Teen battling agonising ‘invisible illness’ paints dramatic message on stomach

Fay Harrison is in agonising pain almost every day – but no one would ever know.

The 18-year-old suffers from regular flare ups of Irritable Bowel Syndrome , which means she can't go out with friends or even make it to college.

Sick of suffering in silence Fay decided to 'paint her pain' onto her abdomen so it would no longer be an 'invisible illness'.

And after her latest flare up Fay, who has suffered wth IBS for he last 12 months, she decided to distract herself from the pain by recreating it in eyeshadow and lipstick on her stomach to show what it feels like.

The part-time waitress spent an hour working with light and dark pink-hued pigments of her makeup to 'show' what her pain felt like to others who had never experienced it.

Using darker tones for the more inflamed areas around her belly button, photos show the whole of Fay's abdomen tinged pink and looking tender.

The teenager then posed with her hands holding her stomach and posted four photos of her art online to raise awareness of the invisible illness.

In the post, Fay wrote: "To anyone who struggles with IBS or any other digestive/stomach related disorder, maybe even chronic pain – this is for you.

"Today my IBS started to flare up and instead of sitting in bed, crying because of the pain, I decided to visualise my pain on my stomach with makeup.

"With health issues like this, people can't always fully understand the chronic pain that comes with it. This is because it is an invisible illness.

"Hopefully these photos will make people aware that a flare-up isn't just a minor 'tummy ache'.

"It's a massive burning sensation, it's a sharp, excruciating pain that lingers. It's heartburn . It's stomach cramps. It's a pain so severe that any small movement is difficult."

The post went viral with more than 5,600 likes, comments and shares.

Fay said: "I basically had a bit of a flare-up that day. Normally whenever I get a flare up I just end up sitting in bed because it's so painful it just hurts to move.

"Instead of sitting around feeling sorry for myself, I thought I would just try and visualise it so that other people could understand how painful it is.

"Flare-ups are so difficult to describe. I get heartburn with it. They're basically like stomach cramps where it feels like you're constantly being punched.

"Sometimes it will feel like a stabbing pain in places. It feels like a burning pain. It's across the whole of my abdomen. It's mainly in the centre of my stomach.

"It took me about an hour [to draw]. I just used eyeshadow and lipstick. It did distract me from the pain because obviously I was focussing on something else.

"I had darkened the bits that were hurting me the most. Going over that was quite painful because it was tender but it did take the thought away from the pain.

"If I hadn't been doing that I would have just been sitting around."

Fay was initially diagnosed with gastritis, or inflammation of the stomach lining, around a year ago but struggled when medication failed to help her.

She was later diagnosed with IBS after doctors noticed the pain got worse depending on how stressed she was.

Fay now says she suffers symptoms nearly every week – but still can't pinpoint what causes them.

Fay said: "IBS is common, so it makes me feel like it's not as bad in a sense. At the beginning I got flare ups quite often.

"I had to stop going to college for a few weeks. Even just simple tasks such as emptying the dishwasher, I really struggled with that.

"Nowadays I don't get them as often but when I do they're still really painful. I had a flare up on Monday and I'm feeling a lot better now, but still a bit tender.

"Whenever I get a flare up, it's really difficult to eat healthily . Anything seems to [make me] hurt. I had a sandwich meal deal with fruit in it and I just couldn't eat that.

"It's upsetting seeing everyone [my age] be able to go and get a McDonald's or whatever for their lunch and I just can't.

"I just try and make my food as bland as possible and avoid all the spicy food. I know that's definitely a trigger for me.

"I think with most people they are able to identify what foods hurt them but for me it's quite random."

Fay now cooks for herself to avoid accidentally eating something that would trigger a flare up and rarely drinks alcohol.

Her mum, Teresa Dent, 49, says Fay finds it hard to not take part in activities like any other normal 18-year-old.

Teresa, who works in admin, said: "If I could just take the IBS and have it myself, if I could take it and Fay could live her life much more freely, I would do that for her.

"It's not a very nice thing to watch, especially for a young person. I just don't think a lot of people understand and see it as a bit of a sick note, but it isn't. She copes well.

"She's really strong, but it does get her down and it's really sad to see her when she's low. I keep an extra special eye on Fay because she needs it more [than my other children].

"It's completely unfair for a youngster, or anyone of any age, but of someone that age especially.

"There isn't a week goes by that she doesn't have symptoms and more often than not they are symptoms which really bring her down.

"I'm glad that visualisation has helped people. The main response has been really positive and thanking her for visualising it. She's done a good job on it."

The photos received a lot of positive feedback from other people, including many other IBS sufferers.

One person said: "I've just seen this on a friend's profile and I'm so glad you have done this.

"I also suffer from an invisible illness (U/C) and I am currently sat here with hot water bottles to try and alleviate the pain so know just how your feeling… sending hugs xxx."

One person commented: "This is accurate! IBS can be so painful."

Another added: "Totally agree worst pain I've ever had."

What is IBS?

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common syndrome affecting the digestive system that causes pain and discomfort in the bowel.
  • It is a lifelong condition with no cure, although diet and medication can help to control the symptoms.
  • Symptoms include bloating, stomach cramps, diarrhea and constipation.

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