I’m about half way through my first professional theatre job after graduating drama school when I start to notice my stomach. The costumes that I’ve had made to measure at the beginning of the rehearsal are becoming almost painful to get into by this point in the run. In the shower I look down and I can’t see my feet. I’m not too bothered. This is the Christmas period. Mulled wine and mince pies are calling my name from every angle, and we’re right next to the sea, so I’m eating chips more than usual, especially as I’ve discovered this mad condiment called Chip Spice. However, fitting into my dress would be nice, so I start one of those 30 Day Yoga challenges on Youtube and save the Chip Spice and the potatoey goodness they belong on for weekends. I still go out for drinks most evenings with the cast, I still enjoy lovely meals out, and when it comes around, I don’t hold back on Christmas Day. My mum’s Christmas Dinner should never be held back on. I’m 23, after all – I don’t want to hold back on anything right now. I’m meant to be enjoying my life, and enjoying life means enjoying food. I decide to just go into the New Year with my yoga plan on the go, and the plan to be able to see my Christmas toenail polish in the shower at some point in 2018.
It’s the middle of January. I’m back to working my two jobs as a front-of-house person, I’m catching up with all my friends I didn’t see whilst doing my Christmas acting job, I’m auditioning again, and I’ve redownloaded Tinder. I’m also about fifteen days into my yoga challenge.
‘Okay friends,’ my sunny YouTube instructor beams out at me from her spacious Texan living room. ‘We’ve made it this far, and I am so proud of you.’
My leg kicks the radiator behind me as I try my three-legged-dog. I think about my Tinder date next week.
‘Now we’re going to move into cobra, or up-dog: yogi’s choice,’ she says, seamlessly moving from three-legged-dog, to downward dog, to plank, to up-dog. Maybe she should go on my Tinder date.
I clunkily manoeuvre myself from downward to upward, and find my stomach won’t stretch with the rest of my body into that L shape. It kind of hurts. Maybe it’s those abs I’ve heard so much about building themselves up. Maybe I’ve pushed myself too far. My sunny Texan yoga teacher is in plank position by this point. She stretches her left arm up to the sky, holding herself up with her other arm, her left ankle balancing on her right. I’ve done this position earlier in the series, maybe on day 6, and it was fine. But now it hurts. I stop the video, knowing I’m letting Sunny YouTube Yogi down, and I stand up and look at my stomach in the mirror. I don’t see any abs. So why are they hurting?
A couple of days later, Teb comes for dinner. I get a Tesco Dine in For Two because I’m a bit tired and can’t be arsed to cook. I’ve been working myself hard at my front-of-house jobs and I’m out and about for most of the day. I love spending time with Teb. I can be my complete self, and we spend most of the time doing impressions of Saturday Night Live sketches or people in plays we’ve seen recently. I remember at one point twerking ironically – there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write – and it feeling like my stomach muscles had snapped in half. And then I couldn’t finish my Dine in For Two. The wine that came with it didn’t taste good or sit well in my stomach. Was I constipated? I had twerked pain free plenty of times. Ironically and unironically. Teb, my flatmate Lizzie and her sister all google gas-relieving yoga positions for me. I can’t get into most of them. My stomach has distended by this point. I think about gluten. Am I one of those gluten people? Please don’t let it be so. Bread had been one of the biggest companions to my life, along with Dr Marten Chelsea boots and OutKast’s The Love Below/Speakerboxxx. I didn’t want to develop an intolerance in my early 20s – what would I eat? Did cheese have gluten in? Did shit rosé? Oh my God, let it be unrelated constipation.
The next morning the pain has gone but I’m still a bit bloated. The bloating increases after every meal. My Tinder date is that night, and I’m three meals in and unable to fit into any of my jeans.
‘What do I wear?’ I wail to my flatmates. We collectively decide on stretchy black trousers and a loose but still flattering jumper.
‘There is absolutely no way I’m having sex with him,’ I tell my flatmates.
I keep having visions of me taking my clothes off and then having to explain to him why I look like a less ‘break the internet’ version of Beyonce’s pregnancy photos. That it’s probably down to constipation. I’m not saying I ooze sex appeal on a good day, on a flat tummy day, on a day when I can actually get my leg into three legged dog, but I think I’ll do myself more favours if I just pretend I’m a put-out-on-the-second-date-kind-of-lass and keep my bump covered.
