After years of my suffering from chronic, severe refractory Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), rife with pain, urgency, and embarrassment, my gastroenterologist told me he had nothing more to offer. He suggested I search the Internet for any treatments out there that we had not tried.
My search for more information led me here to the IBS Group Bulletin Board in 2000, where I discovered the use of clinical hypnotherapy for IBS. Members of the online community urged me to try this complementary treatment method for IBS, but I was skeptical. I had not heard about this when I was being treated for IBS, and it was not available when I was first diagnosed back in the 80s. But at this point I was desperate, almost housebound with severe urgent diarrhea, painful cramping, and nothing was helping, so I tried hypnotherapy as a last resort in the summer of 2000. This treatment program is known as the IBS Audio Program 100™, and it consists of a set of audio CDs with clinically researched therapeutic sessions and a very specific listening schedule.
Even though the program had been helping thousands of IBS patients prior to its availability to the public in 1998, I doubted it would work for me. I felt like a hopeless case, having been diagnosed with severe refractory IBS, and I doubted that anything of this sort would have any real helpful effects on my symptoms. In fact, at the time I thought it was rather misleading to think any kind of brain-gut approach would help me. After all, the problem was in my gut, not my mind—or so I thought. I fought it every step of the way.
During the course of listening to the hypnotherapy, I not only had to deal with IBS, but also with a divorce, and I had several operations—one on my foot, a gallbladder removal (which the doctor had misdiagnosed as IBS pain), and removal of repositioned entangled ovaries. While the hypnotherapy program initially wasn’t dealing with my IBS, I found it helped me cope with the other stressors and health issues in my life first, as these were the most pressing. After those problems were resolved, I listened to the program again, and my IBS began to improve. It started gradually at first, but one day I realized I hadn’t had severe pain and urgency nearly as often as I used to.
As time passed, the urgency and diarrhea diminished substantially—in fact, I later realized that at the first hint of urgency, I started to have what I would call an “unspoken” inner thought, one that said, in effect, “I don’t have time to deal with this now,” or “I don’t want this now, go away,” and the urgency and impending diarrhea would subside, usually within seconds. It was an automatic response, just as in the past when my gut reacted as an automatic response to go into pain and urgency.
It has been several years since I completed the program, and now I can actually leave the house, rather than raising my children “through the bathroom door.” I had attacks of diarrhea and pain lasting for hours on end, almost every day, never knowing when they might occur; even if I ate small amounts of food, or even just “crackers and water,” the attacks would come out of the blue.
There was no way I could work away from home, and when I did go out, it was an ordeal, especially because I have a very outgoing personality. I became a recluse, and I had to plan my life around IBS: were there bathrooms (clean and decent) available? What if I had an attack during a parent-teacher conference? I often had to run out of the grocery store in order to “make it in time” and, of course, lie when leaving someone’s home abruptly. On one occasion I spent two hours in a museum bathroom while my family paced outside waiting for me. The tension was sometimes unbearable. And while some people understood, others would get exasperated with my “inconvenient problem.”
I felt it was my fault that I couldn’t get better. I had tried everything, and it seemed so hopeless. In fact, I had a friend who had breast cancer and went through the whole ordeal in better physical and emotional shape than I did—her support system was better, and her physical problem was resolved. I felt guilty that I had something less serious, and she was in life-threatening mode but never felt as sick for as long as I did.
My IBS cost me a lot: I missed events and special celebrations for my kids; taking them to routine doctor appointments was an ordeal; and my marriage suffered and collapsed in part because of it. I went from being able to travel and talk professionally in front of large groups of people to being nearly housebound.
Until I discovered hypnotherapy. Is it a cure? Absolutely not. It is a way of coping. Every so often, my IBS will flare up, especially when under a great deal of stress (as anyone might have similar symptoms under stress and not actually have IBS), but it doesn’t define my life as it once did, and the hypnotherapy program was the most effective treatment I encountered. I was surprised that it helped me, but it did.
And now I have a life! I help the author of the IBS Audio Program 100, clinical hypnotherapist Michael Mahoney, as a result of getting my life back, and I speak with many IBS patients across the U.S. and Canada who have felt alone and are glad to share their concerns with someone who understands. Look how far I’ve come!