PaleOhNo! Part One

I’ve been hesitant to talk about my stomach for fear of speaking too soon only to backslide to where I was most of last year. I realized though that anything could change, so I should share the good news while it’s here.

It all started with my visit to the homeopathic doctor who I lovingly refer to as the witchdoctor. He was so wonderful. He listened and immediately identified my underlying problem which was causing a whole variety of nasty side effects. The basic issue was an overgrowth of fungus (candida) in my intestines which was brewing up an unhealthy amount of yeast in my stomach and gut.  It was never idenitified as an issue before because most conventional doctors don’t consider fungal growth a problem. Luckily, the witchdoctor does, and he got me started on a special diet and herbal remedy plan immediately. There are anti-fungals you can take for this issue but they can be pretty rough on your liver, so we decided to pursue this course of action first.

The idea, he said, was to starve the fungus by cutting out it’s number one food source: sugar, of course. He doesn’t believe in extreme diets, so he only asked me to avoid all forms of refined sugar. Additionally, we didn’t want to introduce any new fungus via fermented foods, so no wine or beer, vinegar or mushrooms. Honestly, the wine was the worst part. I don’t have a huge sweet tooth, but I do enjoy a nightly glass of wine. Still, it had been such an awful year, I would have done anything in the hope of feeling better. Because it wasn’t a totally restrictive diet, I was able to start right away. The only tricky switch was the vinegar. I usually have a salad every day for lunch, and almost all dressings contain some variety of vinegar. I switched to olive oil and lemon which I was surprised to find most salad joints have on hand. I didn’t love it at first and missed the variety, but it’s really grown on me!

There was also an herbal component which included some multivitamins and digestive enzymes. The vitamins are excellent especially my new multi which includes valerian root and has done wonders for my general anxiety levels. It’s hard to tell if the enzymes have made a difference, but they haven’t hurt.

I started feeling better almost immediately. I’d say within 14 days I could tell a noticeable differnce. After a month, I finally ditched the “emergency bag” I’d hauled with me literally everywhere for the past year. This was a bag full of 4-5 different type of stomach meds, ginger chews, peppermint gum and chamomile tea. All of which I used to employ (usually all in the same day) to keep my stomach symptoms at bay. I couldn’t believe how much better I felt. It was as if I didn’t even realize how bad things had gotten until I finally remembered what it feels like to feel normal. I didn’t even have to plan my outings around bathroom stops anymore! It was a life changer, but I still wasn’t 100%. I still had tough days and couldn’t figure out why, so I did a little digging.

There’s a ton of research out there about the candida diet, and all of it agrees that sugar is the number one irritant, and it needs to be elimintated. Like I said earlier, I don’t really have a sweet tooth, and I didn’t consume tons of sugar before starting the diet, so I didn’t really understand what eliminating sugar would do. After doing some reading, I realized I was forgetting about a main source of sugar that I definitely did have in my diet, which was carbs. I’d done the gluten free thing before and felt better but I never considered (and still don’t consider) myself gluten intolerant. Still, I decided to cut out all simple carbs for a few weeks and see how I felt.

I should pause here to note, that there are plenty of people out there who don’t even believe Candida is a real issue. That’s cool, but since making a real effort to eliminate it, I feel 100xs better. I’m not sure what that means, but I’m happy, and I’m a believer.

Researching a carb free lifestyle led me almost immediately to the Paleo Diet. Having experimented with vegetarianism and gluten free living, I am obviously not shy about hopping on diet trends. Still, I was skeptical. Would I have to start cross-fitting? Would I need to convert everyone I love? All of that and more in Part Two, but let’s just say, going Paleo has changed my life, and I don’t think I’ll ever go back. Yep. I’m one of those now. Sorry.

Stomach Follow-Up

So, a few weeks ago, I posted my strategy for dealing with my still un-diagnosed stomach issues. I figured it was only fair that I check back in on the progress. Here we go…

  • Be really good about keeping a food diary.

