Review: My IBS Treatment with CBT
Living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
James Morton describes his CBT treatment of IBS with Lee Grant, one of our CBT Therapist. IBS can be unforgiving, affecting 1 in 7. Six months after treatment James explains how he got better with CBT. He describes how IBS impacted his life, what he did to overcome IBS and the changes CBT had on his move to London.
Mornings were the worst. 5 am brought stomach pains, and the adrenaline started to flow. Should I go to the toilet now or can I wait until after my wife finishes in the bathroom? Normally I’d succumb to the worry and go now, not going back to sleep until I finally got up an hour later. I’d always go to the toilet again, and the worry about the commute started. Will I need the toilet on the way to work? What if the tube gets stuck between stations and I need to go? What if I get to a station without a toilet? I’d often go to the toilet again before leaving the house, just in case. After a while, this had become normal, my normal.
I’ve suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) for the last 13 years. The symptoms weren’t new to me, but over the last year, I’d got the point where the worry of urgently needing to defecate had started to take over my life. My major passion in life of going out to great London restaurants had been ruined, as each trip to a restaurant brought the anxiety of wondering if I’d feel okay and if I didn’t whether there would be a toilet free as the urgency rushed on.
When My IBS Started
When I look back, it’s hard to say where my problems started. It’s clear that while I’ve always had a sensitive digestive system, I’d probably gone through some gastrointestinal illness as well and that had ruined the way I felt. Every day I was exhausted, not only from the anxiety and digestive discomfort but also from the fact I’d started to skip the occasional meal. If I don’t eat, I don’t get symptoms - simple. Reality turns out to be much more complex as skipping meals make me feel worse, and only heightens the sense of anxiety I’m feeling.
My CBT Treatment of IBS
I started to see Lee at Efficacy after being referred by my consultant. I’d finally found the courage to get my GP to refer to me a gastroenterologist (only after offering to go private), and after an endoscopy procedure proved I had no serious issues, diet and stress were my only options to explore. I introduced a strict low FODMAP diet, and this helped reduce the physical symptoms, but I was still feeling the anxiety of whether I’d need to urgently defecate throughout the day.
My CBT sessions started to address my anxiety by firstly giving me confidence in my bowels again, increasing the duration between needing to defecate and learning that urgency does not mean now. I explored the link between negative automatic thoughts, feelings, behaviours and physical symptoms - starting to understand the physical symptoms I was going through were caused by my mental state. At the start, my sessions often saw me in tears. Although I didn’t realise it my symptoms were also causing me to be depressed. I’d stopped going out with friends, and while my family were massively supportive, it was difficult for them to understand what I was going through.
Regaining My Life After IBS
Now my overall mental state was much healthier. I’d learned a lot of skills during the sessions that had changed the way I understood my symptoms. I had always been an anxious person, and now it’s much easier for me to understand when anxiety is driving my physical symptoms. One major change was that I could now see that my symptoms didn’t need to be permanent. Before my treatment started, I genuinely couldn’t see my ever being well again.
My IBS Clinic in London Review
I’ve continued getting better since my sessions finished six months ago. It’s now 12 months since I started my sessions and I’m now a totally different person. Some of my anxieties still affect me occasionally, but it’s now much easier to identify this and distract myself from making it worse. Most days my digestive health is not the first thing I think about when getting up and the last thing I think about at night - this is a massive improvement over the situation where this impacted me 24 hours a day (even in my dreams when sleeping).
If you find yourself in the situation where IBS and negative thoughts are taking over your life, get some help and try some CBT sessions - you won’t regret it!