I remember the gastroenterologist telling me the news. I had experienced all the tests: endoscopy, colonoscopy (before 25 no less), abdominal CAT scans, and a HIDA scan to check my gallbladder for issues before telling me that I had irritable bowel syndrome. I later found out that this diagnosis is partially based on my symptoms but mostly based on them eliminating possible other issues before slapping that label on me and sending me on my way.
Lots of Google searches and library book checkouts later, I was able to determine more about my condition. I started keeping a food diary and started cutting out different foods out of my diet to see if it helped me be able to eat more than bananas, rice, and Saltine crackers. I always have a pack of gum and my anti-nausea medicine in my backpack in case something goes horribly wrong. And what I’ve determined?
My digestive system is like a sullen teenage girl. I know it sounds weird, but if you think about it, it totally makes sense.
First of all, my stomach is easily influenced by my emotional state. If I’m too anxious, too angry, too excited, or too sad, I will simultaneously feel overwhelmed and nauseated. I can absolutely stick my safe foods all the day long, but adding a stressful interview, a sad cat video, or an angry customer berating me over fines, can absolutely trigger an IBS attack, complete with abdominal pain and frequent trips to the bathroom. Trying to keep zen all day is incredibly hard when you also experience the same range of mood swings as a teenage girl thanks to crazy PCOS hormones, so it keeps my life interesting. Deep breathing, meditation, and relaxing audio books/podcasts are my best friends in helping to calm my wild emotional roller-coaster.
And then, there’s the rule-breaking. My body doesn’t always follow the rules that I determined based on my research and my food diary entries. For years, I was absolutely convinced that I must be lactose-intolerant and eliminated about 98% of the dairy out of my diet. I tried almond milk and soy milk with mixed results as they seemed to irritate my stomach at times. Now, it seems to be more angry about gluten and high sugar content. And of course, there have absolutely been times that I will eat the exact same meal that never gave me a problem before but will suddenly start to make me feel incredibly bloated and sick to my stomach. It’s incredibly frustrating at times. It’d be so much easier if staying away from specific trigger foods would solve all my problems, but it’s a moving target and I’m always about two steps behind figuring my troublesome digestive system.
Another thing that my digestive system and my formerly teenage self have in common is being lazy or generally lethargic. When I’m “bad” and eat the greasy, delicious pizza or the whole bag of Starbursts, it’s like my stomach signals my body to go into hibernation mode. If I’m home, I usually find a pillow and my favorite fleecy blanket and nod off while watching Netflix. This is fine except that I should probably be cleaning my house or working out or something else boring but productive, but instead, I feel like a teenager before 10 AM on a Saturday, grumpy, lethargic, and full of junk food. It’s even worse if I’m at work or other place where it’s imperative that I accomplish something more than 5 episodes of “Great British Baking Show” in a day. I try to use my brain to figure out the red book by the English author or do simple math to reconcile our cash register at the end of the day, but it doesn’t want to work properly. And of course, doing any sort of physical activity is completely out of the question. The only thing I seem to be good for after eating trigger foods is for complaining loudly and figuring out new ways to rest my head without putting my greasy, acne-causing fingers on my face.
And finally, having IBS can be painfully awkward, much like I was as a teenager. I distinctly remember a visit to the doctor where we had to discuss things like bowel movements and stool samples, and my super mature husband was sitting beside me giggling the entire time. And of course, there’s always trying to be polite and ladylike when you stomach or digestive system has a buildup of pressure that – ahem – needs to be released. I know most people are more comfortable discussing these bodily functions, but I’ve always been weird about discussing these things and having IBS has not made me feel any less awkward talking about it.
So all in all, my stomach is like a moody teenager – skulking over in the corner with a bad attitude and the determination to make my life so much more difficult. However, I still want to care of it properly and its refusal to accept a high fat, high sugar, high carbohydrate diet without causing havoc has caused me to become a much healthier person overall, so I guess I can be thankful for that.