Meh. I haven’t been too good about this. I think maybe I need to do a bit more research on it because I don’t find it really useful when I eat a meal with 7 ingredients and then get sick. It’s too hard to tell what caused the problem, and it makes me scared of all the foods. I’ll do the research and get back to ya.

  • Ease up on the restrictions so I don’t lose my mind, but monitor my intake of “trigger foods.” 

See above. I’ve been eating more gluten, and there’s no obvious link to stomach issues. Still, I’m not ready to fully rule it out as a trigger. Maybe I’ll abstain for a few days then eat some gluten and see what happens. I’ve been really careful about lactose, spicy foods, and, unfortunately, chocolate. Again, it’s hard to tell if these things are really helping because some days are good and others are not.

  • Stick to “safe foods” in a flare situation.

This has been a biggie for me. I’ve made a couple significant diet changes that have really seemed to help. I find I always have problems with my stomach in the morning and afternoon. I have this theory that it takes my stomach a long time to “wake up” so even though I’m hungry first thing in the morning, anything I eat before 10am makes me sick. Also, I feel like sitting all day at work really irritates my digestion.

Because starting my day at 10 and walking around all afternoon is not an option I’ve been sticking to really bland food before dinner. I eat low fiber cereal or toast with butter or avocado most mornings with the occasional egg when I have the time. Lunch used to always be a huge salad or something else veggie based because I love that, but it was wreaking havoc on my guts (gross, sorry) so I switched to simple sandwiches, wraps or leftover dinner (minus the veg). Basically, I eat another low fiber meal.

I felt kind of crummy about this because there’s not a whole lot of nutrients to be found in white foods, but I think I found a solution. I starting “juicing” (I say “juicing” because I don’t have a juicer so it’s really just blending to a fairly fine consistency) 2-3 cups of spinach or kale with pineapple and orange juice. It tastes great, and it seems to be a lot easier on my digestive system than straight up raw veggies. I try to drink one a day in order to keep getting those vitamins. I also load up on veggies at dinner time. It’s not a perfect system, but it does seem to help.

  • Learn to manage my stress and anxiety effectively.

Meh. No huge progress in this area. There’s a lot going on these days with the house and the wedding. I’d love to start doing more yoga because I find that really effective. Yoga in a class setting is super relaxing for me. Yoga DVDs? Not so much. I just can’t get as into it, so I’m waiting until we get settled in our new town to find a new place to get my ohm on. Otherwise, I’ve been trying a few little things here and there. When I feel stress coming on, I do a “full body evaluation” and try to release any tension I’m holding on to (usually in my jaw, shoulders and stomach). I also try and practice my deep breathing every few days.

  • Explore alternatives.

None so far. Again, I’m waiting to find an acupuncturist in our new locale. It didn’t make sense to me to try and find someone in Jersey City if I won’t be here much longer. I’m still totally on board with the idea though. I’m also taking 1-2 probiotics daily, and I can definitely notice a difference on days I forget to take any. Those expensive little pills are wonderful!

  • Maintain a regular exercise schedule.

I’m doing great in this area! Since choosing not to do the half marathon, I’ve felt so much more enthusiastic about working out. I don’t worry as much about being too sore to do a long run or getting injured, so I’ve been running, lifting or biking pretty much every day. I do think it helps. At the very least, it makes me tired enough to get a good night’s sleep which is always good.

So that’s where we stand. Since the colonoscopy I’ve had more good days than bad, and I’m so thankful for that. I’m beginning to trust my body again, and it’s giving me enormous peace of mind. That being said, I’m still sick more often than I’d like, and it’s still discouraging. I’ll have a week of good days then find myself sidelined for a weekend. It doesn’t make sense, and it’s frustrating, but I’m forging ahead and hoping for the best.

Stomach Update

There’s not too much to update since the colonoscopy, but I thought I’d check back in anyway.

To review, following the procedure, the doctor told me that he’d found no inflammation and a small, benign looking polyp. Due to those results, he was able to rule out some seriously scary issues like Crohn’s, Collitis and Colon Cancer. Thank goodness.

