Hours after having my gallbladder removed in February 2022 – less than two years after I’d developed a large gallstone during pregnancy – I wriggled on the hospital bed, unable to lay still, with five nurses looking confused peering over me.
Tears streamed down my face.
The considerable amount of pressure in my tummy and bearing down on my pelvis felt unbearable.
‘Your bladder is almost a litre full,’ the nurse explained after an ultrasound. ‘It’s down to your chronic constipation.’
My struggles with constipation had stepped up a notch after surgery, and now it’d caused my bladder to stop working. It got too much to bear.
‘Do you know how long I’ve been dealing with this?’ I uncontrollably wept to anyone that’d listen. ‘I can’t do it anymore.’
I can’t remember a time that I haven’t struggled with constipation. When I haven’t had to drink litres of water (four to be precise) and exercised to help get the stools moving.
But I do remember some of the hospital visits.
Back in 2017, I spent days on a ward because of agonising pain and rock-hard bloating visible under a thick winter coat.
In 2020, a few days after giving birth to my daughter, I had an enema because of my extremely ‘sluggish bowel’, as the doctor described it. And more recently, I’ve been suddenly unable to walk or sit down for hours until the force felt on my pelvis eases.
Every second of every day I’m reminded that I suffer from chronic constipation. I dread getting dressed in the mornings, even after I’ve been to the toilet, and by evening my severely expanded tummy causes discomfort. I feel the need to empty my bowels but I can’t.
Each day, I stare at my wardrobe trying to find something to wear. I look into the mirror and my eyes instantly divert to my stomach then back to the rails of clothes. ‘That won’t fit,’ I repeat in my head. ‘My tummy will bloat.’ My mood plunges into darkness.
I used to take pride in my appearance, preferring to dress up rather than down. But since giving birth to my daughter via c-section in June 2020, I’ve found my constipation and bloating has got considerably worse.
And now I rotate between loose T-shirts, stretchy leggings and oversized sweaters to hide what’s beneath.
I feel envious of friends wearing jeans, or anything fastened with buttons and zips. I can’t help but compare their stomach to mine – without considering that everyone’s body is different.
In pictures taken, I concentrate on how my tummy appears instead of it being a snapshot of great memories with friends or my own little family. When I finally post the shot to social media, I convince myself that the number of likes received is only down to how flat my stomach looks.
When I bloat, I cover my stomach with my large handbag like an A-lister disguising her pregnancy from prying eyes. I desperately hold back the tears as a stranger smiles and asks when I’m due.
Then I question my own actions, trying to figure out what I’ve done to cause any bloat. But I’ve just done a workout, drunk litres of water, eaten well…
I suffered with constipation for as long as I can remember and I know dairy products, red meat and too much wheat disagree with my Crohn’s disease, but my constipation? I’m still unsure. Professional dietitians are confused too, agreeing that my diet is good and doesn’t seem to be the cause.
Sometimes, I put on a pair of jeans and eat whatever I like, sticking a middle finger up to my body and any consequences as a result. I’ll eat chocolate or a greasy takeaway, wishing to be like everyone else. But soon I feel my stomach becoming harder, uncomfortable under my clothes and then painful cramps force me to curl up with a hot-water bottle.
I struggle to accept that I suffer from health issues and others don’t. I feel like an outsider when all I want is to feel ‘normal’.
More than a week after my chronic constipation caused my bladder to stop working after having my gallbladder removed in February 2022, I emailed the IBD nurses and insisted on a second opinion after years of what felt like being given medication to plaster over the cracks.
During an appointment with my new consultant, he showed me a CT scan clearly showing stools stored in my stomach down to my back passage. I cried frantically, explaining every symptom.
‘I believe you have another condition (other than Crohn’s disease) causing chronic constipation,’ he explained. I breathed a sigh of relief. Up until then, I’d just been told my constipation was Irritable Bowel Syndrome with constipation.
While I wait to undergo tests to determine which condition I have, I’ve been sent home with suppositories to be inserted daily and an enema every three days. These send shivers through my body every evening in an attempt to clear out my bowel.
But now I finally feel like I’m on the right path to finding out the cause of my chronic constipation. To feel like a new woman who can look at her reflection and smile again.
By sharing my story, I’m determined to break the taboo that surrounds all deliberating gut issues, to help those causing strain on both mental and physical health.
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