Mark's Story
1st September 2020

Mark's Story

After the pressure and anxiety of his mock exams triggered an IBS flare up, law student Mark realised he had to find ways to better manage his IBS. Here he shares his story of his diagnosis and how he learnt to adjust to life with IBS.

My palms are sweating, my mind unfocused. The airy emptiness is topped with a complete silence. A school exam hall is an ugly memory for most, the long monotonous tasks that filled exam papers and the endless memorising being poured into lined pages. People deal with stress in certain ways. For some of us, stress comes in the form of bowel movements.

Sitting in an exam hall and listening to the thunderous roars coming from my tummy can be described as distracting. Yes, that was an understatement. You can feel the surprised expression on people’s faces through a confusing gaze barely visible out of the corner of your eye.

‘Aw just ignore your tummy.’ ‘Surely it can’t be that bad?’ ‘Just take in some water’.

You feel like you’re on stage in front of thousands of people, all quietly waiting to judge the next boom that will emerge from your gut. The thought of reading about Gatsby’s unconditional love for Daisy is like a background noise for the real concert going on down below. It was exam days like this one that made me realise something was not sitting right and I ought to go to a doctor to fix it.

With every IBS blog post I read, the trigger for IBS in young people, is often stress and anxiety. My IBS started during the stress of mock exams in the penultimate year of my school career. The horrible uneasiness of what is going on coupled with the unknown reason why you suddenly need the toilet 10 times a day can be a very stressful time. However, I am not writing this to scare you but to act as a source of familiarity and for you to read this with a distinct sense of relatability.

Skip to a couple of weeks after my exams and still no matter how well I eat or how much I de-stress, my tummy is stubbornly acting up. I realised that it would not improve, and my last option was to consult a doctor. Consulting a doctor is a nervy and overwhelming experience when having to talk about your bowel movements. As long as you speak the truth and get it all out of your system, no pun intended, the doctors can help calm your nerves and look for methods to help. This is what I eventually found, doctors helping me, coming up with solutions and trying to find a balance. However, trying to keep my chin up after my first doctor’s appointment was hard.

Two weeks after my shaky mock exams, I visited the local GP. Never having been to the doctor to discuss a sensitive issue before, I was nervous and did not know how I would feel about being transparent to a stranger. As I explained my symptoms, I’m met with confused looks, ignorant replies and a ‘does not matter’ kind of attitude. I understand that one in five people have IBS in Britain, so the conversation is most likely a common occurrence. The doctor gave me very little help, some simple advice with no real hope of getting better. I was still new to the world of IBS and really did not know what it was. All I could understand was that it never goes away, and it left me feeling desolated with a lifelong condition.

‘You should look into diet changes.’ ‘It is incurable.’ ‘Not much I can do to help.’

So that was my diagnosis, plain and simple…. IBS. I’m sure if you’re reading this you may have had a similar experience. Doctors unsympathetic towards the news that your bowels are going to be a daily annoyance and that your new life revolves around bowel movements.

It was only when I saw a specialist that I received any sympathy, but maybe that was just my bad experience. Finding out you have IBS can be a bummer. Suddenly meals out make you anxious, or the thought of staying at someone else’s house for the night fills your stomach with an uneasy butterfly sensation.

In the coming weeks, I went through the routine that anyone recently diagnosed with IBS would go through; blood tests to check for lactose intolerance and celiac disease. Finding out you are not either of these for me, was massively disappointing. I’d rather be forced to cut a product out of my diet than be told no matter what I eat, my tummy will most likely have an adverse reaction. However, like anything in life that doesn’t suit your schedule or may cause a daily inconvenience, a routine and learning about the condition really helps.

I learned to slowly deal with my IBS. My real exams four months later were better for my bowels, I developed routines and ways to lower my anxiety. These routines involved eating at the same times every day, going to the toilet at similar times each day and getting into a good routine. Eating well the night before an exam was also important. I hadn’t got over it, I was just able to focus on the exam paper.

I wanted to share my story so that people can relate to my experiences, feel less like the odd one out and more like someone working through an inconvenience.

I am 18 and, this month, I start my second year at university. My IBS can flare up around exam times or if I’m not prepared for a class. To help, I make sure I start my eating and toilet routines, and that really helps. When it gets bad, I do everything I can to regain control.

Although IBS can be debilitating at times, I keep positive by thinking of other people who have much bigger problems, health related or not, going through a much tougher time.

People with IBS are a diverse group with different symptoms and triggers. The syndrome does not discriminate, and we can independently work to better self-manage our symptoms through different methods and routines.

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