I originally really liked this doctor because he seemed full of ideas and suggestions. After the procedure he seemed a little deflated, and I think that rubbed off on me. He suggested two more possibilities (lactose and fructose intolerance), but I just couldn’t get on board with those. Maybe I’m just burnt out from too many tests and too few answers, but I decided not to follow through with the testing. Anecdotal evidence tells me I am not lactose intolerance, but avoiding cheese has never made my stomach hurt worse.

I chose not to do the fructose intolerance testing mostly because even if I were found to be fructose intolerant, I wouldn’t make the necessary dietary changes. It’s just too much. I’m getting very tired of restrictive eating especially because it feels like it makes little difference. Some weeks I can eat whatever I want and feel fine. Other weeks, I stick strictly to “safe foods” and feel terrible.

I’m sure I’ll go back to the doctor soon and continue our quest for answers because I really don’t want to live like this forever, but for now I just need a little break.

I’ve formulated my own action plan, and I’m hoping it strengthens my resolve to get better. Here’s what’s on deck:

  • Be really good about keeping a food diary. I’ve done this in the past and actually really surprised myself about what some of my “trigger foods” are. It’s tedious, but I’m going to see if keeping the diary on my phone helps me actually stick with it.
  • Ease up on the restrictions so I don’t lose my mind, but monitor my intake of “trigger foods.” I can’t avoid gluten forever, so I’m not, but I do try and stay conscious of how many danger foods (gluten, dairy, spicy food, high fiber foods, red wine, chocolate <— I know… it’s terrible) I eat in a given week.
  • Stick to “safe foods” in a flare situation. Sometimes, when I feel myself getting sicker, I eat more “trigger foods” just to stick it to my body. It’s exactly as senseless as it sounds, so I’m stopping that. When I start to feel really crummy, I’m sticking to safe foods (white rice, sandwiches instead of high fiber salads, plain pasta, fruit juice instead of fruit).
  • Learn to manage my stress and anxiety effectively. I’ve sort of been putting off finding a new therapist since we’re moving soon, and I’d like to find one in our new town, but I am on the hunt and eager to sit down with a professional and make a plan to really tackle this anxiety. I know my stress lives in my stomach, and that certainly doesn’t help me feel better.
  • Explore alternatives. Like acupuncture. I just learned that my health insurance will cover acupuncture treatments so long as their performed by a doctor or chiropractor. Thus far, I’ve only been able to find doctor’s whose office hours conflict with my work hours. I’m working on it.
  • Maintain a regular exercise schedule. I’m one of those people that just does better when I do a little activity each day. My body thrives on consistency. I don’t think running every day is good for me though, so I’m looking for other ways to get my heart pumping daily. I’ve been looking into gyms in my almost new hometown, and I think I might try spinning since blogland said so.

So, that’s it. I don’t have any answers, and I’m taking a break from the doctor for now, but not forever. I’ll keep you updated on what worked and what didn’t, and I’ll try and post a sample food diary as I had a hard time finding one online.

Until then, I hope you’re feeling well!

Colonoscopy Prep and Procedure

Ok. This is the last post about my colon. I promise. If you have questions, feel free to email me as I’m happy to talk about it, but I do want to give some home buying updates. Those are coming soon!

Anyway, so when I last checked in, I was fasting, but not really prepping yet. The fasting wasn’t too bad. I had eaten more than usual the day before, so I didn’t really start to get ravenously hungry until around 5pm on Friday. Better than I thought. Chris was really sweet and went out to dinner by himself rather than eat right in front of me, which definitely helped make it easier.

Luckily, as soon as I started getting hungry it was the time to start taking all the preparation meds, so I had a nice distraction. I was nervous about taking the medicine because I have a sensitive stomach, and it’s a lot of liquid. All in all, you have to drink 4 liters of the mixture. Surprisingly, it wasn’t that bad.

