If you have IBS, and probably more specifically diarrhea predominant IBS, you will understand toilet obsession. For the fortunate ones out there who have never experienced the panic and anxiety of only moments notice to visit the bathroom, strap in for the ride.
IBS comes in all forms, shapes, sizes and intensities. The symptoms cover persistent pain, cramping, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, mucus, bloating, flatulence (wind) and incomplete evacuation. People living with IBS rarely experience all of these at once, but mostly live with a combination of them, none of which are very pleasant at all.
Diarrhea certainly can creates panic and anxiety, but spare a thought for the people experiencing chronic constipation, being locked in the bathroom for up to 45 minutes. Try explaining to your boss why your morning tea break extended into a full-blown lunch hour!
Psychologists confirm that almost every generalized anxiety patient suffers with IBS. The brain gut axis is ingrained in us to save our lives. Way back in evolution when we were being chased by lions, our fight or flight response deliberately deactivated our digestive system because when you are fighting or running for your life, your stomach doesn’t need to digest lunch. So the digestive system empties the bowel as quickly as possible, causing diarrhea. Alarmingly this fight or flight state is a normal state of existence for many – over commitments, financial strain, poor relationships, job security, illness, depression, anxiety and so the list goes on. Our bodies are only designed to experience this state occasionally, for a brief moment, and then it cleverly balances the body back to normal homeostasis. With current lifestyles, there is no time for our bodies to recover, but instead to experience illness. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is one of those illnesses and it is completely manageable.
In my clinic, not only do I attend to the underlying cause of a clients’ IBS, which manages and eliminates their symptoms, but we also attend to anxious toilet obsession. For people who experience IBS, anxiety exacerbates their symptoms. So imagine having a bout of diarrhea while out shopping. You panic because previously when this happened, there was 2 or 3 bowel movements within half an hour so you’re stuck in the vicinity of the horrid public toilets until it passes. Anxiety kicks in as you worry about others hearing, a toilet not being available, how to manage the severe pain and cramping associated with the acute bowel movements and how about the nausea that is coming on thick and fast as you catch a glimpse of your pale, clammy skin in the mirror. This is no time to have both ends going.
Now you may well think this sounds like a severe case of food poisoning. You are quite right. Make no mistake about how debilitating IBS can be. Just as IBS is entirely treatable, so too is bathroom obsession.