Storying Sheffield

Where is the life we have lost in living? Narratives of irritable bowel syndrome.

The University of Sheffield’s Storying Sheffield Knowing as Healing team are working with Cassie Limb, an artist from Kelham Island Arts Collaborative, to put together an exhibition for the IBS Network’s annual Wellbeing Day.
We have created a number of artifacts to tell our IBS tales, including the story boxes pictured in this post.
Anne chose to include a picture of an angry bowel, musing that ‘Angry Bowel Syndrome’ might more effectively describe her condition.

Meanwhile, medical student Anna reflected on the story she co-constructed with Niamh, and decorated a box representing the safety of home. Niamh, who has severe, diarrhea-predominant IBS, speaks clearly and articulately about the impact IBS has on her life: “… stay in a lot … it happens all throughout the day so it’s hard to go out … I won’t stop at other people’s houses … I won’t go on holiday and that…
Like many of the people participating in the project, Anne and Niamh talk about both the stigma and the low status IBS is given in our society. “Not taken seriously,” (Niamh) “I’m told [by GP], ‘what you have … is just IBS’,” (Anne). “It’s seen as a joke, people rushing to the toilet,” (Angela). “I hate the name, irritable bowel syndrome, people laugh at it, I don’t blame them, I was, you know, probably the same till I got it myself,” (Tom).
[Names have been changed at the request of participants].
So, what do you think? Is irritable bowel syndrome a minor ailment that doesn’t need to be taken too seriously? After all, it isn’t a life threatening or even life reducing condition. Perhaps it helps to consider the metaphor Sophie Lee uses in her own IBS memoir, Sophie’s Story, My 20 year Battle with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Sophie tells us that IBS isn’t a death sentence, but it is a life sentence. It is true that our life expectancy has increased rapidly in the last 50 years. But then, so too has chronic illness. This reminds me of that famous TS Eliot quote, “where is the life we have lost in living?
Vicky Grant is the Knowing as Healing Project Lead. Vicky has lived with IBS herself for over 30 years.
Find out more about the Storying Sheffield Knowing as Healing project by visiting our website or email Vicky at
We are exhibiting our work at the IBS Network Wellbeing event on the 16 November 2013 at The Circle, Rockingham Lane, Sheffield. S1 4FW. Staff and students will be available to talk about the range of IBS research happening at the University of Sheffield.
The Knowing as Healing project received seedcorn funding from Arts Enterprise Sheffield.