Written by Felicity Ward

Health

Shitting yourself and other stories…

It’s IBS Awareness Month, so we asked Standard Issue’s regular (well…) loo reviewer Felicity Ward to share the pros and cons of IBS. Heads up: there are no pros.

Knitted sad poo

Knitted poo by Emma Mitchell. Photo by Andy Hollingworth.

It’s April, and you know what that means? Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Month! You thought I was going to say Easter, didn’t you? Bahahaha. Nope, heaps less sexy than that. As the creator of The Porcelain Bus (my loo review for Standard Issue) it seemed apt to let you in on IBS. I know a magician never reveals her secrets, but I’m ready to pull back the curtain on what it’s like to have a spontaneous bowel and how we guerrilla shitters get around it.

So here are some FAQs (that I’m making up as I write this), which may help you navigate the mindset of those who live with IBS.

What happens to your body?

The thing is, some people with IBS get ‘backed up’ and others have ‘flash floods of the behind kind’. Some people don’t like to limit themselves to one or the other, so they undulate back and forth from Imodium to laxatives. I can only speak on behalf of the liquid gold brigade. Never had constipation myself: always listened to enough Michael Bublé to keep me regular.

For me it happens in stages. My partner and I call it Mach stages.

Mach 1: This is my first alarm bell letting me know that something hectic will happen at some stage today. It’s the equivalent of seeing heavy thunderclouds in the distance, or hearing your boss say, “That bitch isn’t getting the house, if that’s what she thinks!” first thing Monday morning.

Mach 2: You are in enemy territory. Be alert, but not alarmed.

Mach 3: Be alert and alarmed. There is a toilet out there for you if you choose to take it. It is time to locate and destroy.

Mach 4: Right, whatever plan you had, drop it and get a quicker one. This is happening RIGHT NOW. You have between three and three minutes to stop this from being a story you tell your girlfriend to make them feel better when they break up with their boyfriend.

Mach 5: Have you ever shat in an alley before?

What’s something I might not know about living with IBS?

You become an expert in the field of toi toi. Not just locations of every public toilet, but also what makes a good or bad experience. You look for multiple cubicles. You look for background noise. You ALWAYS CHECK FOR TOILET PAPER EVERY TIME AND UNDER EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE BEFORE YOU SIT DOWN. You usually travel with a packet of tissues. Sometimes you go to the toilet, and you do something terrible, then you leave the cubicle and you wash your hands, then you walk back into the cubicle because you’ve experienced something professionals call an “incomplete evacuation”.

What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you?

Let’s get it straight: I have browned my trow before. Not many times, mind you – and I’d prefer to knock on a stranger’s house or do it behind a bus stop than release it into my undies – but I’ve done it. Many of us have. And yes, I’ve also done the other aforementioned unmentionable things.

Why is going to the toilet a lot so bad?

Well it’s not just the lots of toilet time; it can become obsessive. You see after the brain, the bowel has the most amount of nerves in the entire body. So if you start to feel a rumble that makes you anxious in your brain, it affects your nervous system, which then affects your bowel, which then affects your brain and your nervous system, which then affects your bowel.

You can see how this can become more serious than just going to the toilet. It impacts on your life and your way of thinking. You start planning your life around what the quickest way to get to the toilet is “just in case.” At worst, IBS sufferers stop going to places or taking part in events because we can’t face the possible humiliation of the worst-case scenario. We may stop being able to enjoy ourselves. We can become paranoid, isolated and lonely. We don’t want to become an inconvenience; we don’t want it to affect anyone else’s lives so we try to control it on our own by shutting it down.

“Let’s get it straight: I have browned my trow before. Not many times, mind you – and I’d prefer to knock on a stranger’s house or do it behind a bus stop – but I’ve done it.”

Now this is actually the worst-case scenario. Untreated IBS is not only a huge burden physically, but the mental impact and ramifications are insidious and corrosive. There isn’t a simple treatment or solution. As a fellow member of the Porcelain Brigade, I’d advise you to speak to your GP as soon as possible; see what she or he has to offer, medically speaking, and work out your next step.

Funnily enough, clenching is helpful. And this might sound silly, but doing this regularly, whether I’m having an attack or not. It’s a practice that has worked for me. Breathing. Slowly. Accepting the situation, rather than working myself up into more of a panic, is very useful to me. Not calling myself a freak is also useful. My colon is already giving me a hard time (you know what I mean); I don’t have to add insult to injury by shaming myself. Try to find some mates to talk about this with. It takes the air out of the tyres a little bit, and means that maybe you won’t be so tough on yourself next time you have an attack.

Hopefully, this has given you a sexy glimpse into the glamorous life that is IBS. It’s pretty funny, you’re right. But it’s also a pain in the arse (sorry).

For more information on the ins and outs (mainly outs) of IBS, visit http://www.theibsnetwork.org

Felicity is at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year with new show What If There Is No Toilet? Keep an eye on www.felicityward.com for details of when tickets go on sale.

@felicityward

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Written by Felicity Ward

Felicity Ward is an Australian comedian, writer, actor and full time knucklehead, based in the UK.