Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not something you will hear talk about. Unless of course you are like me and was probably sat on the receiving end of a desk in a doctors surgery. It doesn’t surprise me that people don’t particularly like to mention the fact they have issues with the toilet, it’s embarrassing right?
For those who don’t know what IBS is, it’s a syndrome that causes issues with your need for the toilet. For me it stems from anxiety. I experience a vicious cycle where I am afraid I’ll desperately need the loo and have no options available, which then causes stress. This stress that there may not be a toilet then triggers the fight or flight response making me need to go even more.
I started experiencing IBS problems in my third year of University in 2015, when the four hour commute became a struggle. I started to get tense on bus journeys until I could no longer do it without getting off in a panic. This continued for weeks until eventually it became too much and it began to affect my health. To get around this I planned out a structured route between buses and trains all with a maximum journey of fifteen minutes between them, leaving just enough time to know if a toilet was in reach.
Since University I have learnt many coping mechanisms for travelling, which include drawing and playing on hand held consoles. They don’t always work so its mostly trial and error as each day goes on. I have also received Hypnotherapy specifically for the IBS and, despite a lot of scepticism from others around me, it has actually helped an awful lot. As the months have gone on I have had varying levels of difficulty with the condition but the main difference is that I now have more control over the situation. The therapy has taught me that I am in control of my body and I now use breathing techniques to help keep my heart rate down.
I covered my IBS in my artwork last year over the summer as a personal project. I had not worked with wood since Sixth Form and I wanted to have a break from translucent materials. The paintings are a series of four onto 4ft boards using white emulsion paint as a base. Ink works differently on emulsion paint and sometimes breaks into streaks leaking into the brush strokes created with the white layer.
Emulsion paint was a relatively new medium for me and took me a while to get used to its response to the ink. It has a different feel to the acetate paintings but I felt that covering a different part of my mental health made sense to use a different material, especially one I didn’t understand.
The painting above isn’t named but I have personal names for each of them. Two heads (above) was about not letting my struggle seem apparent when out in public. If I looked panicked people would approach and ask me if I was okay which furthered my distress. Trying to keep level headed was part of the anxiety and this painting reflects that difficulty.
Parasite discusses the relationship between anxiety and IBS. For a long time the doctors were not sure whether the IBS was happening for medical reasons or if it was the anxiety. It eventually became evident the anxiety was the cause, which made things very uncertain. I was distressed knowing that my constant urge for the toilet was dictated by my own will power. Parasite was my way of expressing how tense it made me.
The third painting I refer to as Ducky. I know travelling is a big part of my day but not having control of situation causes me distress. I have to know all the details of a location for me to not to get tense. It sounds obsessive but to me they’re precautions to make things more comfortable for myself so I can still continue to live life and enjoy it. Ducky is that anticipation and accepting that I can not always have control.
My favourite of the four is Bubbles (seems to be everyone else’s favourite too). Bubbles is a reminder that there are days when I don’t have toilet issues. These days often get overlooked and are small triumphs towards one day having my control back. He has a kinder persona then the other three as I wanted it to reflect a lighter side to having IBS. I know that people who have the condition relate to the feeling of a day where it hasn’t held them back. Those days are valuable.
To this day I still have days were the anxiety brings on a few troubles. Looking back on these paintings reminds me how bad things used to be and how far I have actually come. As I write this I am at war with my IBS once again but this time I know I can have control back.
I just have to put my mind to it.