IBS and Toilet Anxiety

Monday, 10 April 2017

Hey friends! There's a part of me that really doesn't want to post this. Talking about going to the toilet on your blog isn't really the done thing. Add on top of this feeling the anxiety I have about toilet related issues, then you've got a pretty bad mix. But I want to talk about it because firstly, I think it will make me feel better about these issues and secondly, I think it'll help people like me to know that there is someone out experiencing the same thing.

A image of a cup of tea and some tablets with writing "IBS and Toilet Anxiety"

So I went to the doctor the other week to find out if I actually had IBS. I've been pretty certain it was this for the ten years I've suffered with it. I've been put on new tablets that are supposed to soothe the cramps that IBS causes and if they don't work after a month of taking them, then I have to go back to the doctors. The doctor did agree that it sounded like IBS though. I have all the symptoms of IBS. I get the cramps, I get the diarrhoea (lovely), I get the urgency  to go, especially in the mornings. However, recently it's gotten a lot worse, I think because I've been going through a bad patch anxiety-wise.

I first had the symptoms of IBS when I was probably around thirteen. I remember sitting my SATS and being in the middle of the giant looming quiet and I remember how uncomfortable I felt. I felt self conscious of having to sneeze or cough (because I always seemed to get colds during exams) and I remember hating to have to break that silence. I imagine this stems from my being a particularly shy child. But then I remember there would be times when my stomach would rumble and groan and I was so aware of how loud it was and consequently how loud it must surely be to everyone else. And I think that's when it started. I got so afraid of people perceiving those noises as something other than just noise. "What if they thought I farted," I'd think. They'd think I was disgusting. 

I started to get these feelings all the time. I'd hate quiet classes, or lulls in conversation where my stomach would inevitably make noises. I'd be afraid in my shop job of working anywhere that wasn't near the noisy freezers. And then in university, I'd try to sit as far away from everyone as I could and eventually didn't attend lectures. There was more than just the fear of people hearing my stomach noises but it definitely fed into the social anxiety I already had. It seemed unfortunately, to be a cycle; the more scared I was about my stomach making noises, the more my stomach would growl and vice versa. 

The toilet anxiety was a separate issue that soon became intertwined with my IBS and social anxiety. As a child, I don't really remember going to the public toilets much but through my teenage years, I markedly didn't use them. I never went whilst I was at school, waiting until I got home no matter how badly I might have needed it in the day. It went so far that when I went to a trip to Germany with school, I didn't use the toilet once in the four days we were there. I went for a wee but a poop was out of the question. I have issues about where the toilet is situated. I couldn't go if it meant walking past people and them being able to see me go to the toilet. In the case of my school trip, the toilet was located at the end of the corridor where people were always milling about. As my IBS starting rearing it's head, I needed the toilet even more but I refused to go. I'd still hold it in until I was back home. As I said, I didn't go to many lectures or seminars in university, in part because I knew I'd need the toilet at some point and I couldn't stand the idea having to leave during them to go the toilet. 

Basically, what I fear is people overhearing me and thinking I'm disgusting. The thought of people hearing me go to the toilet for a poop was terrifying to me. I say was because the CBT I had in third year has helped me overcome a lot of it. Don't get me wrong, I still find it scary, but I'm getting there. Now I'm not really too bothered about strangers hearing anything because I probably won't see them again. I still worry about friends overhearing me. I also get worried about getting up during meals to rush to the toilet, of what the people I'm dining out with will think of me. Having to go to the toilet more than once during a meal or after also stresses me out because I'll have to repeatedly walk past the same people to get there. But I am a lot better than I was, believe me. 

My therapist was really good at helping me to work through this. I was terrified discussing it initially, but she was really good at putting me at ease. We came up with surveys which she gave to people about what thoughts they had about using public toilets and what they thought of other people. The questions we asked covered what would the individual think if they heard someone on the toilet, and whether they would do it themselves. Most of the answers varied from they don't care/they think nothing to they worry a bit about it themselves. Seeing it written down like that really helped to change my perspective. 

I know this is a bit of a strange blog post but I want others to benefit from this because it's very hard thing to deal with. IBS alone or toilet anxiety alone is difficult but the two together make for a very difficult situation especially because IBS tends to worsen with anxiety and so the two things feed into one another. 

Do you suffer with either or both of these disorders? If so, how do you deal with them?

Thanks for reading!

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