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Talking About the Unmentionable Body Conditions

By Ann Richardson July 06, 2022 Lifestyle

It is something we do every day, more or less, from the day we are born until the day we draw our last breath. Throughout most of our lives, we gave it nary a thought and certainly never talked to anyone about it except, perhaps, our mother.

But as we grow older, it causes us more and more difficulties. It affects what we are willing to do and where we are willing to go, our general mood and, altogether, our sense of well-being.

I am talking, of course, about managing our bowels. What I used to call ‘number two’ as a child, ‘poo’ to my children and all sorts of words ever since.

This is not a medical discussion as I am not a medical doctor. My Ph.D. in political science offers very little help here.

But there is more to our bowels than medical issues. Much, much more.

Early Years

Unless you were very unlucky, it is probable that you never gave your daily bowel activity much thought when you were young.

You knew it was about to happen, you went, you washed your hands, and you went about your daily life with never a worry on that score.

Right through middle age, our bowels generally gave us little trouble. Yes, the occasional ‘runs’ when you were on holiday (with wonderful names such as Delhi Belly, Montezuma’s Revenge and the like) and the occasional constipation for one reason or another.

But for most of us, nothing worth thinking much about beyond a day or so.

Of course, if you were unlucky, perhaps you had some problems on that score. But the medical side is not what this article is about.

When we were children, it might be added, bowels were the subject of off-colour – and therefore slightly exciting – jokes. We learned new words. We thought they were funny. And daring.

That was a long time ago.

Later Years

And perhaps you are still at this stage of not giving this aspect of your life much thought. Lucky you.

But the older we get, the more this issue seems to affect our lives. Indeed, sometimes dominates the day-to-day. Like everything else to do with our bodies, our bowels just don’t seem to work as automatically and easily as before.

Sometimes, this is the result of medications for other ills, where constipation or the opposite seems to be a frequent side effect. As we have more and more ailments, small and large, and take more and more pills, this may be one explanation.

Or we don’t take enough exercise. Or eat the right things. Or we don’t drink enough. Or we drink too much. And so forth.

We begin to seek out solutions. If we find it hard to go, we eat loads of prunes or the equivalent. My grandmother ate stewed prunes every morning for breakfast “to keep [her] regular.” I had no idea what she was talking about until my mother explained.

Or we buy over-the-counter remedies. Or talk to our doctor.

And the same sort of thing, if we go too often.

The Impact on Our Lives

But what I really want to write about is the impact of these minor bowel problems on our day-to-day lives. Not bowel cancer, which is a different matter altogether.

When you are uncomfortable in that department, all sorts of things happen. If you have diarrhoea (or “dire rear” as my daughter aptly called it as a child), you will be reluctant to travel very far. Your body will feel out of sync.

But I believe constipation is more common among older people. This can cause headaches and other bodily discomfort, sometimes quite disorienting.

Even more importantly, it can make you grouchy all day. Just out of sorts and with little joy in life. And you may not feel like doing much – certainly not out of the house.

You feel all the time as if you are waiting for something to happen. Which you are.


In both cases, it is terribly important to know at all times where the relevant facilities are.

Shopping can be a nightmare unless there is somewhere convenient to go. You scout out all possible places, just in case. Perhaps you learned when your children were small, if you still live in the same area.

I don’t know about other countries, but in England churches – of all places – can be a terrible desert. I appreciate that it might be difficult and expensive for them to make renovations, but they often exclude (for this reason) the very people who most want to be there.

The Worst Part

And for many of us, the worst part is we never talk about this issue to anyone. We suffer in silence. We have been taught that it is ‘not nice’ to raise the subject, so we don’t. Sometimes, not even to our own spouse.

Indeed, we make up excuses to our friends for why we won’t go somewhere. Certainly not to the countryside, but also many other places. Perhaps even to their own house.

But if we are all having the same problem, why are we so reluctant?

I would bet that if you said to a friend that you were having problems in that department, she would say “oh yes, me too.” It might bring you closer. It would certainly be a relief to be able to talk about it.

Why not give it a try?

Do you suffer frequently in the bowels department? Do you ever discuss it with anyone?

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The Author

Ann Richardson’s most popular book, The Granny Who Stands on Her Head, offers a series of reflections on growing older. Subscribe to her free Substack newsletter, where she writes fortnightly on any subject that captures her imagination. Ann lives in London, England with her husband of sixty years. Please visit her website for information on all her books:

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