Lots of sources online said to chill the mixture to make it more palatable, but I left mine at room temperature because my stomach tends to cramp up when I drink too much of anything cold. The taste started off like a very bad dirty martini (salty and kinda murky and missing all the fun gin and olives), but by my fourth liter, it tasted more like dirty ocean water. It’s not great. Still, it’s not nearly as bad as people say it is. I didn’t have to hold my nose, and I didn’t gag. I started off drinking 8oz every 15 minutes, but towards the end I wanted to be done with it, so I just kept drinking it continually. It took me from 5pm to 8:45 to drink the entire mixture. Some people do it in 2 hours, but I drank as much as I could at a time until my stomach started to feel too full. Then, I stopped and waited then drank some more. I think not chugging it helped me keep from getting sick.

I didn’t really feel bad at all. My stomach never really hurt, and I never felt like I was going to pass out. I felt fine by 10pm and was able to sleep through the night completely.

I woke up at 6:15 feeling pretty ill. I think all the stomach acid that had built up overnight in my empty stomach was making me sick. I got up and walked around a bit, and by 7:15 I was feeling fine again. I was super hungry though and starting to feel a little light headed. We left for the doctor around 9 because we wanted to beat any traffic into the city and find parking, but I think next time I would stay home longer. We got to the doctor’s by 9:30, and waiting in the reception area for an hour was no fun. I just felt very dizzy and anxious.

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this is my “I’m terrified” face

At 10:40, they led me into the recovery room to change into a gown and get prepped. That’s when I started to get really nervous. It’s just a lot of machinery. The anesthesiologist came and inserted the IV into my arm (Spoiler alert: that was the most painful part of the procedure, and it really didn’t hurt that badly. This is a really painless procedure.) and explained the process to me. That helped calm my nerves a teeny bit, but when they hooked me up to a heart monitor and put the oxygen tube in my nose, I lost it again and started crying. I’m not a big crier, but I was feeling overwhelmed. My doctor used a paper towel to wipe my tears, which I thought was very compassionate. He’s a great doctor.

When the anesthesiologist started injecting the anesthesia into the tube in my arm, the last thing I remember is saying, “It feels like my face has pins and needles!” That’s really it. It’s an odd, tingling sensation then you are OUT. Like in less than a second. I’m the most anxious person I know. If I take Tylenol PM, I fight it and never fall asleep, but anesthesia is the real deal. There’s no fighting it. You just drift off. I remember dreaming, but I can’t remember about what.

Literally, the next thing I knew, I was back in the recovery room. The whole procedure took 15 minutes! Waking up from anesthesia is like getting drunk backwards. You wake up and feel just like you do when you’ve had two drinks too many and you need to either go home immediately or eat an entire pizza or both. You can’t remember what you said three minutes ago, so you just repeat yourself constantly, and everything is funny.

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I made the nurse take a picture of me to document how good I was feeling. I then took 8 selfies for no reason at all, but I’ll spare you those

Within 20 minutes you feel like you do when you’ve had 3-4 drinks. You’re groggy and sleepy, but you know what’s going on around you. Within 30 minutes you feel like you had 2 drinks. You wouldn’t drive a car or sign a mortgage loan, but you can focus a little bit. By 40 minutes, I just felt a little sleepy, but otherwise fine, so they told me a I was good to go! Obviously it differs with how much anesthesia you receive, and I only had a small amount since it was such a short procedure. But it’s really not intimidating at all, and I’m intimidated by everything.

During the procedure, they found and removed one small polyp, which they’re going to biopsy just in case. They said everything else looked totally fine and normal. That’s great news!

I was cleared to eat whatever I wanted, and after 27 hours of fasting, I was super hungry, so Chris and I drove right from the doctor’s to the bagel place. It was the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. After brunch (?) and a quick shower I slept for about an hour and woke up feeling almost totally fine. I had a small stomach ache and a little bit of a loss of apetite, but otherwise it just felt like a slight hangover. Sorry for all the alcohol references, but it’s really the best way to describe it.

