How’s your stomach? Good? Good. Mine is not.
I’ve never had a great stomach. As a kid, I had frequent persistent stomach aches, and in high school everything seemed to reach a fever pitch with daily nausea and accompanying weakness and fatigue. I went through a battery of tests including an ultrasound, barium scan and an upper GI, but nothing was ever identified. As anyone with stomach troubles knows though, just because they can’t find anything doesn’t mean it isn’t anything. I started running as an outlet for my energy and a way to relax, and that seemed to help keep my stomach troubles at bay.
Despite late nights and a crummy diet, to my surprise, college was when my stomach was at it’s best. I can’t remember any serious stomach woes in my early twenties and was pretty healthy right out of college too.
Unfortunately, it seems like my stomach struggle is back. I think it was brought on by stress. We spent the summer traveling to fun but far off locations, and I’ve never been a good traveler. I have moderate flight anxiety, so while it was exciting, all those adventures took their toll. Add to that, a move to a new apartment and a huge hurricane, and, well I think my body was just spent. I was exhausted and stressed, and my stress pretty much lives in my stomach, so I wasn’t too surprised when I spent the next few weeks in a lot of pain. I figured it was just stress related rather than something internal.
When daily stomach pain stretched across an entire month, I started to worry. I decided to be proactive and enlisted the help of a few doctors. I was lucky enough to find a general physician who I really like, and he sent me for a comprehensive blood panel to rule out any immediate danger. When that came back mostly negative (save a small hereditary blood disorder) he recommended a gastroenterologist.
My first stomach doctor was not a good fit for me. I appreciated his candor, but don’t think that anyone needs to hear anecdotes about 23 year olds with stage IV colon cancer on their first visit. So, I found another doctor. If you’re in pain, find someone you trust. Even if you have to see 10 doctors, keep looking. It’s your health, so it’s that important.
The second doctor was much better. He suspected the problem was a parasite, so he requested a stool sample and more blood work to rule out allergies like Celiac. Honestly, the stool sample was the worst part. It wasn’t painful or anything, just gross and inconvenient, but I was willing to do whatever to get to the root of the problem. As for the blood work, I’d suspected a sensitivity to gluten based on personal experience, and have generally avoided it for a couple years, but was pretty sure I didn’t have Celiac as I’d eaten gluten in large portions for most of my life.
Both tests came back negative. I’m still glad I did them, but frustrated not to have answers. I’ve been incorporating wheat back into my diet slowly because avoiding it is difficult (I already don’t eat dairy or much meat), and definitive proof that I am not allergic to it was compelling enough evidence to discontinue restricting it. I’ll still watch my gluten intake as I really do think a diet that’s lower in gluten makes me feel a bit better, but I no longer consider myself gluten free.
Our next steps were more blood tests for less common issues (like auto-immune disorders) and a breath test for a fructose sensitivity. I highly doubt I’m allergic to sugar, but anything’s possible. I did the first part of the breath test (establishing a baseline) and it was as easy as holding my breath for ten seconds and slowly exhaling into a tube. The bloodwork is getting easier too. I used to feel a little faint, but now I’m a pro! It’s the little things.
The second blood test came back negative too, but now I’ve been feeling pretty sick over four months, so we’ve got some more work to do. Unfortunately, the next major test is a biggie that I knew was coming but still shook me. My doctor wants to do a colonoscopy. I’m nervous and frustrated. I want to write more about it, but I’m saving it for a later post as this is already getting long.
So why write this? Well, I feel like I share my life here, and this is a major part of my life right now. Every day for months I’ve been in pain. It’s varied from mild to severe, but it is ever present. Most days I’m optimistic because all my tests have been clean, and I’m on the right path, but some days I’m blue. I feel frustrated and hopeless and worried that this is my new life.
I want to remember this because I truly don’t think it’s forever, and I want to be able to look back and say, “I got through this. I can get through anything.” I also want to be a resource if I can. I know I don’t have any answers right now, but I’ve been through a lot of tests, and can offer a modicum of comfort in that regard.
My best advice is trust your instincts and be your own advocate. I am lucky to be surrounded by caring friends and family, but I have had a few people suggest that it’s in my head or that I’m exaggerating. It’s not, and I’m not. I practice stress reduction, and I live a healthy life. Something is wrong with my stomach not my mindset. If you feel like something is not right, follow that instinct and talk to a professional. Don’t stop at one either, find someone who is a good fit for you and your situation. Ask questions, take notes, do your research and don’t stop if something doesn’t make sense. At the end of the day, our health is our most valuable asset. If we’re not healthy, the rest doesn’t matter, so own your health, and make the most of it.