Let me paint you a picture. It’s midweek, and you’ve had a nightmare day at work. Maybe you’ve been too tired, busy and distracted to drink anything apart from coffee (and let’s face it, at this stage that’s just necessary for good work performance right?)
On the train home, you feel that familiar twinge down below. Panicking, you quickly neck down a bottle of water and leg it home from the station, trying to ignore the fact that the twinge is steadily growing into a “definitely something there” pain and that your bladder feels like its about to explode into a fiery ball of pain. After an hour (or three) on the toilet, you finally summon every ounce of courage you have and drag yourself out of the bathroom and towards a laptop or phone.* You deserve a medal.
Once armed with your technology, you google your symptoms along with phrases such as “quick cure” or “instant relief”, scanning each page expectantly and waiting for that miracle remedy to just float up onto the page. If you’re lucky, there will be a partner, flat mate, friend or family member at your disposal who will dutifully run to Tesco in search of cranberries and inevitably appear 20 minutes later, red faced, carrying copious amounts of cranberry juice drink. “Sorry, nowhere seems to sell actual cranberries!”
Sound familiar? I thought so.
Even though I’d dealt with it many times before, the tragic cycle of cystitis misery always seemed to creep up on me. As I was again and again faced with the unhappy task of peeling myself off the toilet seat, I would sadly ask myself: “How did I get here again?” Because surely, I should’ve worked all of this out by now?
In asking the question, I came to realise something really important. Just as it’s well known that the pain of childbirth is quickly forgotten, I realised that I too would instantly forget the pain of cystitis once it had passed. But unlike the evolutionary advantage of forgetting the pain of childbirth (i.e. the continuation of humanity), I could see no reason for my apparent cystitis amnesia. Why didn’t I remember the pain even though I knew I was often affected by it?
After some soul searching, I came to realise that this cystitis-related forgetfulness was linked to two things:
- The shame I felt of not being able to fulfil my ‘role’ in life when I had cystitis, and
- The feeling that this should not be happening to me.
This felt like an epiphany. I realised that following each horrible bout of cystitis, I would defiantly throw myself into all the tasks which I had been unable to do when I was unwell. In doing so I would conveniently forget that I was someone who got UTIs, because I did not like that I was limited by anything, and resume cystitis-causing behaviours. I now realise that what I should have done was take some time to understand what was causing and triggering my (what I once considered) embarrassing problem.
Once I accepted that cystitis was a part of my life, I finally let it in. And things became a lot simpler from that point onward. I decided to switch things up. Rather than desperately googling “miracle cures for UTIs” while I was sitting in agony on the toilet, I started reading about cystitis even when I didn’t have it. And believe me, it’s much easier to think critically about what you’re reading when you’re not pissing razor blades.
When I did have cystitis, I tried (with a lot of encouragement) to remember patterns and triggers. What was I doing which triggered this bout? Or what wasn’t I doing?
I started drinking far more water, and far fewer sugary juices and fizzy drinks. For my birthday, I asked for a “good water bottle” so that I could carry water with me everywhere I went without fear of it leaking. Lastly, I started regularly taking recommended supplements to boost my urinary health, and – here’s the best part – actually following the guidance instructions!
The first supplement most sufferers try is cranberry. I had previously become disillusioned with cranberry when one tablet had failed to rid me of an infection that eventually needed a course of antibiotics... shocking! I now understand that the correct relationship to have with supplements, such as cranberry extract, is to take them regularly so that their beneficial effects have a chance of taking hold.
I first learnt about D-Mannose after watching an interview with one of my favourite writers, Caitlin Moran. As a fellow long-term sufferer, I felt her descriptions of cystitis very much mapped onto my own. So when she mentioned D-Mannose, I naturally embarked upon a rigorous research crusade where I learnt that D-Mannose is a naturally occurring sugar that tricks bacteria in your bladder and urinary tract to attach to it rather than your urinary linings. When you pee, you flush out both the D-Mannose sugar and its bacterial passengers! Delighted with this description of bacterial warfare, I decided to give it a shot. And the rest is history!
I suppose that for me, and I suspect for many of you too, the biggest take home from all of this is that the key to fighting cystitis lies in mindfulness, maintenance and prevention. Being aware of my behaviours and paying attention to the things which trigger my cystitis means I can stay ahead of the game and reduce my chance of becoming unwell in the first place. Taking D-Mannose and Cranberry supplements on a regular daily basis (rather than only when s**t hits the fan) allows me to maintain better urinary health, meaning I become unwell far less frequently. It also helps me to strengthen my body so that when I do feel that familiar panic-inducing twinge, I know I will be better able to fight it.
It seems ironic but by allowing cystitis into my life, I have actually given myself the best chance of fighting it.
* Why not take your phone into the bathroom to avoid the torturous ‘peeling away’ charade? No one will judge you. I actually wrote this whole article on the toilet (just kidding).
Chickpea's Cranberry and D-Mannose Care Pack is now available to order online. Recommended by NICE and NHS guidelines, the supplement subscription helps those prone to recurrent cystitis to maintain improved urinary health and reduced UTI occurrences.
For more information, and to take advantage of the introductory offer, click here.