Overall, it’s a really easy procedure, and it’s totally worth it for the peace of mind. I still don’t have answers on my stomach issues, but I’m really grateful that this procedure ruled out a lot of the more serious problems. I’ll keep looking for an answer on my stomach, but I’m so glad I did this. End colon talk (hopefully forever).

 

Welcome to Bland Land

I promised I’d share some colonoscopy prep because I hope it will make the whole procedure a little less intimidating, so here goes!

My doctor gave me a set of instructions when we talked about doing the colonoscopy, so I read up. I learned that prep would actually start 3 days out from the actual procedure rather than the day before like I thought. I’m sure the instructions differ from doctor to doctor, but mine wanted me to begin eliminating fiber 3 days before the procedure. That meant, on Wednesday I had to stop eating all fiber. The instructions specifically said, “No fruits and vegetables. Meat and soups (? not sure I get that one) are ok.” No fruits and veggies? I can’t even explain how difficult it was to wrap my head around that. I’ve been training myself since college to include lots of fruits and veggies as part of a healthy diet, so this was weird, but I figured it’d be kind of fun to eat “unhealthily” for a few days. I was wrong. It was totally bland and left me feeling hazy and sick.

Wednesday was easy enough. I started the day with some gluten free toast and Earth Balance. I had a pear for a morning snack (cheater, I know, but it was going bad. I had to!). Lunch was turkey and cheese on some Wasa crackers and my pre run snack was Kashi and soy milk. By dinner, I was already craving some veggies. Unfortunately, chicken and rice was on the menu.

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How’s that monochromatic dinner looking? Luckily the rice was Goya, so it had a little flavor and I marinated the chicken in some garlic, white wine and mustard which was also very tasty. I cheated again with the sweet potato, but again, it was going bad in the fridge, and I wanted to eat it. I skipped the skin, so I should be fine. I was bored with it though, so I stopped eating halfway through the plate.

Yesterday, I wanted to get a lot of calories in since I knew I’d be fasting today. I started the day with gluten free toast topped with avocado. I just can’t stay away from the greens. I snacked on some Kashi crackers before heading to Target to stock up for my liquid diet.

Our Target has a pharmacy, so I was able to pick up my prescriptions while there.

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Both of these are medicines that will speed things up in the digestive department today. That red bottle is the same size as a normal prescription bottle, so hopefully that gives you an idea of just how big the jug is. I have to fill that jug with water and drink the entire thing to the tune of 8oz every 15 minutes until it’s done. That’s a lot of liquid, and you can’t sip it either. I think that may be the worst part. Don’t worry it comes with these “yummy” flavor packs you can mix in.

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What do you think? A little lemon-lime? Pineapple? Maybe I’ll go really crazy and mix them all in! Yuck.

I picked up the limited number of other items I’m allowed to consume.

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Chicken and veggie broth. I bought a lot because I’m not sure how hungry I’ll be, and I need to take in at least 16oz of fluids  every two hours. Speaking of fluids…

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I think the only thing that’s going to distract me from my hunger is variety, so I picked up apple juice, limeaid, coconut water, and seltzer. I got Jell-O because it’s the only “solid” I can eat. And I picked up the Gatorade in hopes of keeping my electrolytes in balance. While we’re talking electrolytes…

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The doctor also suggested I buy some Pedialyte and try to at least drink some of it since it’s best for balance. I’m sure I’m over-thinking all this. It’s really just one day, but over-thinking is sorta my thing.

Anyway, I continued the bland fest with a grilled egg and cheese because I was trying to keep the calories coming.

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But, as soon as I ate it, I just felt gross. Don’t get me wrong, I love carbs as much as the next girl, but I guess avoiding gluten and aiming for a balanced diet has really kept an overflow of carbs out of my diet because I’ve just felt so full and sluggish for the past couple of days. I feel like my brain is fogged over, and I apologize for the typos I’m sure exist in this post. I’d pay $100 for a salad. I really would.

Mentally, I feel a lot better than I thought I would today. I’m still nervous, don’t get me wrong, but I’m also eager to get it over with, which is keeping me from totally chickening out.

