It hit me really quickly.
I’d just finished a pizza and, as a cold sweat broke out across my forehead, I suddenly felt like I was going to vomit. Instead, I fainted.
It was 2021, and my wife and I had just gone out for something to eat after I’d finished my second London Marathon.
I was expecting to feel a tad knackered after the 26.2miles, but I didn’t think I’d actually pass out.
Up until that point, I’d managed to get through life without ever knowing that sometimes when you lose consciousness, your body evacuates your bowels.
Mortifying though it was to learn, weirdly, it was this moment that would have a pivotal effect on my health for the rest of my life.
Aside from the obvious embarrassment, s***ting yourself is a logistical nightmare. Especially in public.
My wife and I were yet to pay for our meal when I started to feel sick, then passed out. She was terrified, caught my head in her arms and cradled me until I came round 20 seconds later.
It’s hard enough to get a waiters’ attention, try doing it when you pong of poo.
How much do you even tip? I’d crapped my pants in their restaurant, I wasn’t confident the usual 10% was going to cut it.
Then, we had to navigate back the 6.5 miles to our hotel in Canary Wharf.
Unconvinced my Uber rating would ever recover from this disgusting drama, we opted for the Tube.
If there’s one piece of common knowledge about the Tube, it’s that no one will acknowledge your existence. Not even on London Marathon day.
The Underground doesn’t smell great at the best of times, so being crammed with thousands of sweaty runners did nothing to improve the situation. However, I felt that I was able to add an extra dimension of stench.
I got back to the hotel, tired and traumatised – not the feelings I’d hoped for when I’d set off that morning. I did this marathon for charity! Surely I was entitled to a small flush of smugness, as opposed to a hot, sweaty one where I’d pooped myself in the process?
As I shakily showered, I hoped to put the whole sorry incident behind me and forget all about it.
How wrong I was.
A few weeks later, my stomach started to cramp painfully. Combined with the fainting, I was concerned enough to book a GP appointment.
That one appointment kickstarted six months of blood tests, stool samples, toilet diaries, appointments, and finally, an endoscopy and colonoscopy double date. That’s a camera in the mouth and in the bum.
Different cameras, thankfully. And at different times, to avoid looking like a rotisserie chicken.
Finally, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, or UC, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease.
The inner lining of my stomach is overactive due to a problem with my immune system, which leads to ulcers, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, anaemia and fatigue.
I realised I’d experienced a lot of these symptoms for many years before the marathon, and like most men, completely ignored them. I didn’t want my GP to tell me I had to give up cheese or, worse still, crisps.
But the fact that I had fainted made me realise this could be serious and needed to be dealt with.
Even with a diagnosis, it was a struggle to get my condition under control. I suffered two bad flare-ups, which each led to me spending two weeks in hospital, where I was put on stronger medication and monitored.
Doctors can test how inflamed your organs are with a blood test. A healthy, or normal, inflammation marker comes back at under five – mine was a sky-high 84. To this day, 84 out of five is still the best score I’ve ever got in anything.
At one point, my health was so bad we were talking about surgery, and life with a colostomy bag. The idea of losing my bowel at 33 years old was terrifying.
Thankfully, it didn’t come to that – but even now, sudden flare ups and hospital stays can mean complete disruption to day-to-day life.
I’m a self-employed stand-up comedian, and there’s no denying that I‘ve lost a lot of work.
Self-employed people don’t get sick pay, or holidays. There’s no support for people like me. I applied for Adult Disability Payments (PIP in England) almost a year ago and I still haven’t heard if my application has been successful.
To help with everyday living, I have a RADAR key, which gives me access to public disabled toilets, and an app to track my bowel movements and locate my nearest loos.
I’ve had to adapt my diet, cutting out items that can irritate my condition. I may never have spicy food again, devastating for someone whose last Edinburgh Fringe show was called ‘Hot Sauce’.
I love curry but do I love it enough to risk bowel surgery?
Aged 34, my life has completely changed, but I try to have a sense of humour about it.
After all, this sudden diagnosis has given me an entire show worth of new material.
Up until that point, the closest I’d come to an idea for my show at the upcoming Fringe Festival was how much I like crisps.
I hope people will come out of my performace with an insight of how those living with chronic illnesses get by. And perhaps have a little more appreciation for their own health.
All, of course, while having a laugh at the s****y pants guy.
Liam Withnail performs ‘Chronic Boom’ at the Monkey Barrel as part of the Edinburgh Fringe until 27th August Tickets are available here
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