Lena's story
11th March 2019

Lena's story

IBS and university, not always a great combination!

Baked beans, drinking and late nights in the library are three fairly typical features of university life. But what happens when you’re a student suffering with IBS? Student Lena shares her experience.

IBS is an invisible chronic illness, which research increasingly suggests has close links with the stresses and strains of our daily lives. It can cause an array of symptoms including constipation, diarrhoea, stomach pain or cramps and bloating. These are enough to make the strongest memories of university the most miserable ones!

I developed IBS during my early teens, but it worsened during my first year at university in London. As a Fresher I was drinking on a regular basis, not eating properly and was missing home, so my IBS was bound to pop up. This time was different though: I had to learn how to deal with it in a new, unfamiliar environment. It was a period of considerable psychological as well as physical strain.

Soon I was experiencing painful flare-ups and was struggling to throw myself into university life. I decided to go back to my GP and get further help in the form of counselling and more advice about managing my IBS. I was tired of feeling ill and low. I firmly believe it is healthy to be honest and up front about this rather than suffering in silence. As a result of my IBS my first year at university was a mixture of good and bad memories. In my second year, I started my blog, Lena’s Happy Tummy.

I also told my university friends about my IBS, which really helped as I did not feel I was suffering in silence so much. Things started looking up from this point. I was getting to the stage where I could accept IBS was just a small part of me and did not need to rule my life. The more I accepted that, the less it would bother me. After all this, I was learning to live my life whilst managing the condition.

“I was getting to the stage where I could accept IBS was just a small part of me and did not need to rule my life. The more I accepted that, the less it would bother me”

That said, it is not an easy thing to live with at university, whilst you are also adapting to living independently and taking care of yourself. Developing IBS at university is very common, as young people are facing lots of life changes. It can be hard for so many different reasons.

You have to make sure you don’t drink too much, or you might have to miss out on the post-night out McDonald’s that all your friends are able to eat. You may have to miss teaching because of a flare-up. You may have to face embarrassing stomach-related situations in student halls with shared facilities.

However, the more people were made aware of my IBS, the better I felt, people understood. After being more open about my condition I found some people were suffering from similar symptoms or similar conditions. I am so glad I decided to be more open about my IBS, and I believe the university environment actually helped me learn to cope with it.

Now in my fourth year as a student, back from an Erasmus year abroad in Germany, I have come out the other side as a very strong, understanding and determined person.

My top tips for staying well with IBS

  • Watch the alcohol Stick to a few, know your limits and you will thank yourself the morning after. Clear alcohols like gin and vodka with tonic or soda water are the best for IBS stomachs. Never drink on an empty stomach, IBS will not agree with that. Drink lots of water too!
  • Tummy-friendly cooking Don’t abandon your tummy-friendly food in favour of pot noodles and baked beans. You will regret it! Experiment with cooking up some fresh tummy-friendly meals, that don’t involve popping a frozen pizza in the oven. But don’t beat yourself up if you’re not completely sticking to an IBS friendly diet, it is hard to get used to, but possible. My blog includes some tummy-and student[1]friendly meal ideas, including rice bowls and curries.
  • Exercise Try and incorporate some exercise into your week, it is helpful for managing IBS. It doesn’t matter whether this is a short stroll or an intense gym session, whatever suits you. Exercise will keep your gut and your mind relaxed.
  • Disclose your IBS to student psychological services or disability services Tell your university disability support service or psychological services about your IBS. It is a recognised disability, after all.

Please never feel like you are alone if you are an IBS sufferer. It is slowly becoming more widely understood as a condition.

It is possible to lead a normal student life despite IBS. You will find your own ways of managing your health, just as I am doing. And a conversation with your university GP and signing up to The IBS Network may make you feel better than you have for a while. It certainly has for me.

Follow Lena’s blog www.lenashappytummy.wordpress.com or find her on social media @lenashappytummy.

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