Oliva's Story
10th March 2021

Oliva's Story

Despite struggling with her IBS throughout the pandemic, journalist Olivia Devereux-Evans is determined not to let her IBS rule her life. Here she shares her story.

I was diagnosed with IBS in the summer of 2018, about a year after I started experiencing digestive issues. My mum had seen how bloated I was and made me do a pregnancy test. After almost every meal, I was bloated to the point of discomfort, but I could not work out why. My doctor arranged for an ultrasound, and I was told there were no abnormalities on the scan. Then the doctor said: “Are you an anxious person? You have IBS.” A lightbulb went off in my mind and I finally realised my IBS diagnosis was a result of my anxiety.

I have suffered with anxiety since the age of 16. I am now 23. I tried the low FODMAP diet, but it did not seem to work for me. I know it works for some and not others and should be followed under the supervision of a registered dietitian. For me, my symptoms come in waves.

When I am feeling particularly anxious, I have terrible flare-ups. I am lucky not to be affected by IBS symptoms which prohibit me from going about my day. However, I have had some random flare-ups. For example, I had a hot chocolate with milk one night and as we were driving home, I felt the familiar knots of pain in my stomach. Every speed bump we drove over was agony and when we got home, I had to rush upstairs as the IBS took hold.

Another time, I woke up in pain and was sweating and had to sit in the bathroom until I cooled down. I think what I find hardest about my IBS are the random flare[1]ups. I am usually quite good at avoiding foods which trigger my IBS, but sometimes I think I have nailed it and then get an attack or symptoms. It is annoying not being able to eat foods with garlic and onion in them and not being able to have copious amounts of normal cheese and chocolate.

Every Christmas, I tell myself I am not going to go overboard, and I will try to avoid my triggers. Every Christmas without fail, I go against my own advice and eat my triggers. I spend the next day heavily regretting my decisions.

People seem to overlook the fact that it is difficult and unfair that people with IBS cannot eat the food we would like. It is frustrating not being able to eat the deliciously cheesy food, like fondue, and the rich chocolate cake others can indulge in. I will admit that my IBS symptoms have been awful over the last year. I know it is because of the anxiety that a global pandemic causes.

It is demoralising though to feel a pit of anxiety in my stomach each day. Like many, I feel I have lost a little of who I am throughout this pandemic. Spending all my time inside, socialising with friends over zoom calls, I have become a little less outgoing. I have noticed the sheer exhaustion I feel each day and at this point I am unsure whether it is IBS related or just my body making me constantly tired to deal with the traumatic situation we are living through.

I have tried to prioritise my mental wellbeing by doing things I enjoy like reading, walking and doing breathing exercises. The strong sense of doom I feel means that sometimes I simply cannot distract my mind, and I am overcome with a wave of anxiety. This worsens my symptoms and makes things difficult.

I have educated myself a little more on the world of IBS this year. I know that many women and men have it so much worse than me, and I discovered symptoms I had, which I did not even know were related to IBS. I have learnt a lot about my IBS and yet sometimes it controls me, and I cannot control it. I wish I did not have to worry constantly about what I am eating and that I did not feel so tired all day.

I hope that the future is a little brighter and that I will alleviate some of the current anxiety I am feeling and that my symptoms will ease. Living with IBS is frustrating, but I am determined not to let it rule my life.

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