What is so funny about bathroom humor? Why do we as a culture like poop/pee/fart jokes so much? These are questions that I have had for quite a while now. I am sorry if you thought this was going to be one long list of jokes. I cannot guarantee laughs, but hopefully you will gain a little bit of understanding after reading this article.
I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, otherwise known as IBS. For those of you who are not familiar, I like to explain it this way: my intestines are twisted up into the shape of a middle finger. IBS comes in two forms: type C and type D. Cue the chuckles for those of you who have figured it out. For those who have not, I will not explain, because it would be TMI way too fast. Look it up.
For people who live with this condition like me, our “movements” become a source of sometimes constant stress, which can negatively impact symptoms. For many, it can mean living in constant fear of incredible embarrassment if their bowels suddenly decide to act like the demons that they are. The worst part is not actually the clean up, because the solution is to always just chuck the pair of underwear. It is the shame of being an adult who sh*ts their pants like a kindergartner. God forbid you are with people who can smell it, because then you will probably never hear the last of it. Fortunately, I cannot speak from experience on that.
When I see a person on screen sprint for a bathroom, I just cringe because it is not that funny to me anymore. Yeah, everyone experiences bowel distress, but people like me with IBS contend with it all throughout our lives. Sure you learn to manage it with diet and exercise, but it is not always so simple.
One of my aunts has Crohn’s disease, a nasty disease that causes symptoms much worse than IBS. Bleeding, fever and terrible diarrhea are just a few of these symptoms. My aunt was one of the two-thirds to three-fourths of people with Crohn’s who had to get a portion of intestines removed. Fun, right? That worked for her, and she is doing much better, but some people are not as lucky and have to forgo their rectum entirely. They get an ileostomy, a procedure that requires the person to get a hole through which to remove waste to be collected in a small bag. For those people, shame goes beyond just an embarrassing rush to the bathroom, as their bags are often treated with disgust and highly stigmatized, even though 1.4 million Americans live with the disease and a significant portion live with a bag.
In my own experience, I observed poop to be either funny when someone was suffering from diarrhea in a movie, or never to be talked about in polite conversation. This meant I was too ashamed to mention if my problems had worsened. At my worst, I was downing endless glasses of water a day and two times the highest dose of Miralax that was recommended with no changes. It took me a while to even tell my mom that things were not going well with my intestines, mostly because I felt like it was something that I needed to hide. IBS can get uncomfortable really quickly, so hiding symptoms is really bad. If you have Crohn’s, it is ten times worse to not speak up.
You might be thinking this is all TMI, but we spend so little time discussing what is normal for a body and what is not that sometimes too much information is the only way to actually start up a conversation. Most people are probably not familiar with an ileostomy or with the fact that some people really need it to live life to the fullest. If you don’t know that or encounter these waste collection bags, you might pull away in disgust from a fellow human being who has done nothing wrong except to be born with a medical condition. It is not fair for them to deal with the stigma and shame.
You do not have to love poop, and I am not saying you have to stop laughing at bathroom humor. But we do have to do a better job of being casual and kind about things that we all do. We should not have to go to an Adam Sandler movie or an eight-year-old’s birthday party to see portrayals or to talk about what is a normal function of our bodies. It should be okay to discuss it and share feelings and frustrations. I am sure your friendly neighborhood person with IBS would really appreciate someone to listen to their concerns. I can promise that at the end of the day, I don’t intend to give you the play by play. It is just nice to have the support.