Going on air about my IBS

As a journalist, I’ve spent years telling stories, reporting news and talking to people for their personal and professional perspectives. So it’s pretty weird when suddenly you’re part of the story.

Last week (on 11 April 2019), some pretty important news broke around irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A stellar team of researchers from the University of Southampton and King’s College London revealed their findings from a decade’s worth of research into treating the syndrome with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

I was lucky enough to be recruited into that trial in 2015. It turns out CBT gave a significant number of participants better outcomes (a reduction in their symptom severity) 12 months after treatment, compared to the usual interventions (medication, diet and exercise advice). A real slam dunk for evolving the treatment of IBS for the millions that suffer. And I do consider myself lucky because the treatment worked for me.

Talking about IBS

When the research team asked if I’d give a quote for their press release, I more or less jumped at the opportunity, though I was hastier at the prospect of giving media interviews. Why? Despite working in the media myself, I know there are some you can’t trust. Misreporting, quotes taken out of context or completely reworded – you know the drill. This meant I wanted to tread with caution over what can be a sensitive subject, and I wanted to choose carefully.

The BBC News website was the first to request an interview. They’d been at a media briefing with the research team the day before the story broke. Yes I was nervous, but I decided it was better to talk about my experience than shy away. Basically I wanted to encourage myself and everyone else to get over the taboo of poo. And so my tales of life before and after the trial ended up in their headline health story of the day.

And once you’ve done one, you may as well go with the flow, right?

I agonised over whether to agree to a video interview for BBC South Today. But was it really as big a deal as I was making it out to be in my head? I went for it, taking the option of doing it from home (if only for the unlimited access to calming chamomile tea). And so I did a pre-recorded video interview with reporter Matt Graveling, and hours later I was part of one of the headline news packages about the trial.

Then, a request from Radio 5Live. A live interview. Millions of ears. Drive Time with Tony Livesey. SURE, WHY NOT? I knew my story, I just had to talk without umm-ing and aah-ing for 5 minutes. Turns out this was my favourite interview of the past 24-hours. Yes I was shaking as I held my phone to my ear and listened to the news bulletin, after which my interview would follow. But Tony’s questions were spot on – interested, curious and understanding.

Doing my bit for IBS Awareness

It’s fitting that I’m writing this on the first World IBS Day, which wants to get people talking about IBS (do it on social with #LetsTalkIBS and the organisers will donate 10 cents for every hashtag to research). It is hard to talk about IBS. After all, who feels comfortable gassing with their mates about excess gassing?

Though I’d lived with IBS since I was old enough to get onto a loo, only a few of my very nearest and dearest knew of my daily struggles. Yet now here I was giving Tony Livesey and anyone who listened the lowdown on bloating, running to the loo in the morning more times you can count on one hand and the endless stress and worry that goes with it. After it all, it felt empowering.

Talking about my bowels on air isn’t something I thought I’d ever do. Maybe with maturity I’ve become more open about these things and now, I don’t give a shit, as it were. I encourage you to try and go with the same air of nonchalance and be open about it, and not leave the difficulties of IBS behind closed bathroom doors.

Oh, and that seminal trial that’s hot news right now? It’s being worked up into actual treatment in the NHS. This is a major win for anyone who’s suffered chronically and felt like they’ve tried everything – there’s more to come for you.