OK – here’s my letter of response to the doctor who sent in comments about my Top 10 Stupid Things to Say to an IBS Sufferer article. I’m also sending this letter to the IBS Network, who published my article and the doctor’s subsequent comments. And if anyone reading this has any comments I would love to hear them – just click where it says ‘comments’ at the end of this blog entry and let me know what you think!
Dear IBS Network,
I’d like to thank everyone who responded to my article about the Top 10 Stupid Things Said to IBS Sufferers. I was very pleased to get such a good response from other sufferers, and to know that it’s not just me who is upset – and sometimes completely baffled – by the things that people come out with!
I would also like to respond to the comments made by Dr JA in the March issue of Gut Reaction. Firstly, she pointed out that my Stupid Thing to Say number six, “Why don’t you go to a doctor?”, was actually an entirely appropriate thing to say to sufferers who had not received a definitive diagnosis of IBS.
I completely agree with this, and I hope that the article made it clear that “Why don’t you go to a doctor?” is only a stupid thing to say to a long-term IBS sufferer who has in fact been to 20 doctors, 19 of whom have prescribed Colpermin.
Secondly, Dr JA also said: “I read with interest Sophie Lee’s article. She seems to be a very angry lady and I feel that hypnotherapy may be of help for her to work through and release those pent-up emotions as they could be affecting her gut problems.”
While I’d like to thank Dr JA for her suggestion, I did want to point out that not all of the anger was mine – a lot of the indignation was on behalf of the hundreds of IBS sufferers I hear from each month, many of whom are in despair at the way non-sufferers and doctors talk to them.
Some quotes I didn’t have space for include “It’s a women’s problem, just don’t wear tight clothes” and “Isn’t the pain and diarrhea worth it for a special night out?” Both of these insights came from the very people who IBS sufferers rely on to help them: doctors.
Unfortunately, by immediately focusing on the idea that removing my apparent anger and “pent-up emotions” will help to treat my IBS, Dr J also highlights another reason why IBS sufferers sometimes get so frustrated. It is a story that I have heard from many, many sufferers. I call it the IBS Catch-22, and it goes something like this:
Patient: Doctor, I have been in pain for so long now with my IBS, I feel so angry/ anxious/stressed.
Doctor: Yes, your anger/anxiety/stress is causing your IBS symptoms; perhaps you could consider psychotherapy/counselling/a fortnight in Barbados.
Patient: But doctor, before I began suffering from IBS I wasn’t angry or stressed at all, I lived a perfectly normal, happy life. It’s the IBS pain that is making me angry and stressed. Can’t we look for a solution to the pain, not the resulting emotions?
Doctor: No, because it is your emotions that are causing your IBS.
Patient: But I’ve only become angry after years and years of suffering, after years of being told that I have to learn to live with it, after visiting 20 doctors and having 19 of them prescribe Colpermin. And there’s no correlation between the strength of my emotions and the severity of my symptoms. My IBS is as severe today as it was 10 years ago. It doesn’t make sense.
Doctor: Ah – I see that you are becoming more emotional as we talk about this. Indeed, you seem very reluctant to accept the fact that your emotions are causing your IBS. This shows that you are repressing your feelings, and is a further indication that your pent-up emotions are in fact causing your IBS.
Patient: So you are saying that my overly emotional state is causing my IBS?
Patient: And the more I deny this, and the angrier I get, the more it proves your theory?
Doctor: Yes, that’s right.
Patient: But how can I disprove your theory if the very act of arguing with the theory actually proves the theory?
Doctor: You can’t I’m afraid. Sorry.
Patient: Isn’t that a bit unfair?
Doctor: Oh yes. It’s some catch, that IBS Catch-22.
The IBS Catch-22 needs to be put out of its misery. Theories of IBS causation are moving further and further from a psychological model with each passing year, and the leading gastrointestinal institutions of the world, including the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, now state categorically that IBS is not a psychological or psychiatric disorder, nor a disorder caused by stress.
I believe it is time that IBS patients were allowed to express strong emotions, emotions which are often related to years of dismissive and inadequate medical care, without having their feelings promptly identified as a cause of their IBS, rather than a result.