Gross 6/11/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

There is one topic that I feel obligated to write about, a shameful topic that, frankly, you might not want to read about. Fair warning: this is a rather gross and disturbing topic. I’m offering to discuss it because, frankly, I believe there are more of us that might suffer from it. I want to write about it for a couple of reasons. First of all, I want to help break the stigma. Second, if others suffer, I don’t want you to feel like you’re alone.

Dear reader, please forgive me when I announce that I suffer from IBS with explosive diarrhea.

It’s okay to laugh, I guess, and yes, feel free to laugh at me. Get all of the poop and diarrhea jokes out of your system if you’ll forgive the verbiage. Laughter is our way of relieving stress. We tend to laugh at uncomfortable situations, so laugh. But I have to say, it’s not so funny when you are trying to get out of a store hoping nobody notices the stain on your pants.

It’s not a condition that is taken seriously. I tried to discuss my condition with my doctor, opening the conversation with “I think I might have IBS,” to which he replied, “I certainly hope not. That’s a terrible thing to have.” And that was the end of the conversation.

Today I was fortunate. I had a video conference interview for yet temporary part-time job, although it has the potential to be at least longer term. I was having internet issues, and as such, I decided to go to the college where am an adjunct professor. Unfortunately, all of the doors are electronic and opened by our ID cards, and unfortunately (and of much concern to me as I was depending on the income) the only class for which I was contracted to teach this summer has been canceled. It’s not a surprise, but the upshot is that the doors have been programmed so they will not open with my card.

Sitting in the parking lot, leeching the college internet which was thankfully strong enough to be accessed from my vehicle), I suddenly felt that discomfort that I’m assuming is different for everybody who suffers from this condition saying that I need to find a bathroom quickly. Unfortunately, it was a few minutes from the anticipated start of the interview, and the nearest bathroom was in a building I could not access.

The problem with this condition is that, when you have a bout in certain places, you feel completely helpless. I started the video conference, braced, and hoped. I know it is really in my mind; if I try to fight it usually it just makes things worse. The timing is not surprising. Such “attacks” are often instigated by stress, such as, oh I don’t know, maybe an interview. Fortunately, a dear friend texted me about this time, with several minutes before the interview was to begin (but not enough to get to a bathroom safely) I had a pleasant chat with her that diverted my attention long enough that the attack was averted. Prior to her text, though, I was seriously resigned to the fact that I would have an accident in my car and tried to plot a way to get into my apartment building, and past my roommate, without notice. I know he would understand, but it’s just so shameful.

And yet it shouldn’t be. IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and diarrhea are medical conditions. It should be no more shameful than my appendicitis or my depression (or my heart disease or my high blood sugar or my high cholesterol or yadda yadda yadda). But it is. It’s shameful, at my age, to lose control like that. In case my roommate is reading this, no, I’ve never lost control at home; I’m always close enough to a bathroom.

As a chemist, I have done some research. I’m not a biomedical researcher so I don’t have a cure, but I do have an idea for a product to help when the worst comes to pass. I’ve been in public places and found myself waiting for an open stall at just the wrong time. When I’ve messed the men’s room, which can be sadly dramatic, I always spend considerable time trying to clean it up as best I can before leaving but with limited resources in a stall I can only do so much. Every now and again I read a meme about somebody leaving such a mess, and I think of the shame I’ve felt when it was me, although, honestly, at least I do make a fair effort. My product, if I manage to get some funds to start working on it, should help prevent stains from setting so clothes can be saved if so desired, clean yourself and even cut the smell if it does get into clothes. But I’m hoping that by writing this, I’m shedding light on a sad condition, and maybe it’ll help somebody to feel a little bit better about their struggles knowing that they really are not alone.

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