Torso showing face in pain from IBS

My Depression Is Made Worse By My IBS & Anxiety.

IBS and Anxiety are two very debilitating illnesses, both keep me from doing what I want when I want. The pain can be unbearable when I have an IBS flare-up and my stomach feels as though it is going to explode. Other days, it can be a case of having to run to the toilet every 5 minutes.

Bloating, abdominal pain, cramping, gas, diarrhoea, constipation (or both)…any or all of these symptoms can be associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS for short. I explain how this and anxiety affect me on a daily basis and why this makes my depression worse.

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Medical image of the intestine

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders, with up to 20% of the population suffering from it at some point in their life. The typical symptoms of IBS include either recurring diarrhoea or recurring constipation. Some patients also suffer from both diarrhoea and constipation at different times. Additional symptoms can include stomach pain (which is sometimes relieved by a bowel movement), bloating, nausea, and wind. IBS can wax and wane, and patients may experience a few weeks or even a few months of good health before the symptoms return.

IBS is not a psychological disorder but has come to be closely linked with both stress and anxiety. Even people who do not experience IBS can find themselves needing to go to the toilet when they are experiencing stress or anxiety.

There is no specific medical test for IBS and it is sometimes called a diagnosis of “exclusion”.  This means that a doctor may rule out other bowel and stomach complaints such as coeliac disease or inflammatory bowel disease before giving a diagnosis of IBS. It is very important that patients do not try to self-diagnose IBS as it is impossible for a patient to tell the difference between IBS symptoms and bowel symptoms caused by other disorders. (Source: anxietyuk).

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is the feeling you have when you think that something unpleasant is going to happen in the future. Other words such as feeling ‘apprehensive’, ‘uncertain’, ‘nervous’ and ‘on edge’ also provide a good description of feelings linked to anxiety. (Source: Country Living).

Symptoms of anxiety – People often experience physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms when they feel anxious or stressed.

Some of the most common physical symptoms are:

  • Increased heart rate or increased muscle tension
  • ‘Jelly legs’ or tingling in the hands and feet
  • Hyperventilation (breathing
  • Hyperventilation (breathing too heavily) or dizziness
  • Difficulty in breathing or a tight band across the chest
  • Wanting to use the toilet more often
  • Feeling sick
  • Tension headaches
  • Hot flushes or increased perspiration
  • Dry mouth
  • Shaking or palpitations
  • Choking sensations

Some of the most common psychological symptoms include feeling that:

  • You might lose control and/or go “mad”; or feeling that you might die
  • You might have a heart attack/be sick/faint/have a brain tumor
  • People are looking at you and noticing your anxiety
  • Things are speeding up/slowing down
  • You’re detached from your environment and the people in it
  • You want to run away/escape from the situation
  • You’re on dge and alert to everything around you

(Source: anxietyuk).

How I Feel Daily

Person sitting on floor with their own shadow hovering over them in a menacing way

On a daily basis, I wake up and my first thought is how will my stomach behave today.   I think about where I may have to go and if I do have to go out where are the disabled toilets. If it’s a stay-at-home day then I don’t really feel too anxious, I can have pretty much what I want for breakfast. On these days, I try my best to not have to go out unexpectedly.

On days I do have to go out, I will eat minimally for breakfast (if anything at all). If I don’t eat breakfast this plays havoc with my sugar levels but is the lesser of the two evils (in my mind). I will only have one cup of tea, and all being well I will be going somewhere familiar to me, so I already know where the disabled toilets are. But even on a good day, it will always be with me..”Will my stomach turn”? It is a constant fear I now live with!

If it’s somewhere not familiar to me, this will have set off my anxiety the night before, sometimes days before so I can wake up feeling pretty rough, which can also set off my IBS. I will have already done research on where disabled toilets are. If there are none, this is a major trigger and I spend the whole time constantly thinking of all the things that could go wrong. Which again, only makes matters worse.

Frustration

The frustrating part of all of this is there is no logical explanation for my anxiety. If I have to go out and I know there are disabled toilets in the area, why do I get anxious? I have no answer to this which only adds to my frustration. When I’m frustrated I get worked up, this makes me anxious. When I get anxious my IBS flares up I feel I can never win!  It really is a vicious circle!

Believe me, I have tried so hard to work out the root of my anxiety. I am so desperately want to alleviate my anxiety, IBS, stress and all that jazz so I can go out and do the things I would love to do by myself. at present, I am terrified of going out alone, so my husband comes with me most of the time.

