Here at the dawn of a new year, I’m sure anyone who resolved to increase their vegetable intake in 2015 know what I mean when I say a lot of shit has already happened. That poop joke was not the first one ever made—as I’m sure you all know—and will certainly not be the last neither in this article nor your life.
Growing up, I was taught that boys love jokes about poop and girls do not poop at all. As the years have rolled on, I’ve kept a warm place in my heart for a well-delivered poop joke, but the concept of others knowing I (a girl) passed excrement through my rectum, was hard to warm up to. Really, the only times I spoke about dropping a twosie were in jokes. The only exception was when a fellow ashamed friend and I confessed we never poop when we spend the night at a friend’s place. She told me she once held it in a week because she was on a houseboat with family friends. I was distressed at the thought of potential damage that could inflict on her colon, but also a little jealous. I couldn’t hold it in that long… or could I?
Luckily, I was never put in the position to test the limits of my body versus my burgeoning phobia. For the first couple decades of my life, it was easy to avoid confronting my terribly irrational and borderline unhealthy fear. I would never “go” in public restrooms, or at friends houses. I would avoid my own bathroom if I had company because I thought they would know I’d been gone too long for just a #1. I would even wake myself up in the middle of the night at my boyfriend’s place to poop while he slept. Easy. Then comes mid-October 2014, and the proverbial shit hit the fan.
September was the climax of what had been an atypically stressful year. At work, I began nannying a newborn baby in addition the two-year-old I already worked with. At home, my sister had attempted suicide. Once the newborn had settled into her body and my sister was healing hers, I assumed it would be a smooth slope to the resolution of the year. That was when the cramps started. At first they were mild and I chalked it up to the vigorous sex life I was experiencing with my new beau. As the days passed, the cramps became worse. This wasn’t from rough sex, so I thought maybe they were just menstrual cramps. I was happier to accept an early period than the possibility of something being wrong with me. However, that diagnosis didn’t address one of the major symptoms: I was experiencing frequent, painful bowel movements. It had to be poo issues, which until then, I had never openly spoken about, not even with my mother. I stayed silent about the stool and most people around me were content with my dismissive “stomach ache” explanation.
In all honesty, I couldn’t tell people what was wrong with me because I didn’t know and wasn’t going to hold an open forum with my friends to discuss my newly-complicated bathroom life. I turned to WebMD. I quickly reached a diagnosis: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It was relieving to know I wasn’t dying slowly, but it also explained there was no medication that could cure it. Why me? What did I do to warrant this feeling of a balloon expanding in my large intestines? Stress. It can be brought on by stress, poor diet, and a handful of other things. Stress sounded to be the likely culprit. As I read, I learned that it was just a matter of being patient and the trouble would end. I could be patient without talking about my ailments! Deal.
The days continued to pass and Thanksgiving was approaching. The cramping and back aches continued as well. The stress I was feeling from not being able to explain to loved ones what was wrong was making was making the cramps worse. This was my own personal hell. I had to tackle my senseless fear immediately or this would never end. My roommate/best friend was the first to hear that I had IBS. Next was my friend who actually initiated the conversation by joking about her own IBS symptoms. Slowly, I started to explain to each of the people in my life why I had been so unlike myself for the last month. After repeating the story enough times, it became funny. Finding humor in just how big of a problem poop was in my life helped alleviate the cramps more than the ibuprofen. Poop jokes were curing me. Finally, one day I realized I felt totally normal again and promised myself I wouldn’t let my stress level do that to my body even once more, especially stress from not being able to communicate what was bothering me.
It isn’t common to talk to your loved ones about your intestinal health. We associate discussing bowel movements with the elderly and infants, but I have grown to believe it is important to feel comfortable talking about those things, regardless of age. My condition could have drastically improved much more quickly if I hadn’t allowed it to turn into a dirty secret. The block in communication certainly tested the limits of my relationships, and I feel lucky to have had the unwavering support from my friends and partner despite my nasty mood. So in 2015, let’s talk more about poop because it a universal bodily function and we’ll all become better friends along the way.