especially as it’s a refreshingly honest account.

How did you know you had IBS?
Well it got the point where I would have to rush to the loo after/during every meal. Sometimes it was an almost instantaneous (and very violent) reaction. I started to realise I was having to go to the loo much more than my friends were, and it was starting to affect my decisions when it came to socialising. I started to lose weight because food wasn’t staying in long enough to gain nutrients from it. I also noticed my skin, hair and nails deteriorate, I guess for the same reason. My life started to revolve around my bowels, so I knew something wasn’t right.

How do you cope with IBS on a daily basis?
Well my answer today is very different to what my answer would have been a couple of years ago. Over the period of about a decade I was on various restrictive diets, trying desperately to find one that worked. When I was on a particularly unappetising/strict one I would find myself lacking in energy and dreading all of my meal times. I turned from someone who loved eating, to someone who just ate to survive… There was no joy in the process at all. I would also have Imodium and Mebeverine with me at all times, but also pads and spare knickers in case of a minor accident.

I would also schedule my life around the issue. If I was having a bad day, I would cancel plans, particularly if they involved public transport. The tube is a terrifying prospect if you’re having a particularly volatile day. I also found socialising hard because I felt awkward about how picky I’d have to be about where we’d go to eat, or if I had to custom order something at a restaurant. You worry that people just think you’re being high maintenance, when really you are just trying to avoid poking yourself – sorry to be crass – but that’s the truth.

I also found that alcohol worsened the issue, so became T-total. Having to explain to people why you don’t drink was and is always a bit tiresome, and you have to expect that some people will just view you as a boring party pooper.

Since finding out that salicylate is the ingredient that makes me reactive, things have changed considerably. I still don’t drink alcohol, but at the moment I am pretty much eating what I like (which still feels like such a treat). I do a dietary detox every 3/4 weeks, where I take a couple of weeks out from eating what I like, and refer to a form that I have that lists all foods that contain salicylates, and just avoid them. This reduces the salicylate levels in my body, and I then find I am good to go again.

Any life-changing tips of how to deal with symptoms?
Well, I think it’s integral to discover what causes or worsens your IBS. The problem is that some Drs have a one size fits all approach to their advice and treatment. Having tried so many diets and recommendations, and being made more ill by some of them, it’s very obvious how personal and specific to each patient the approach should be. I know they are laborious but do the exclusion diets, just in case there’s a couple things causing you grief that you could easily remove from your meals. Please push your doctors. If you’re worried or think something more suspect may be going on, keep going back till you get a doctor that listens and is willing to give you the appropriate tests. Sorry, I digress….

I know it’s not necessarily a symptom but it is definitely a result… I found I became quite depressed and stressed about it. A lot of the stress came from trying to hide it because it was embarrassing. Since I’ve blogged and vlogged, and talked openly with friends about it, I feel a lot better. You will also find more and more people you know will come to you and tell you they are dealing with the same issues. Don’t suffer in silence. I think with invisible illnesses, or ones that aren’t life threatening, they aren’t always given the attention or sympathy they deserve. IBS can suck, and really effect your every day life, relationships, career and happiness,  so don’t feel bad about getting down or frustrated by it.

I find running always makes my diarrhea worse, so I don’t tend to do exercise like that. I’m not a doctor, but I think things like Yoga and Pilates are better. For me at least.

If my stomach is feeling crampy I often turn to hot water bottles, or my Bagpuss that I put in the microwave. Also a bath is quite soothing too.

Sometimes your bum hole takes a bit of a battering – constipation and diarrhea can have a negative effect. Keep in touch with that area (literally), and if you spot or feel any bleeding or ripping go and get it checked. There are various ointments that can numb the pain a little though.

Any products you’d recommend?
Well if you feel your IBS may be caused my an imbalance of bacteria in the gut then Symprove is worth a try. I definitely saw some improvement, but I know for many it has been pretty life changing.

With things like turmeric and peppermint tea, they may help some of the symptoms, or help you to relax which will in turn reduce stress which can worsen IBS, but they wont’t cure you.

Some IBS sufferers need more fibre, some need less. If you need more then Fibrogel does the job.

