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Living with IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is not a fun thing to deal with. Figuring out you have it is even worse, because then you have to go through your diet and eliminate anything and everything that makes your stomach hurt until it's down to just the bare minimum. You go to a number of doctors appointments, with different doctors each time, looking for a second opinion or a better diagnosis, because you think there HAS to be something wrong. I mean, why else would you be in pain all the time if something WASN'T wrong? This is my story, my baggage to carry, and I'm sharing my experience with all of you.
It all started the summer of my sophomore year of high school. More often than not, I'd find myself laying on the bathroom floor, crying because I was in so much pain. The pain in my abdomen was so strong that I didn't want to stand up. I was starting to get worried that I may really have something wrong with my body. This lead to me talking to my mom, who is a yoga teacher, but she had also taken nutrition classes in her spare time. She told me that she wanted me to try going gluten free for a few weeks to see how that made me feel. I didn't want to listen, because almost everything that I loved to eat was LOADED with gluten. My favorite foods were toast with cinnamon and sugar dipped in applesauce and garlic knots. I continued to eat these things on a daily basis. I would come home from school every day and eat four pieces of toast the way I loved it and then I would go do my homework. Later in the night, I would find myself in the same position on the bathroom floor. I thought that it was maybe just the stress from school. I worried a lot. My sophomore year was not a good time. I was attending a high school that, for the most part, gave everyone college level assignments and expected you to be as prepared as a college student. Of course I would stress myself out more by not doing my homework. However, by this point, I had figured I should probably take my mother's advice and go gluten free. Because mom is always right, isn't she?
I decided to try the whole gluten free thing during the summer between sophomore and junior year. I went completely gluten free for two weeks, eating everything my mom ate because she was gluten free herself. Then, on my birthday, I decided that I really wanted to have normal (gluten filled) strawberry cake. I had a very small piece, but even that was a bad idea. Up until this point I hadn't really noticed it, but I had been feeling better not eating things that contained gluten. A couple days later, I started having really bad abdominal pain again, but it was much worse than before. My mom took me to the ER, where they ran a bunch of tests, checking for appendicitis, and other infections that could have been causing my pain. Every test came back negative. Including the test for celiac. We had even asked my doctor if there was a possibility that I could have a sensitivity to gluten, but they said that that wasn't possible (really guys?).
So that was that. I decided that from that point, I wouldn't go anywhere near anything that contained gluten. Within a few weeks, I started to feel better. I even lost weight and I didn't feel puffy. The tendinitis that I had in my wrist that was giving me constant pain went away. I felt better for a while and then the pain started again. At this point, I just kept eliminating things from my diet. I had already eliminated milk from my diet because we figured out when I was in second grade that I had an intolerance. Funny thing is, lactose intolerance and gluten intolerance go hand in hand. If you are sensitive to one, you may be sensitive to the other one too because maybe your body just doesn't produce enough of the enzyme that breaks down those proteins.
I also eliminated pork and beef products because anything with a high fat content made my stomach upset. That left me with chicken, turkey, and fish, which I was very thankful that I didn't have to eliminate because sushi is the best thing ever.
The pain lessened over time, but never entirely went away. I discovered that whenever I was in a high pressure situation, my constant worrying would get my stomach turning and it wouldn't stop.
This brings me to the summer just before my senior year. I was moving from Seattle, Washington to Savannah, Georgia. This wasn't my first time moving out of state, but it was stressful nonetheless. My brother and I flew to Kansas to stay a month with both sets of grandparents. During this month, I noticed that my stomach pain got worse once more. I was taking ibuprofen for it every other day because some days were just worse than others. I started talking to my aunt about it, who suggested I go to a gyno to get checked for endometriosis. Considering I'd never been to a gyno at this point and I was already 18, I wasn't going to rule this one out.
When we got to Georgia at the end of that summer, school started within a few days. I felt like a freshman again. Being the new kid sucked and it was stressful. Therefore, guess what came back. Stomach pains! During the first few months at my new school, I made a friend who caused nothing but trouble for me. She was an extremely toxic person and that is a different story for a different day but nonetheless she was toxic.
Finally, in November, my family decided that enough was enough and they took me to a gastroenterologist. They ran multiple tests, which all came back negative. No surprise there. I even went in for an upper GI, where they knock you out and shove a little scope down your throat into your stomach and take a sample for a biopsy. They ran a bunch of tests, including a test for celiac, as well as a bunch of other allergies. Guess what? They all came back negative. Part of me was really upset because I actually wanted them to find SOMETHING, just so I would have an answer, but at the same time, I'm glad they didn't find anything.
They diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and sent me on my merry way. At that point, I knew that there was not a whole lot I could do other than accept that everyone has baggage and this just happens to be mine. I stuck with my same diet, never let back in any of the things that I ruled out. However, I can always notice a difference when I do yoga. It calms me down enough that for a while, my stomach doesn't bug me. But it's also irritating when you're out somewhere and you feel fine and then the anxiety sets in and you think, Oh my goodness what if I have a stomachache? Will I be able to find a bathroom? And then suddenly you have a stomachache because you're worrying about all of those things and you don't want to be embarrassed. Those are the things that will make IBS worse, but if you try to calm yourself down after that, and get a few minutes to yourself, you will likely start to feel better. Meditate. People may look at you funny if you do it in public, but if it helps, it helps and that's what matters. It's something that approximately 45 million people in the U.S. alone struggle with, so believe me, you aren't alone. Someone else may be silently meditating their stomachache away too.