I’ve had IBS for what feels like a 100 years now and have been faced with every throwaway comment from people who might mean well, but don’t get it. So I figured, why not turn those comments into a cheat sheet of things NOT to say to someone with IBS. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that you’ve got to educate people around invisible illnesses. Here goes!
1. Is it just a bit of an upset tummy?
I can assure you that it’s never this simple. Oh how us IBS sufferers would love for it to be just an upset stomach. The reality is something more along the lines of upset stomach multiplied by 10 with a real urgency to go and sometimes no control over our bowels. Add to the mix intense stomach cramps where it feels like someone has stuck a knife in your intestines and is slowly twisting, extreme bloating, nausea, and feeling clammy all followed by a nice bout of lethargy. Then you’re more on the right lines.
2. Do we have to leave now? Can’t you wait 10 minutes?!
An IBS belly does not wait 10 minutes, let me tell you. When you have to go, you have to go, immediately. Urgency, anxiety, you name it, it’ll kick in and when it does it’s an urgent situation of fear, panic and extreme distress. Trust me, I’ve been there many times. Those extra 10 minutes will be the longest 10 minutes of an IBS sufferers life and the pain will only continue to intensify for them.
It sucks that you might miss the end of a gig, the best part of a party or something as simple as a train, but trust me, the person with IBS doesn’t want to leave early, they have to. Their body is working against them. The longer you leave it the higher the chances are of a complete body breakdown. And no one, I repeat no one, wants that. I can confirm that.
3. Seriously, can’t you just eat around the cheese/dairy/gluten/onions?!
No. Because if I eat said cheese/dairy/gluten/onions I can assure you that you won’t see me for the rest of the night.
4. So you don’t know if you can make it because you might have a flare up?
I’ve been in situations where the mere thought of having an IBS flare up while out has given me so much anxiety, that I’ve decided I’d rather miss out than put my body through the added stress. Other times, I’ve accepted an invitation and just gone for it, throwing myself in at the deep end. This has both paid off and been a mistake for me. It’s one of the toughest decisions and sometimes the stress alone can make you unwell.
If it’s something I’ll regret missing, I make sure I suss out what my emergency plan looks like before I go. I suss out travel time, the toilet situation and food choices so that if the worst case scenario presents itself, I know where I need to go. This takes out some of the worrying thoughts.
There isn’t a clear-cut, easy answer to this one. What I would say is be honest with your family and friends, explain the situation and then trust your gut. Only you know how you feel.
5. Have you been in the loo all that time? What have you been doing?
Oh you know, plucking my moustache hair, painting my nails, shopping on ASOS… Seriously though, my response is always, “yes I have.” And that’s that. You can’t help it.
6. Seriously, you need to go again?
Yep. And I’ll probably need to do so at least another three times until my body has cleared itself out completely, thank you very much. Would you like to swap guts?
7. You should go to the doctors about that
Been there, tried that, taken all the drugs, had all the tests, cried a million times and got the t-shirt. Thanks for that brilliant idea though.
8. Try and relax
Ahhh, if only it was that easy. You try being relaxed why your insides battles against you, while your anxious mind runs away with you and while your bowel dictates your every movement.
9. Should you be eating that?
Sorry, do you know my can-eat list better than I do? Also, I always like to point out that I’m not 10 years old. Yes, every now and then I like to sneak a bar of chocolate in my gob but it’s my body, my choice and only I can know if it’s truly worth it or not.
10. I wanted to cook for you but forgot what you couldn’t eat, so just made a creamy lasagne, is that ok?
Unfortunately not. Said creamy lasagne will aggravate my insides and see me crippled over in pain, running to the nearest bathroom (that you’ve likely just cleaned) within 10 minutes flat.
Instead, offer to send a list of what you can eat and some meal ideas that work for you on a regular basis. It’s all about education my friend.
Got any of your own witty comebacks? Drop ’em below.