nervous stomach

Anxiety & Trips to the Restroom

Before I exhibited symptoms of IBD in my twenties, I had what my family classically referred to as a “nervous stomach.” As you can imagine, this always came at some of the most inconvenient or uncomfortable times. For example, on the fourth of July, every year as a child, my family would find lawn space by our nearby park district around dinner time, bringing blankets and a picnic and usually some friends to hang out with and wait for the fireworks at dusk. No matter what I ate, how “safe” or not, just shortly before dusk, I’d find myself running to the community restroom, usually with stomach cramps and diarrhea. I was too young at the time to go by myself, so my mom would stand outside the stall asking “Are you okay? Are you done yet?” Which only added to the anxiety I didn’t even know I had.

Always running to the bathroom

Another example would be when we’d go out for dinner for my parents or another family members birthday. The opposite parent would always whisper to the waiter that we were celebrating an occasion, and as soon as the meal was wrapping and I knew this “secret” was coming - that the waiters were going to surround our table singing with dessert and candles for the birthday, I was off, running to the restroom in a similar fashion as the Fourth of July.

There was no choice but to adjust to this inconvenience

Although I came to basically adjust to living with this nervous stomach and the inconvenient and often urgent needs to use the restroom, it was because there wasn’t really another choice. It was something I was almost teased about growing up, because it was viewed as something I should be able to control. Looking back, I sometimes wonder if this could’ve been correlated to the later rise of GI symptoms and eventual Crohn’s disease diagnosis.

Either way, it was only several years later that I realized all of my experiences growing up with this “nervous stomach” had incidentally prepared me for life with IBD.

There is no way to predict IBD

If you’re reading this as an IBD patient, I’m guessing this may sound similar to some things you experience when your disease is active, although rather than just at or during occasions or festivities, these restroom runs and uncomfortable experiences may be happening daily or even hourly, with no way to predict or have insight when the next one will occur.

I know this because I lived that way for so long. For a period of several years, I faced extreme fear and anxiety of leaving my house - even just to go to the doctors office or to the store, because I never knew when I was going to have to sprint to the bathroom, what was going to happen while I was in there, or what I would do if (when) I didn’t make it to the toilet in time. What I also learned, was that regardless of if I was at home or out, the more I thought about if/when I was going to have to run to the bathroom, the anxiety of trying to predict or manage this sent me routinely to the restroom just as quick - and with much more frustration. Some of these were false alarms, but many of them were not, making it impossible to discern, or to choose to ignore an urge.

I’m incredibly interested to hear if other IBD patients have noticed their anxiety leading to additional trips to the restroom and if this is anxiety and related urgency is something they had any experiences with prior to being diagnosed with IBD.

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