Courtney-Jade is 23, from Bath and lives with her fiancé Adam and dog Susan. She was diagnosed with Scoliosis aged 14, IBS aged 21 and Overactive Bladder Syndrome (aka OAB) aged 22. I interviewed her about her experience managing three chronic conditions and all the incredible work she’s doing on social media.
Tell me about Scoliosis.
Scoliosis is the curvature of the spine. It took a while to get my diagnosis because I had intense back pains but the doctors thought it was just growing pains. We all know our own bodies and I just had a gut feeling that it wasn’t that. During a check up with another doctor, she asked me to bend over and try touch my toes. Straight away she could see my spine was curved and diagnosed me on the spot.
There were lots of options on next steps but I decided not to opt for surgery for personal reasons. I’m glad I did choose the route I went down because since leaving my teens and entering my 20’s the pain eased. I’ll be honest, it still hurts and the pain can flare up and get really bad, but not like it did in my teens. I’m able to live a life where my Scoliosis rarely affects my day-to-day life; which is something I never thought I’d be able to do when I was first diagnosed. I have uneven shoulders, my ribs stick out and my spine is curved, but I’ve embraced these things and have now come love them. I think they make me unique.
What was the process of being diagnosed with IBS and how do you manage it now?
Throughout my life I’ve been victim to what some call a ‘dodgy belly’. It wasn’t until 2018, that I was always urgently needing to go to the toilet, having irregular bowel movements, frequent pains in my abdominal area and constant bloating, that my life then started to revolve around my bowels.
In the December of 2018, I noticed a lot of blood in my stool and decided it was time to seek medical help. I went to the doctor who sent me for a colonoscopy; luckily the scope came back fine, I just had floppier bowels than an ‘average’ person but was told this wasn’t an issue. I had intolerance tests and they came back fine too, so I’m not intolerant to anything. Along with that and several blood tests, I was finally diagnosed with IBS.
I take colofac and loperamide hydrochloride for diarrhoea and sachet’s of laxido for constipation to help manage it. The diarrhoea tablets help massively if I need to leave the house! My IBS can be triggered by a lot of things, including stress, anxiety, where I am in my cycle, food and drinks. But IBS is so unpredictable and I often flare up when there’s no triggers! I can be stress free, at a good stage in my cycle and eaten foods I know work well for me, and still end up on the loo 20 times a day! So it’s all working it out as things progress.
One main bit of advice for someone with IBS is don’t feel ashamed. It can be difficult to talk about poo, but it’s normal, and for anyone with a bowel related condition it’s a big part of our lives. Don’t be ashamed if you don’t make it to the toilet in time, don’t be ashamed if you do have to cancel plans because of it and don’t be ashamed to talk to people about what you’re going through. You are not alone.
What is Overactive Bladder Syndrome (aka OAB)?
Fast forward to 2020, and my stomach pains were still constant and effecting me a lot. I’d been following doctors advice to help aid my IBS but for some reason I will still getting these awful stomach pains. I went back to the doctors, and he asked me just 2 questions:
- Do you have painful intercourse?
- Do you have heavy periods?
Both answers were no and he told me I was fine and too young to have anything wrong me with. I wasn’t happy with this and called for a second opinion, where I then saw another doctor right away and she asked me questions about my bladder. This took me back because I’d always assumed my abdominal issues were linked to my bowels; I hadn’t considered my bladder! We discussed all my symptoms; peeing over 20 times a day and waking up in the night to go, leaks, sometimes wetting myself and the strong urge to wee. I could go from not needing to go at all to being bursting in seconds. The doctor diagnosed me with Overactive Bladder Syndrome (OAB) in the first appointment. Several bladder diaries, urine tests and bladder scans later, it was confirmed I did definitely have OAB.
I was given medication in my first consultation where I was diagnosed and still take that now. The tablets I take are tolterodine tartrate (aka Neditol), which I take daily. They’ve been instrumental for me in limiting the number of times I go to the toilet a day- it’s gone from 20+, to about 12 and I don’t go as often in the night now too. I’m also waiting for a referral with a women’s health physio to help me manage my leaks, the pains and all the other symptoms I’m experiencing.
In all honesty, I’m still working out how to manage my IBS and OAB, but it turns out these two conditions can aggravate one another. So, getting them both fairly under control has been really helpful. I’ve gone from over 20 sick days in 2019 at work, to just 1 in 2020!
Do you have any advice for someone with IBS on how their diet can help?
I’ve learnt some of the foods and drink that can trigger me. Anything from dairy, to spicy foods, caffeine and even asparagus. I’m still trying to narrow it down to find the other foods and drinks that may also be triggering me and causing flare ups.
The FODMAP food list has really helped. This is a list of foods that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and are prone to absorb water – which can lead to gas and consecutively trapped wind/stomach pains. Understanding what works for you and what doesn’t is key, diet can only aid IBS slightly; it’s always good to see if you have any other external triggers.
Do you have any tips for travelling with a bowel or bladder condition?
- Find out where public loos are. Before I go out I’ll plan my route and make myself aware of the closest toilets. There’s a fab app you can use called ‘Toilet Finder’ that shows you every available toilet around you.
- For those with a bowel or bladder condition, you should be able to access a Radar key. My bladder nurse referred me to a company who sent me a RADAR key. It’s a key that will allow you access to locked public disabled toilets, so you don’t have to queue and also gives you a bit more privacy.
- Invest in a Uribag- If you have a bladder condition then a Uribag will be a life saver when you travel. It’s almost like a shewee, but has a balloon like bag on the bottom so you can go to the loo anywhere, making it great for long car journeys.
- Pads and disposable pants – Companies like Always do a discreet range that’s designed for bladder conditions, which include scented pads which are great for leaks. They also do disposable pants which can be a good back up and sense of security if you aren’t able to make it to the loo when you’re out – which can also work for those with bowel related conditions too.
How do you feel the instagram community has benefited you in your journey?
I find the community is so uplifting; full of people who just want us all to love ourselves.
Instagram has also been a brilliant place of learning for me. I’ve connected with so many people who have the same conditions as me. When I was diagnosed with OAB I’d never even heard of it, but after posting on my Instagram stories about it so many women came forward and told me that have it too! It made me feel less alone. Instagram can be a platform that really brings people together.
What does body acceptance mean to you?
Body acceptance to me is embracing the unique things about you and learning to love them. It’s not something that happens overnight and can be a tough journey to go on, but the outcome is beyond powerful and so important.
I’ve been all over the place with my weight. From being extremely underweight, to a healthy weight in 12 months; gaining about 3 stone. Navigating life with my new body was tough at first, but I grew to realise how much healthier I had become and how glorious this new body was!
You’re doing so much on social to #NormaliseNormalBodies, talk me through your work with Figleaves.
Figleaves resembles everything I advocate for. Their motto is ‘every body fits’ and to me Figleaves is all about inclusivity and encouraging everyone to feel confident in the body they’re in.
In August 2019, I was asked to be a part of Figleaves 21st Birthday shoot and it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Up until then, I hadn’t posted a picture in my underwear or in a bikini since I’d gained weight. It was so scary but so empowering and that experience kick started my self-love journey which followed onto me posting on Instagram about normalising normal bodies. Now I work with them monthly and it means the world to have such a brilliant brand behind me and supporting what I do.
My mission on Instagram is to raise awareness for the medical conditions I have and to make anyone else with them feel less alone; whilst also normalising normal bodies and encouraging everyone to realise that they are perfect as they are. Rolls, stretch marks, scars, spots.. they’re all normal. We are all unique and everyone deserves to feel valid, worthy and fabulous!
You can find Courtney-Jade on instagram here