I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome

What a flippant-sounding name for a debilitating functional disorder that in reality significantly impacts a person’s daily life, and is neither fun nor funny to deal with one bit.

You may have read about my health issues in my post about missing the Insider Dev Tour. If you haven’t, here’s an excerpt that summarizes the symptoms:

One of these health issues actually began manifesting relatively recently — early last year. Long story short, no matter how well I eat and sleep the night before, if I leave or even just have an intention of leaving the house before 11 am and too soon after waking up, I run a very high risk of experiencing (stress-induced) stomach cramps, nausea, and generalized weakness. These have usually ended in me abandoning my journey or, if I was already where I was supposed to be, being rushed home by a friend or family member.

Well, I’ve had a couple more incidents since then, as recently as this month. And, last weekend, while spending 7 hours in the A&E on a wheelchair with my parents because I was too weak and sick to get around on my own, I was finally diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). (The X-ray also found something in my gut but I’m told it should go away on its own with no medical intervention required.)

So, what exactly is IBS? It’s a functional disorder characterized by stomach cramps and intestinal spasms with varying degrees of pain, along with related symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Sometimes it gets so bad it can send you reeling, sweating, whimpering, and even collapsing (this is what put me in the A&E last weekend). But unlike most gastrointestinal (GI) diseases (i.e. diseases pertaining to the digestive system), IBS isn’t caused by injury or food poisoning or bad bacteria or acid reflux; it has no known cause nor cure, and the symptoms come and go seemingly as they please, mostly influenced or exacerbated (but not necessarily caused) by a number of other factors including

I’d bet that my episodes of generalized weakness have a part in it as well, or at least that the two seem to interact.

And yes, IBS does make the first three more difficult. So it’s a vicious cycle. One that’s going to be incredibly hard for me to get out of.

So what does this mean for me, and possibly my web work (or work in general, really)? Well, in terms of building things, writing articles and helping others on the Internet, not much. While IBS does affect me at home, it’s not nearly as disabling as it is when I’m out of the house. Here’s another quote from my Insider Dev Tour post:

However, it was an all-day event that began at 9 am and ended at 5 pm, and Microsoft Singapore is a little over an hour away from home, which meant I had to be out of the house by 7:30. These are typical hours for most full-time working adults, but I have a number of health issues that make getting a nine-to-five basically not an option for me. In fact, I had given January’s Microsoft Tech Summit a miss for the exact same reason.

That means working remotely isn’t just a luxury or convenience but practically a requirement for me now (unless the on-premises hours are so flexible I can come and go pretty much any time I can manage). And I’m sure there is no shortage of remote opportunities out there, but it does bum me out knowing it’d be silly at best and perceptibly dishonest at worst for me to apply for roles whose on-premises demands I know I’ll be unable to meet.

In the short term, I’ve had to miss Talk.CSS #32 today, not because I’ve been in pain again but because I didn’t want to take any chances. But, you know, meetups aren’t significant commitments unless I’m speaking (which I can’t) or organizing (which I don’t). Going to work, whether physically or remotely, is a commitment and a responsibility. And there are far more reasons than just IBS that I have a long way to go before I’m ready to enter the working world.

But, at least over the last 18 months, IBS has had a significant impact on my daily life, and will probably continue for a while yet (hopefully not for the rest of my life). I’m fortunate that it’s no cancer (not yet, knock on wood), but IBS and generalized weakness are not just in my head. My body doesn’t pretend to experience weakness or pain.

Having said that, I will continue doing my best to take ownership of my health, and you would not be remiss to take care of yourself too.

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Things to keep in mind: