Bronwen's Story
1st June 2020

Bronwen's Story

What strange times we live in. I really hope you’re coping with what COVID 19 has pushed your way and you’re not suffering too much.

Contact with others is a fundamental part of life for the majority of us. Being in isolation, or even just working from home when you’re used to the buzz of being with colleagues can feel disconcerting.

My group usually meet at Barnsley Library. Whilst I think it’s as important as ever, in these anxious times, to keep the group going, it’s obviously not possible to meet face-to-face. So, I set up a virtual get-together and despite one technical hitch, our first Zoom meeting went well. Maybe we’ll all be video-conferencing experts by the end of this!

Our last library get-together (socially distanced, of course) was just before all public meetings were stopped. With that and the worries everyone was experiencing in mind, we talked about first-line recommendations for tackling IBS.

For instance, it’s easy to slip into unhealthy habits without realising: more alcohol than usual because it’s been a tough day, junk food for fuel if you’re working flat out or wearing a track to the fridge and kettle if you’re at home all day.

I suffered a noticeable increase in wind last year but didn’t make any connection until a few months later when our support group had a visit from Gillian, one of The IBS Network’s dietitians. She went through the main things likely to cause IBS difficulties, and caffeine was first on the list – at which point I realised that I’d developed a daily latte habit on holiday that had carried on when I returned home.

Now I’m back to two or three coffees a week and peace is restored. I still enjoy a couple of cups of tea throughout the day but try to intersperse these with water and herbal or fruit teas to stay hydrated. I don’t do fizzy drinks, which can also be problematic for IBS sufferers: artificial sweeteners really upset my gut and I don’t want the sugary versions as I follow a low-carb diet.

After decades of IBS, I feel I have a reasonably good idea of my food triggers. Nevertheless, being at home so much offers an opportunity to experiment with foods I usually avoid. Pulses have come out of their hiding place at the back of the cupboard and seem fine if I don’t have them too often and take a digestive enzyme with the meal. The same goes for cabbage, which I’d usually avoid. This may or not work for you, of course, but might be worth trying, especially if you have more time and in close proximity to your own toilet! Not so easy if you live in a busy household, of course...

With my support group hat on: if you haven’t done this before, now would be an excellent time to keep a wellness diary or use The IBS Network’s online symptom tracker. However, now is not the time to experiment on your own with a severely restricted regime such as The Low FODMAP diet. This diet should only be tackled with the support of a registered dietitian. For anyone who does have to follow a special diet, I hope by the time you read this that any sourcing troubles are over.

When the (IBS) going gets tough, I find probiotics help to take the edge off. I’ve tried different varieties. Some settled down within a couple of days while others made me IBS life under lockdown into a one-woman flatulence factory until I eventually gave up on them. I’ve now got one or two preferred brands and keep them in reserve.

As we probably all know, though, IBS isn’t just about reactions to what we consume. Emotion and anxiety have a big role to play for many, including me. These difficult times are certainly testing us in an unprecedented way and my heart goes out to anyone who has been touched by tragedy or illness.

My way of dealing with lockdown is to count my blessings every day. There’s usually some positives to be found if I look hard enough, and an optimistic outlook really does make the world seem a little brighter and less scary.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had those 3am moments of panic too, but daily exercise and yoga seem to help a lot (the ‘wind release pose’ is a lot less nerve-wracking at home than in a class!) and mindfulness is well worth a go. It might sound like airy-fairy new ageism to some, but I would definitely recommend taking time out to “smell the roses”. All the more so if you are one of the magnificent front-line workers keeping us all going at the moment. You certainly deserve a few moments of calm, as well as our grateful thanks!


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