Week 1: Understanding irritable bowel syndrome

Week 4: Healthy thinking, healthy self

Week 5: Balancing activity and reclaiming your life

Week 6: Maintaining your gains and staying well

Telling others about your irritable bowel syndrome

As we mentioned earlier, being around supportive people can lead to better health outcomes. Similarly, it is important that you maintain your current relationships despite your symptoms. However, a common barrier to this is that people with irritable bowel syndrome often struggle to tell others about their condition. The stress of keeping something like irritable bowel syndrome private can be disruptive and worsen your symptoms. Being upfront can take the pressure off and allow you to receive the understanding and support that you deserve. 

Here are some tips for telling others:

  • There’s no need to be ashamed. You are not your symptoms. Although you may be embarrassed by your symptoms, they are nothing to be ashamed of. They are simply a sign that there is something not working quite right with your digestive system. Do not view your irritable bowel syndrome as a personal failure or something to be ashamed of.
  • Be ‘matter of fact’ about it. Speak about irritable bowel syndrome in the same way you’d speak about any other illness. There’s no need to be shy or show your embarrassment when discussing your symptoms. Instead, be open and calm. Speaking about your experience in a matter of fact way will take some of the awkwardness out of the conversation. 
  • Remember, we all poop! It can help to remind yourself that everyone has a digestive system. As we said last week, everyone poops. Of course, not everyone experiences the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. However, most people will have some experience of bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and cramping. Given that no one enjoys going through this, most people will be understanding. 
  • Be selective. Think carefully about who you share with. Unless you feel comfortable with your news spreading, avoid telling untrustworthy people about your condition. It’s best to select supportive and trustworthy people to tell you about your irritable bowel syndrome. 
  • Avoid oversharing. Avoid going into the fine details when telling others. Giving too much information can lead to awkward situations. You can keep it relatively short and simple (e.g., “I have irritable bowel syndrome and suffer from ongoing digestive symptoms”)
  • Express your needs and restrictions. Tell others what your needs, wants and restrictions are. Be open and direct about what does and doesn’t help. For example, let people know if you can’t eat certain foods or be away from a toilet for long periods of time. If you’re in the middle of a flare up, let others know you’ll be taking some time out and try not to feel guilty about this. 

Try out these tips in your attempt to find someone you can talk openly about your symptoms with. If you’re still struggling after using the above skills, perhaps seek out and join an irritable bowel syndrome support group. Connecting with others who share similar problems to you can be both helpful and comforting. It is important that you don’t feel less worthy of loving relationships because you have irritable bowel syndrome.