Not a product but finding a doctor that will listen to you and take you seriously is key. I’ve been in tears in some appointments when I’ve been basically told to deal with it. It was only when a specialist Dr from Guildford hospital took into account my specific style of reactions (the rashes, diarrhea) and how and when they showed themselves, that we figured out what the correct issue was for me. After ten years of feeling like a guinea pig for wacky and potentially dangerous diets, I finally found the cause. The change in my symptoms was startlingly quick.

If you feel that stress may be the biggest factor for your IBS. Be honest with yourself about what may be causing the stress, and then take appropriate action, which may be couselling, CBT, hypnotherapy, acupuncture, changing your job or partner.

Foods you swear by and foods you swerve?
I almost don’t want to answer this one, because as I keep saying, what you should and shouldn’t eat is so specific to each person. For instance with my intolerance to salicylates I’m not allowed a vast amount of fruit and veg…I wouldn’t want to recommend anyone else to avoid fruit and veg though.

I would say that alcohol probably doesn’t do anyone with IBS any good (apart from being a temporary stress reliever)…but I could be wrong. We had a term at uni, alcohol bum, because everyone seems to get the runs after a night of drinking.

What’s the food you most devastatingly miss?
When I was on my restrictive diets it was spice and flavour. I love curry and anything infused with lots of chilli etc. Food tasted really bland when I wasn’t allowed any sauces, gravy or seasoning, and often very dry. I am a massive chocoholic too, so not being able to have naughty puddings and snacks was really tricky.

What’s a typical weeknight dinner?
At the moment I’m off my regular detox diet so I am enjoying eating whatever I fancy… Even a curry! I love potatoes so I try and wangle a way to get them into most meals. I try to oven cook over frying, as I think oily food does make IBS a bit worse.

Do you feel your lifestyle has changed?
It definitely did during the particularly brown years. I almost became a recluse because it was easier to be like that. As a music journalist my progress was stunted because festivals and gigs weren’t always possible to attend. Dating was also terrifying. I once had to text my date from the loo telling him I’d be a while… Not exactly a turn on.

It affected my romantic relationships because I was always tired or anxious because of it, and not always fun to be around because I felt so fed up about it all. It also meant I wouldn’t want to go to certain occasions with them because I was always factoring in toilets… Whether there was one nearby, whether it would be available, whether people would be able to hear me if I used it etc. It still haunts me a bit today.

What do your friends and family do to accommodate?
My parents have been great with helping me over the years. My Dad bought lots of books and printed of recipes so he could create curries that I was allowed to eat (fitting in with the diet I was on at the time). It meant so much to me that he was creating meals with flavour that weren’t doing me any harm. My mum often makes me healthy juices to ensure I’m getting enough vitamins too. They used to help fund me when I wanted to  try obscure ‘cures’ and treatments I had discovered on the internet too.

I will be honest, sometimes friends haven’t been as understanding or accommodating as they could be, a few years ago there was far less awareness and understanding of IBS though, so I think some people felt you were just being difficult or fitting in with a trend.

My boyfriend’s a great cook too (@thehungysizzle) and when he’s around he always makes me fabulous dinners that are healthy for me (with my specific needs)… And extremely tasty of course.
These days if I’m invited for dinner or to a wedding, people always ask me about my current dietary requirements, which is extremely thoughtful.

How would you explain IBS to others?
IBS has the ability to take over your life. Just because it’s common, it doesn’t mean it’s not important. Just because it’s not life threatening in the traditional sense, it doesn’t mean it’s not important. After-all IBS can be extremely life damaging. It’s not just the medical symptoms that should be considered, it’s the collateral damage. It can effect your confidence, relationships, career, social life and more. It deserves to be taken seriously.

Head on over to Sophie’s blog for a whole load of music, fashion, beauty, film, art, life and a tonne of over-sharing – which we all know I love.

Read More in the Living With IBS Series:

Living with IBS: Anna from FODMAP Journey’s Story

Living with IBS: Larah from Low FODMAP Diet’s Story

Living with IBS: Sophie Cliff’s Story

Living with IBS: Ruth’s Story

Living with IBS: Laura’s Story

Living with IBS: Alison’s Story

Living with IBS: Claire’s Story

Read More About My Struggle with IBS

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