The date is brilliant. He is funny, down to earth and had an absolutely horrific time at secondary school meaning he does not care in the slightest about seeming cool. He’s intelligent and likes reading, and we have the exact same music taste. We both put Common’s Finding Forever in our list of albums that made us who we are, and it turns out we were at the same Erykah Badu concert last year. Towards the end of the date, my right leg goes completely numb.
What could that be? The four rum and cokes I’d drank? Have I been stood in a funny position as we’ve leant against this table in the pub? Is it my poor three legged dog? Or is it my body having an adverse reaction to meeting a brilliant man on a dating app and going into cardiac arrest due to the unlikeliness of it all? I don’t tell my date that my thigh has suddenly lost all sensation because I’m a bit worried he might try and cut our date short and take me to the hospital or something. I’m half waiting for the numbness to spread all over my body and for me to collapse, because the universe doesn’t like me having nice things, but I’m able to finish the date and we agree to meet up the following week. We don’t get a chance to. Over the weekend, my back starts to hurt, and I start to realise (took me bloody long enough) that maybe all these weird things aren’t unrelated. Although I’m still not panicking.
‘I swear to God I’m never doing bloody yoga again,’ I tell my flatmates, lying on the floor with a foam roller under my back. ‘Everything hurts’. A weird trapped nerve in my leg, a distended stomach, a bad back? What have I done to myself?
That weekend, I have a dress rehearsal for a poetry reading and a full day at work. Every time I eat my stomach grows to the watermelon shape I’ve been getting used to, and my back starts to ache. I put it down – once again – to constipation. I drink peppermint tea and sit in the bath on Sunday evening. I text my Tinder date saying how ill I’ve been feeling. My friends are Whatsapping me bloat-reducing tips. None of them are working, and I decide that GP or no GP, I need to find a walk-in centre. There’s one near work, so I decide to head there after my shift tomorrow.
On the way to work on Monday morning I buy a bag of prunes, and as soon as I get to my shift I make myself a double espresso. If that doesn’t push something out of me, I don’t know what will. I haven’t lost my appetite, but eating anything other than prunes brings on this intense rib pain and the bloating begins. It’s frustrating because I’m starving. Is this what IBS feels like? I have plans to meet up with my friend Sarah that evening for food, so I decide to go to the walk-in and head to hers after.
Turns out, walk-in medical centres can’t do much for you. I don’t have to wait too long, and the nurse who sees me first takes some information and then sends me back out again to the waiting room. Another nurse calls me in, and asks me the same questions and then what the problem is.
‘I think I have trapped wind,’ I tell her.
She asks some questions about my bowel movements and my diet and my sex life. Some answers are more interesting than others. We do a pregnancy test, just in case. Well, I do the pregnancy test. She gives me the tube and tells me to wee in it and give it back to her.
I then lie on my back and she feels my stomach, asking me where it hurts.
‘Kind of everywhere. Yep. There. There too. And kind of on my back as well.’
She then places her two left fingers on my stomach and taps the back of them with her right fingers. It makes a weird hollow sound, and in other places the sound changes.
‘Yes, you’re full of gas.’ She confirms.
I avoid making a joke about being told that my entire life, and ask what I can do for it. They can’t prescribe medicine here, but she recommends over-the-counter Buscopan, Peppermint capsules and booking some blood tests at my GP. That will mean going back to Yorkshire, or switching GP, something I don’t really feel like I have time for. I’m trying to write a one woman show. I’m trying to do more comedy with friends. I’ve just started watching Drag Race. I cancel plans with Sarah – my stomach is killing and all I want to do is pop a couple of Buscopan and sit in the bath with a peppermint tea and some bath salts for my back. I have a mad week ahead – a meeting with friends, a trip to Hull to see a play, the poetry reading I’d been rehearsing for at the weekend. I need to rest. (and fart, apparently).
Thanks for reading if you got this far! In next week’s post I’ll be continuing the saga with tales from my first visit to A&E, including my visit to the maternity ward (I wish I was joking), and my diagnosis itself.