Life

Irritable in Illinois

**Trigger Warning** Suicidal ideation is discussed in this post. Some people might find it disturbing.

If you or someone you know is suicidal, please, contact your physician, go to your local ER, or call the suicide prevention hotline in your country. For free confidential support 24/7 in the United States, the numbers are as follows: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), or message the Crisis Text Line at 741741. Both programs provide free, confidential support 24/7.


December 2019 changed my life. I mean changed-changed. So, okay, it wasn’t December specifically. A Christmas fairy didn’t swoop in and grant me three wishes. Nothing as pleasant as all that. What I would give to be telling you the story of a Christmas fairy and not the story of Donna’s Seven Month Shitfest…

Hey! Hey, where are you going? Okay, well, we lost a couple of people. That’s okay. They weren’t ready for the straight poop and nothing but the poop. Damn. Lost a couple more with that one. *coughs* Anyway, moving onward.

At the beginning of December, my stomach troubles started. This was nothing new for me. I’ve dealt with many stomach issues since I was a kid. On the third day of December, I had horrible cramping and diarrhea. I took a lot of Imodium and ended up constipated the next day. This had happened in the past, but, in the past, it always went away after a few days. So, when this stuck around and kept getting worse, I knew something was different.

 

I feel at this point I should be clear what I mean. It’s easy to think, “Oh, Donna got a bit of a tum-tum trouble and the poops.” No. No, Donna didn’t. Well, I mean, she did—er, I did, but it wasn’t as easy as that makes it sound. I sat on a toilet for four to ten hours, clutching my guts, pooping, cramping, vomiting, and screaming in agony. Often, breathlessly begging any god to give me mercy. My family couldn’t trust me on the toilet because I would become exhausted and fall asleep where I sat, head diving toward the counter in front of me.

This happened every day, day after day, for weeks. I had only two “good” days in the entire month. It carried on for so long that my clothes hung on me, and I became weak enough that I would struggle to get to the bathroom less than five feet from my bedroom. I would walk laps around the living room and dining room, stopping when my legs would ache from the exertion. The only thing I could eat was homemade broth, chicken, and green beans, so that’s what I ate when my body allowed, no matter what meal. I worried I had underestimated my problems. Everything had pointed to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), but this felt way more serious than the bland definition I was finding on Google.

Every day my mental health plummeted more. In the middle of the cramping, my mind would ticker tape, “I can’t live like this. I won’t live like this.” It scared me how quickly my thoughts turned to suicide. In the moments of peace, I’d try to figure out the best way to kill myself without troubling anyone. (The truth is, there is no way to commit suicide without troubling someone.) At this point, I had planned my least-troubling suicide and wondered if my body would give me the chance to complete it.

On one trip to the bathroom, my daughter stood in front of me, holding my hands, walking backward toward the bathroom, her face full of concern. Exhaustion and pain hung on my every movement. I looked up into her face and cried. She cooed, “I know, mama. I know.”

I said, “I can’t live like this. I can’t do it.”

She nodded in agreement and said, “I understand, Mama,” and held back tears.

At that moment, I felt validated. I’d thought what I was going through was terrible, but in the back of my mind, I could hear my mother’s taunts that I was weak. Anyone who knows my fierce daughter would tell you that her saying she understood and not immediately shouting it down with positivity was huge. She’s only ever known a mother with depression. She doesn’t let statements like mine go. I knew it had been as horrible as I imagined.

I needed a doctor, but nothing in me believed my doctor would help me. I’ve had the man roll his eyes at me while discussing my health problems, but he had to be my first stop. I decided, if he wouldn’t help me, I’d find someone who would. It turns out that sometimes the world works in mysterious ways, and sometimes the stars align, and sometimes you get to bypass the crappy doctor and go straight to the specialist. In my case, that’s what happened.