My husband comes out with me, as quite a few disabled toilets are not equipped for electric wheelchairs as these are normally larger than manual wheelchairs, so if my IBS kicks off and I need to rush to the toilet, my husband needs to help me with transferring from my chair. Another reason, what if I get caught short while driving? If my husband is with me I can pull over and let him continue the driving.

I’ve tried group CBT, hat a flop that was. Our “therapist” showed up as and when she felt like it and never finished the course. I had 3 weeks in total!! The conclusion I have come to is that this really started after my heart attack 5 years ago. I’ve been told a major life trauma can cause anxiety for the foreseeable future which I suppose when you look at the big picture it makes sense.

A Bad Day

When I’m having a bad day, (for whatever reason), I can wake up feeling nauseated my stomach will be gurgling and food just does not interest me. I will try some breakfast and on a really bad day, I can be rushing to the toilet before I’ve even got halfway through it. The rest of my breakfast is then chucked away. I will try and stomach a cup of tea but again this can have me rushing to the toilet.

Throughout the day, I can feel like I want to throw up, I get all hot and sweaty, palpitations and I can get very light-headed (due to lack of food).  There are days I can rush to the toilet 4 to 5 times within a half hour time-frame. This will repeat throughout the day. By the end of the day, I’m exhausted! Not something you want to be doing on a day out!

Triggers

Triggers are what set off an episode of anxiety or IBS flare-up. My biggest trigger is stress! I don’t always know when I’m stressed out, but my body has a great knack for letting me know. Something might happen during the day that I don’t feel is something overly concerning but my body can tell me otherwise.

Food can be a big trigger, certain foods can be a little too spicy which can set my IBS off, some days if I haven’t eaten very much but then have a slightly bigger evening meal, that can set me off. There have been times in the past when I’ve met a friend for lunch, I will have no breakfast as I know we will be having lunch and after a few mouthfuls, I can feel my stomach churning.

This is where the cold sweats and anxiety get to an all-time high, you worry if you have time to make it to the toilet, will you have an accident on the way, how will your friend feel you having to rush off again, will the one and only disabled toilet be in use? It truly never ends.

Flatulance

Farting, a lot of people find this humorous but I can assure you it most certainly is not for someone who suffers from IBS! The pain, the rumbling and grumbling of your stomach, the embarrassment when out and about as flatulence can suddenly come upon you out of nowhere. oh, let’s not forget the most important bit, the bloody smell!

I’m sure we have all been in the situation where you have been in a shop, supermarket etc and you’ve had to let off some wind, normally we can disguise this pretty well but, IBS can cause your wind to be extremely smelly. Just imagine you’re having a lovely lunch with a friend in a cafe, suddenly your stomach growls at you and you know the only way to alleviate the oncoming pain is to let off some wind. Panic sets in, will it smell? Will it be loud? What if it isn’t just wind? All of this while still smiling as if nothing is wrong.

Depression

Woman looking stressed holding hand up to suggest stop

When you have to keep cutting short meetings with friends to rush home because another bout of IBS has made you feel ill, or you simply refuse to go out at all, (which I have done both, many times in the past), or you no longer go out for meals with family/friends because you feel a burden having to leave the table mid-meal to rush off to the toilet. Is it any wonder you start to feel depressed, fed up and isolated?

When I have a really bad week, I simply resign myself to staying indoors and deal with the pain by myself. If I have a medical appointment, I try to re-arrange it where I can.

Recently, I had an opticians appointment. I had no indication I was going to have any issues with IBS so I went to it. After approx 5 minutes into my appointment, I had to rush off to the toilet. The branch didn’t have a disabled toilet, so I had to go out into the high street. At the first coffee shop, their disabled toilet was out of order, this only added to my anxiety. I rushed out of there and went to a second coffee shop. Thankfully I was only just able to use that disabled toilet.

Irony

The irony is, I went down to a set of traffic lights to cross over to go to the first coffee shop. This was where the toilet was out of order. The coffee shop where I was able to use a disabled toilet was back on the other side of the road. This was two doors away from the opticians.

It just goes to show, when you’re in a state of panic and anxiety you really don’t think straight or logically!

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Cazbarr is a full-time wheelchair user, who was born with a disability called Arthrogryposis. Primarily she blogs about her disability, her experiences holidaying as a full-time wheelchair user, along with products & service reviews.

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