I don’t remember NOT having pooping problems.
I don’t remember NOT having pooping problems tied to mental struggles.
I do remember my dad reading stories to me as I sat patiently on the toilet waiting for it to happen for the first time in a week. He read right on through the collection of Disney stories. Cinderella. The Jungle Book. Beauty and the Beast. I sat through them all, waiting to poop, and it wouldn’t happen. Not even a plop. 🙂
It didn’t stop as my teen years started. I still had pooping issues through all of the big events, those life-changing experiences, and — omg, especially in public! During my junior year, the band went to New York City. Moments like crying over the beauty of the music of Lion King on Broadway to standing hand-in-hand with my high school sweetheart were veiled in the consistent worry in the back of my mind. Poop. I haven’t gone in a week.
You can laugh. Really. Poop is funny.
And then, college. Which, really, is synonymous with Marching Band.
I had what I consider my first “IBS ATTACK” during my first week of band camp. I ate a SALAD at the cafeteria on lunch. It was iceberg lettuce with some tomatoes and green peppers, like one of those house salads from a terrible Italian restaurant. That salad left me (as a salad) a couple hours later. I had to SPRINT to the nearest building and barely made it. By the grace of god, there was no one in the ladies room. You see, my symptoms had reversed. I usually couldn’t go. Now, I couldn’t STOP. To the point that I was teeter-tottering on passing out on the pot.
Luckily, I had this dreamboat of a section leader who openly talked about poop all. the. time. Seriously. Such a blessing, y’all. Because then the ENTIRE section openly talked about poop too, among other things. [Trust me, you’re gonna want me to keep it a “drumline thing.”]
So, when these intimidating 20-somethings asked little old 17-year-old me, “What color was it? I was totally comfortable answering. It’s actually how my Rookie nickname stuck. There was a rousing chorus of, “Raja has diarrhea.” It, funnily enough, made me feel so much better. The whole poop issue was normalized! [So, CJ, if you’re reading this at any point… Thanks, friend. :)]
But, it wasn’t normal. Because that IBS attack just led to more frequent attacks. My freshman college experience consisted of class, rehearsal, or BED. I’d eat something, and then immediate head to bed because of a NEW symptom to accompany my pooping problems… nausea. It was CONSTANT, y’all. I tried to eat crackers, shredded wheat, bread, soup, etc. It didn’t matter. Everything made me nauseous.
THE MIND GAME
Here’s the thing though. The IBS would spike my nausea, which would spike my anxiety, which would spike my nausea. Do you see the cycle? I was SPIRALING.
So much so that I ended up in the ER after eating an apple…
I was thrown into a hospital gown and strapped to an IV with anti-nausea meds coursing through my veins. I remember every inch of that beige room that was meant for two with only one of me. I felt so small.
I remember clinging to my silver Verizon flip phone with a hope and a prayer that my Mom would call me back.
I remember trying to distract myself with Saved by the Bell on the tiny TV bolted to the ceiling.
I remember worrying about insurance; that I was out-of-state and I had no idea how much the bill was going to be.
I remember feeling SAFE for the first time in months. I was around people who might actually alleviate my nausea.
When I was discharged, I had no one to take me home. So, they called the POLICE to take me back to my dorm. I rode in the back on the hard gray seat wondering what crazy stories my fellow Honors College dorm mates would concoct.
But the next day. Homecoming. It got worse.
I will NEVER forget bawling my eyes out as I heard the band march past my dorm with an empty note in the place where I should have played. I will NEVER forget seeing my friends stream out of our dorm in full black to the concert without me. I will NEVER forget watching my entire roommate’s dvd collection to ESCAPE.
Shortly thereafter, I had to tell that dreamboat of a section leader that I was leaving school on medical leave. And, again, I had let someone down. My dad drove 6 hours to school and 6 hours back home in one day. [Thanks, Dad.]
Here’s the short list of tests that my Mom got to tote me around to. [Thanks, Mom.]