 

I made it to my appointment after strategic planning to keep me off the toilet and ready to roll. I signed in and was told the doctor was out. My first thought was, “Of course, I finally take my ass to the doctor like I should and still don’t see the doctor.” They had tried to notify me but had my old number. We’d switched providers not long before this, and this was the world’s way of showing me I hadn’t switched to my new number everywhere. The receptionist asked if I’d like to see the nurse practitioner in the walk-in clinic instead, and I agreed.

The nurse practitioner asked me a bunch of questions and listened to my tale. She informed me that the walk-in clinic wasn’t for my type of problem, and they normally require you to see the doctor. In my head, the “Of Course Choir” was singing the joyful news. In a subsection in my head, raccoons started making a to-do list to find a new doctor, and just as the raccoons began to dance gleefully to the “Of Course Choir,” the nurse practitioner said the word that changed everything, “but”.

“But, you’ve been coming to us for six years for stomach problems. I believe you have IBS, and I can give you some tips and medicine for that, but if you’re open to it, I’d like to send you to a specialist to confirm.” Was I open to it? Hell-fucking-yeah, I was. And, for the second time since going to this doctor, it was the nurse practitioner who helped me. I love that lady.

The specialist was kind and understanding. She listened to my information and never made me feel rushed. It surprised her that my doctor hadn’t seen a connection between my brother having Celiac Disease and the possibility I could have it. Especially after I had told him I thought I was having issues with gluten. She ordered tests, which I’ve done all except for one. The pandemic hit, and my specialist doesn’t think the last test is worth coming in for right now.

Most of my appointments have been by phone because of the pandemic, but between what I’m trying and what the doc asked me to try, I finally have hope again. I micromanage my entire day. I count the amount of fiber I’ve taken in and make tiny adjustments each week to maximize my good days. I watch every item that goes into my body and how it’s cooked. I have two apps on my phone to check foods. I know how much of each food I can have, and so far, I only eat from the Low FODMAP list. As I previously mentioned, during the first several months of this, I ate only homemade chicken broth, chicken, and green beans for every meal. It was the only thing that didn’t cause me issues, or at least it seemed to be. A lot of my problem was learning how IBS worked, or rather what they know about it, and figuring out what parts of that applied to me. The learning curve was painful.

Once I started learning, I could add more foods in, but then I started going the other way. IBS with constipation is a different monster than IBS with diarrhea. So now, I have oatmeal every morning. My second meal is popcorn, no extra fat, and a treat, right now that treat is a strawberry popsicle that Schwann’s sells. It’s pretty much strawberries and sugar on a stick. I can have limited amounts of sugar without problems. My other sugar indulgence is the chocolate peanut butter cups made by Justin’s. I would get in a sketchy, white van for a peanut butter cup. Probably for peanut butter alone (another food I can have now). Dinner is the only meal that I shake it up. Okay, it’s not so much shake it up, as try to mix the foods I can have in new ways.

So, what I’ve learned… Good foods vs. bad foods vary by person, but many with IBS can eat foods from the Low FODMAP list. Good food vs. bad food is a poor way to describe it. It’s all about the type of food. We’re talking about a just-ripe banana is fine for me in limited quantity, but any riper and I will have a flare-up. Onion and garlic, I’ll scream on the toilet. Too much of any food could lead me to the same problem.

I concentrate on increasing my fiber to balance out my guts and eliminate flare-ups. The more I get it under control, the easier life gets. I have a pill that I can take to help with food-related flare-ups, and another pill that helps with the depression/anxiety led flare-ups. And, I’m told as I age, I’ll likely find more foods I can’t eat.

Anxiety and depression can cause a flare-up and a flare-up can cause both. It’s not a fun loop, and I have found nothing that stops the flare-up other than time and calming down. In the beginning, I used avoidance, yoga, and meditation to keep this under control with limited success. It didn’t take long to realize I would need more if I ever hoped to gain control of my emotion-fueled flare-ups.

This realization led me to research more about my specific issues and to a lot of psychology videos on YouTube. I understand that some of you probably cringed right there. I’m uninsured and poor. I won’t apologize for where I find my help, so you can take your cringes on down the road. These videos helped me see where my issues stem from and why. It’s now much easier for me to spot harmful trains of thought and cut them off before they get started. I could probably write for some time on how much change occurred because of those videos. It’s made me wonder where the world would be with access to basic mental health support.

