I've been having a rough time of it lately -- more bad days then good this past year -- in terms of my IBS. In fact, I clearly remember the last long stretch of relief I had because it's been such a rarity. It lasted for two blissful weeks. During that time, I felt certain that everything I was trying had finally started to come together. I was positive I had hit upon that elusive cure for IBS. And I felt spectacularly brilliant!
Then, without warning, my bubble of delusion burst and my symptoms returned with a vengeance. Nothing had really changed in my life to instigate a flare-up. I was eating and doing the same things I had been eating and doing those two heavenly weeks before. So having a flare-up just didn't seem possible and certainly didn't seem fair!
But that's precisely the insidious nature of IBS -- it's unpredictable and inexplicable. And those signature traits are what make IBS so exasperating. We often never know how the day will go for our digestive systems. Will I make it through that meeting? Do I feel up to going out with friends? Is it wise to attend that party (or play, or movie)? How could I possibly travel right now? What can I tolerate eating today? Will the pants I slid into this morning still fit this evening?
The onset of IBS can arise during childhood, adolescence, or adulthood, and the disorder can resolve or recur unexpectedly for periods throughout a person's life. According to a report published by the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), people with IBS restrict their activities because of their symptoms an average of 20 percent of the year (about 73 days annually). A 2007 survey conducted by IFFGD in collaboration with the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill reported that more than 40 percent of respondents said their IBS greatly affects their lives in terms of work, school, and social interactions and the inability to leave home. That's some serious stuff.
Learning how to take care of and pamper ourselves when we're in the throes of a flare-up is key to our physical, social, financial, and emotional health. If we're unable to function, we won't do ourselves or anyone else much good. Others depend on us: our spouse or partner, our family, our colleagues, our friends, our companion animals, our neighbors, and even our houseplants. Treating ourselves to a hot shower, pedicure, aromatherapy, or gentle massage might help, as could renting a comedy, practicing laughter yoga (yes, laughter really does help), listening to soothing music, taking a nap, or curling up with a good book and a warm cup of peppermint or ginger tea.
Even if a flare-up is particularly long lasting, I take comfort in knowing that there will eventually be a few days or weeks when I will actually feel good and that I can take advantage of those by getting work done around the house or by going for an invigorating walk or bike ride or jumping on a rebounder. Being productive and active during periods of remission, no matter how fleeting they may be, allows me to relax and be more patient when those moments of relief eventually become but a wistful memory.
One advantage of IBS is that it compels me to deeply appreciate those times I do feel good. I actually notice and am grateful for the hours (and sometimes the days or weeks, if I'm lucky) that I don't have any pain or other IBS symptoms. The sun shines more brightly, the future looks more promising, and my outlook is more positive. I suppose, in this way, that IBS could be viewed as a gift, because it forces me to acknowledge how very precious and incredible it is to feel "normal," if only for a little while, and if only now and then.
I love hearing from you! What are some of your favorite ways to nurture and pamper yourself when your IBS kicks into overdrive? Please post them in the comments section below.