- Fecal Test
- Blood Test
- Barium Test – I had to drink barium, a thick white chalky liquid that I equate to caulk, as they flipped me upside down and all around while strapped to an x-ray to see how the barium transitioned within the gut.
- Upper Endoscopy – They stuck a tube down my throat to take pictures of my stomach. It was brutal.
DIAGNOSIS? Gastroparesis / IBS / NO FUCKING CLUE
Y’all. This makes me so livid to write. These docs had flipped me around, poked and prodded me, and they had no fucking clue how to help me. They gave me some medicine – one for acid, two for anxiety – and a FLIPPING FIBER LIST. Yeah, a list of how much fiber is in each food. That’s it.
UPS + DOWNS
So, I cried a lot. I went to Whole Foods for the first time and bought some books about IBS. These two books by Heather Van Vorous [My First Year with IBS and Eating for IBS] were honestly were the only things that made me feel somewhat normal as I started my journey back to health. I broke down in the Whole Foods – sobbing as I sat on the floor in the resources section looking through these books trying to figure out what it all meant and how I could possibly overcome it. When would I feel like me again?
Over the course of the next 7 years, I tried everything. Some things helped. Some things didn’t. Here’s the order…
2008. Fat Free. I did this because I was told it was perhaps the reason that my poops were so loosie goosie. I eventually figured out that it wasn’t helping, and just tried to stick to bland foods instead. Saltines. Shredded Wheat. Apples.
2011. Gluten Free. I did this because I had this amazing roommate during a summer internship. I did a trial 2-week run, and felt so much better. You know all of those ‘bland foods’ I was eating. They all have gluten. *Lightbulb moment* I still, to this day, and gluten-free. I did it before it was cool. 🙂
2012. Dairy Free. I had been vegetarian since high school, and I went dairy free sometime in 2012. This is also the year I GRADUATED and went to DETROIT.
2013. Remember how I said that anxiety spirals with my IBS. Well, enter teaching into my life, and that anxiety skyrocketed. I somehow managed to be fine in front of the kids. Probably because of the adrenaline. But, when I WASN’T in front of the kids, I was a mess. I attribute my craziness of IBS during this time to my stress levels. I did the best I could.
By now, though, I had GIVEN UP. In my mind there was NO way that there was anything else that could help. I’d tried EVERYTHING. I was just destined to have half of the energy, half the fun, and have the life as everyone else. I couldn’t be fixed. Hell, they didn’t even know what was wrong with me.
2015. I started drinking a superfoods shake with pre and probiotics. I didn’t think it was going to help at all. I had tried pre- and probiotics. Whatever. It wasn’t going to work for me.
By Day 4, I was a completely different person.
The pre- and probiotics had brought my gut to a healthy balance, so I could now truly absorb the nutrients from my new clean diet and these superfoods.
>I could now go out to dinner with friends without needing to know the location of the restaurant bathroom ahead of time.
>I could now travel home on a plane without feeling like I should do a 12 hour fast beforehand to avoid complications.
>I could now go to the grocery store [30 min away] without being afraid I’d have to stop part-way there to potty.
When I say my life was changed, it’s because I felt like I was normal again. Taking control of my digestion was like taking my LIFE back. For the first time, in ever.
Now, I follow the low-fodmap diet that’s been all the rage in recent years in the GI field. New research has come out supporting it. My friends with digestive maladies like reflux, crohn’s, ibs, etc seem to do better eating with the low fodmap guidelines.
I now understand why I can have tomatoes but not tomato sauce, cantaloupe but not watermelon, peppers but not onions. So, if you’re someone who is having tummy troubles, seriously, message me and go search low-fodmap.
MY WISH FOR YOU
I hope that you learn before I HAD to learn. All of these sayings below are true. I’m living proof. It just took me 7 YEARS of struggling before 4 DAYS changed my life. Your health is partially genetics and partially in your control by what you put in your mouth and what you expose to your body. So, please. Please. Take care of yourself.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.
EAT LIKE YOU GIVE A FUCK.
LET FOOD BE THY MEDICINE.
HEALTH IS WEALTH.