During this journey, I also realized I could only control my environment to a certain degree, which made it impossible to get my IBS fully under control. If someone or something in my environment stressed me out or made me anxious, the damage was done. The best I could hope for was limiting the intensity and length of the flare-up.

Before my next appointment arrived, my specialist went on maternity leave, so they sent me to another doctor in the facility. When I grew excited about my next appointment, I knew my mental health had improved. (Any appointment normally freaks me out, even to have my eyebrows done.) I explained to the man what I’d been trying and what had worked and hadn’t, and he asked what I thought I needed to make this easier to control. I explained about the anxiety and the depression, and he asked how I’d feel about going on a low dosage anti-depressant to help smooth out what I couldn’t. I agreed full-heartedly. He sent the script and said he wanted to talk to me in two months. After the first month to a month and a half, I was having a much easier time controlling the IBS. The new medication seemed to concrete all the work I’d done up to this point. I still have to manage my emotions, but I don’t know that there’s ever been a time in my life that I’ve felt this good mentally.

I still do yoga twice a day and practice meditation daily. The yoga helps with my chronic back and neck pain, increases my strength and mobility, and twists my guts, which seems to help ease them. I have to be careful, because if the exercise, or any work for that matter, is too stressful on my body, I end up having a flare-up. The yoga I do can be as intense as I need it to be. I modify the exercises and use the DownDog App to change it to what I need for each session. The meditation helps keep my mind focused and off overthinking loops. Both have helped me with breathing through painful flare-ups as well.

As of writing this, I’ve lost 94 pounds since this started (and I’m still chunky). I believe I reset my metabolism and got rid of a few mental roadblocks that were preventing me from losing weight. The first 40-50 pounds wasn’t intentional, but since then I lose or don’t lose depending on how I eat for the week, and that’s an enormous change. Before December, I had trouble getting my weight to budge at all unless it was up and back to the same point again.

It’s weird to feel my body. It’s not like any body I’ve ever had. I don’t know. I guess when you’re fat and dreaming of losing weight you think of this previous form you’ve decided was what you’re striving toward. I always assumed loose skin and sag would be a part of it, but I wasn’t prepared for what it would feel like. When I touch my arms or legs, I don’t feel like I’m touching me. Perhaps it all happened too quickly. It felt much like waking up from a nightmare to find my clothes hung on me. It’s been a strange trip that’s for sure.

I suppose that catches anyone who made it this far up to speed. Yep, just relearning myself, mentally and physically, trying to make my body and mind stronger, and getting back to the things I was working on before December hit. It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly 10 months, and I’m finally able to get a post done about it. Granted, this is the third version, and it’s hard to edit because it brings up a lot of emotions, but hopefully, if someone else is struggling with IBS, they’ll find something here that will help them. It’s also hard looking through the information you find on the internet and seeing how terrible this condition can become. I live in fear of becoming some horror story I read about, or even that I’ve already done damage because I believe I was malnourished for a time. I had so much fear. The media had made this condition seem like a joke, and what I experienced wasn’t a joke. I worried daily that I’d find out it was pancreatic cancer instead of IBS.

I’m hoping that someone out there might take some comfort in reading this and know they’re not alone. If you’re new to IBS, please contact me if you would like further information or to just rant about the umpteenth person to shrug and say, “Just don’t eat bad food.” It’s hard to avoid the urges to throttle them. The links below helped me to feel my diagnosis was correct and to leave some of that anxiety behind. They may help you too.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Mayo Clinic (Some great general information about the condition.)

Is Hypnosis Good for IBS Symptoms? (This one had a relatable patient and some interesting info on the history.)

Kurt Cobain Explains His Stomach Problem – IBS and Depression (Sometimes hearing someone say what you’ve been feeling can be helpful.)

 

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