I’m not sure I’ll get a chance to post before procedure, but I’ll fill you in on how the fast went, how the medicine tasted and how the procedure itself worked soon!

I’m 25, and I’m getting a colonoscopy

The title says it all, no? In this post, I talked about my daily stomach pain and digestive issues and mentioned that the next step for me is a colonoscopy. I’d like to talk a little more about that here.

When I first met with my current GI doctor, he told me that a colonoscopy was likely in the cards given my symptoms (daily diarrhea, frequent intense lower abdominal pain and cramping) but he wanted to explore other possibilities first. When he ruled out other causes such as parasites or food allergies, he suggested it was time to consider a colonoscopy.

I was terrified. I’m still pretty scared. At first, I had no idea what to expect, but we talked, and I did some research, and I’m feeling a little more informed. I wanted to write this because I know colonoscopies are common for people over 40, but they are still rare for those of us under 30. The procedure is the same, but it’s nice to be able to relate to someone your own age.

The procedure will be performed in my doctor’s office rather than in a hospital and will only last about an hour. For that hour, I will be under general anesthesia (unconscious) via an IV in my arm. Some doctors will only sedate you (you remain conscious) for the procedure, but my doctor prefers this option and so do I. I’ve been under anesthesia before when I had my wisdom teeth removed, and it’s not very bad at all. I was most nervous about them sticking the needle in my arm, but as they asked me to count backwards from 10, I got to 9 and was out. I woke up asking when they would start the procedure, and it was already done!

While unconscious, a tube that blows air and a camera will be inserted into my rectum, colon and lowest portion of my intestines. The tube will blow air to expand the cavity and allow the camera to see all the areas of my colon. The doctor will look for any abnormalities (the most common being polyps)  and in my case he will be looking for inflammation (an indicator of Inflammatory Bowel Disease) and damage. If there are polyps, they will be removed and biopsied.

After the procedure, I’ll rest in the doctors office for a few minutes while the anesthesia wears off then I need Chris to drive me home as I’ll still be a little loopy. I’ve heard the procedure is so painless I could go to work that day if I needed to, but I’ll be getting it on a Saturday, so I’ll just rest.

That’s it! That’s the procedure. Not bad, right? I’ve read that the procedure is the easiest part. Rumor has it, it’s the prep that’s a pain in the butt (get it?).

Here’s how the prep works:

For three days prior to the procedure I have to stop eating all fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The reasoning behind this is that these foods are high in fiber and take a long time to digest (which is why they’re so good for weight loss). My colon and lower intestines will have to be free of solids for the doctor to get a good look at their linings, so this window gives enough time for even slow digesting foods to exit my digestive system.

The day before the test, I begin an all clear liquids diet. I can drink chicken broth, water, yellow Gatorade, light soda, black coffee, or light colored Jell-O, but I can’t eat anything. That will likely be the worst part for me because I’m always hungry.

On the day of my fast, I also have to take a laxative and a prescription liquid specific to the test. It’s all designed to flush out my colon, so I have to stay very close to a bathroom. Obviously, I will not be working that day.

On the day of the test, I can drink water up to four hours before, then it’s nothing at all until after the procedure. That’s pretty standard when you’re receiving anesthesia.

I think I’m most nervous that the prescription liquid will make me sick because I have a sensitive stomach that’s even worse when it’s empty, and you have to keep the liquid down. I’m secondly most nervous (not a phrase, I know) about the hours leading up to the procedure. It’s at 10:30, and in the city, and I just know I’ll be up at 7 pacing my apartment’s floors and panicking. I’m an anxious person to begin with and thoughts of going unconscious will probably make me a wreck.  Also, my doctor is in the city, so I’m third most nervous about feeling sick and being stuck in Holland Tunnel traffic on the way in. I’m hoping the day and time will bode well,  but I never know with New York.

I’ll spare you guys the gory details but will provide updates about the prep and procedure in case anyone has to go through anything similar. Hopefully, I get some answers out of all this.

the stomach post

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.