The idea behind this post has been on my mind for quite a while lately. I have been struggling greatly with my health and to be quite frank, it has sucked the life out of me. You probably have heard me talk about my “stomach issues” before on my blog. I guess I never said specifically what these stomach problems were because I wasn’t convinced that it was what the doctor thought it was. I was diagnosed with IBS. I viewed IBS as the “catch-all” of stomach and digestive issues. It never seemed like it was “enough” of a diagnosis. I never fully understood just how involved and problematic IBS could be, so I thought it had to be something more. But in all my research, and reading about fellow sufferers of IBS, I am finding that it most likely is what I’m experiencing. I guess now that I have a diagnosis, I should be ‘ok’ with that. But, I’ve really been struggling with that.
IBS is something that is not curable or fixable. A person with IBS can very well end up suffering from it their whole life. If you’re curious what IBS is all about, you can check out the link here and get a pretty good understanding of it. I guess I felt a bit embarrassed to talk about it on here, because let’s be honest, talking about your GI tract and digestion and bowel habits is not something that is all too glamorous. But it is something that I struggle with a lot, and it only seems to be getting worse in the recent weeks. It has quickly become a prominent part of my daily life, where my decisions are based around it. What is even more exhausting is the fact that my symptoms change so drastically. One day I can go to the bathroom within minutes of eating even something so simple as a clementine. Then having to go again…and again…and again on what seems like an empty stomach. On days like this, I avoid eating as much as I can. Which I know isn’t healthy, but I can’t help but want to reduce the amount of times I am running to the bathroom. Then the next day, I can eat 100% normally, my hunger is normal, I eat normal, I don’t go to the bathroom AT ALL or very minimally. Then the next day, I can have the worst bloating in the world, that just will not let up. Other days, I have severe abdominal cramps, primarily on my left side, that leave me virtually doubling over in discomfort.
It is exhausting. Absolutely exhausting. And I think I get frustrated because people don’t understand just how debilitating IBS can be. I feel like people just assume that I have occasional stomach pain and that’s about it. But that is far from the case. It has become all-consuming. There are days when I am just so depressed about it. I worry about it’s impact on the rest of my life. I worry about how I won’t be able to do things as freely as I want. I worry about all the trips that Scott and I talk about doing, all of the hiking and camping we want to do out west…and being devastated to think that I may not be able to do so because I’ll need to have a bathroom always close at hand. I worry that I’ll be sucking the life out of Scott and my marriage because of the days where I just feel miserable and completely shut down. I worry, I worry, I worry.
I so optimistically and naively thought that I’d be able to find a “cure” or a “fix-all” for my problems. I’ve tried to switch foods that I eat, purposely avoiding foods that are known to be problematic for IBS sufferers. I’ve added foods that are supposed to be easy on the digestive system. Even that has been problematic. The easy to digest foods are no different than the more problematic foods. Yet, I’ve cut out a lot of things that I know will only make my symptoms worse.
I often thought that I created this problem for myself. I wondered if it was due to my restricting, sugar-free foods and candy diet, and binging that messed up my digestive system. While I know it certainly didn’t help (my GI tract probably forgot how to work normally) I know it wasn’t the cause of my IBS. I have had IBS since at least freshman year, if not before that…well before my eating disorder took root. It just wasn’t as manifest as it is now. I’ve read that stress can be a huge contribution to the onset of symptoms. I have personally experienced that. Whenever I would get nervous or anxious for something, you could find me in the bathroom. If I had an event I was going to or a test I had to take that I was nervous about, you’d find me waking up early in the morning to allow for the need to go to the bathroom multiple times. Even when I wouldn’t eat anything that morning, I’d miraculously need to use the bathroom 3 or more times before my stomach would finally settle down some. I just got used to it. But now, now things have escalated.
The unpredictability of what each day will hold, is nerve-wrecking for me. I wake up each day now, hoping and praying that I’ll have a “good” day. The sad thing is that these “good” days are still not all that great, but they are manageable in comparison to the days when I am completely drained and exhausted by my symptoms. I realized that I am worrying so much about each day, about what it will hold for me, and about the future. I am scared that my life will never be as rich and rewarding and enjoyable as I want it to be because of my IBS. I’ve scared myself into thinking the worst and expecting the worst. By doing this, I am planning for misery. I am preparing myself for bad. My mindset about my condition has been extremely negative. I’ve been thinking ‘why me?’ so much lately. ‘Why do I have to have this now that things in almost every other area of my life are going well?’
Then I realized something. I realized that things could be much worse. I can live with IBS (although it effects my life, it isn’t going to kill me) I could have cancer, I could have a disease that slowly eats away at my body until the inevitable comes. I started thinking about all the people who have things worse than me. A life more complicated by health problems, financial problems, or emotional and mental problems. I was so focused on the negatives…on all the bad things that would change now that my IBS has worsened. I was focusing on how my life wouldn’t be as enjoyable as it once was. I focused on all the bad days that I had, how it made my life so much more difficult. But then I realized…some days are worse than others. Not every day (or even every moment in a given day) is bad. Some days and some times during any given day will be better or more tolerable. Instead of focusing on all the bad, I need to start focusing on the good.
I already know how stress and worry can worsen my symptoms, so my perpetual worrying and stressing over it will only exacerbate my problems. What will help, is to not stress out about it, but rather to take things a day at a time, a step at a time. That has been a mantra of mine for quite some time now. It started in my recovery from my eating disorder. It was a gentle reminder to focus on the here and now and not get overly anxious about the future. Now, again, I need to just take life as it comes and not prepare myself for all the potential negatives that could arise. I want to learn to change the way I think about my IBS and its impact on my life.
Will it be hard? You bet. As much as I try and stay optimistic and positive, I do really struggle with that when I am facing a personal challenge. My tendency is to worry or stress or ‘plan for the worst’ just to prepare myself for it. But now I know that it could potentially change the way I’m able to live and enjoy things…especially if I let it. If I sit here and say “I can’t do this” or “I can’t do that”, I’m only hurting myself. I’m letting my IBS win. I’m letting the negative thoughts win. But if I choose to stay as positive as I can, recognizing that I may have certain limitations, but not letting those limitations ruin my life, I will be in a much better place. I will be able to live and experience good moments…without letting them pass me by because I’m focused on when the next negative experience will come along. It’s time to allow myself to embrace the good moments, embrace the times when I feel healthy and when I am not struggling as much with my symptoms. It’s time to be present and focus on more of the positives and let go of the negatives.
It’s also time for me to accept. I think for so long I was waiting for a different diagnosis, for something more “concrete” or something that could be fixed…but I now realize that isn’t happening. I will have this to deal with and it is just my reality. I can’t do anything to change it, so I will have to learn to live my life with it. I’ve tried making improvements via diet and foods that I eat, don’t eat…I’ve tried taking different supplements that aid digestion, reduce bloating and gas, and are full of healthy enzymes. I’m on two medications prescribed by my doctor, one to help with the gas/bloating and one to help with the intense abdominal pain I get (an anti-spasmodic medication). So now all I can do is follow through with these things, continue to see if they offer any improvement, or at least minimize my symptoms, and hope for the best. Sometimes we won’t always understand what we have or find a solution, but we can still learn to live with something, or accept it as our reality without letting it strip our life of happiness or enjoyment. Now I need to learn to live my life as happily and fully as I can, making allowances for my IBS but not allowing it to steal my happiness or prevent me from living my life to the full.