I feel the need to write down a brief account of my health journey. Last night, another step was made clear and the frustration and intimidation I felt came out in hot tears and flailing arms and raised voice. So this morning, I want to see the big picture. I want to get a glimpse of the tapestry, even though I kind of have a vice grip on the strand in my hand at the moment.
Let’s start at the very beginning.
As a kid growing up, I don’t remember being particularly sickly. I had some seemingly unrelated issues that were occasionally inconvenient—borderline anemia, exercise-induced asthma, migraine headaches from age 10, mildly poor eyesight, sensitive skin prone to hives breakouts, and a peculiar mini-seizure-like response to irregular flashing lights. Just a hodge-podge of stuff that was easily managed.
When I was pregnant with my 4th child in 2010, I suddenly developed some symptoms that began to hinder my everyday life—painful gas and extreme bloating, long and excruciating trips to the bathroom, increased migraines. I started to wonder if I had IBS, but my midwife suggested seeing what a change in nutrition would do first. I cut dairy, and had some immediate relief. The symptoms began to return and so I cut wheat. I had a brief respite when I gave birth to my 4th child in 2011, but when they came back with a vengeance and an added psoriasis-like rash on my neck, ears, and forearms, I cut gluten. Then beef. Then peanuts. Then garlic.
By 2015, I finally had a manageable hold on my everyday life, but I couldn’t seem to drop the last 20 lbs of pregnancy weight after my 6th was born. The bloating and long trips to the bathroom continued, the rash eased off my arms and ears but remained on my neck constantly. I could survive it, but I knew there was still something wrong inside me.
In 2016, I researched the Candida yeast overgrowth problem and found enough confirmation in my symptoms to attempt a diet plan designed to starve the yeast while building up the good bacteria. For three months I was on a strict no-sugar, no-carb regimen. My bloating reduced to some extent but no other results were apparent. I stopped the diet as I felt it wasn’t providing me with enough actual nutrition to warrant continuing it. I wanted to start working out more vigorously and knew I needed more complex carbs in order to fuel my exercise.
In January of 2017, I took my daughter to an allergist and decided to get some answers for myself as well. With a prick test we determined I was not allergic to anything. The doctor felt I was on the right track with the yeast overgrowth problem and prescribed Flagyl, an antifungal, and a probiotic, as well as a topical medicated shampoo for my neck. While on the antifungal, I again felt some minor relief from bloating and a slight increase in successful bowel movements. The rash remained but did not itch as much. I finished the course of medication, and went back for my follow-up appointment.
The doctor said that although I seemed to respond marginally to the Flagyl, it should have produced more drastic results if the yeast was my biggest problem. At this point he recommended trying Metamucil, to see if that helped. If that didn’t work, he suggested the FODMAP diet people with IBS can follow for relief. And if those did not bring that drastic improvement, he recommended seeing a GI doctor to rule out IBS, Celiac’s (which can apparently be asymptomatic), colitis, and diverticulitis.
I tried Metamucil, which was really gross, but it felt like trying to use stickers when you’ve got a three-inch deep wound. Effective? Not really.
I just looked up the low-FODMAP diet, and wryly wondered what in the world I’d be left with to eat this time. I read one medical article and my heart sank a little. I already do this naturally. I’ve been driven to it by the guess-and-check I’ve been doing for the past 6 years of my life. This has no new information for me. Effective? Apparently not.
So now I’m down to the GI specialist.
I didn’t realize how intimidating that would be for me, but now that it’s here… Everything I’ve been told and everything I’ve read says that to leave a digestive issue like mine to fester gives you a significant chance of acquiring colon cancer. I can’t ignore this. I have to know what I’m dealing with and how to best move forward. I don’t even know if I’m hurting myself every time I eat.
At the same time, I’m still weirdly optimistic because the allergist doctor did say my symptoms seem to be rather mild for any of those “scary,” life-long conditions. Usually there are more extreme problems that act as a red flag.
But the not-knowing part of health journeys is sometimes the more frightening and frustrating part. My journey is mild, so very mild, and I’m not afraid. But I am intimidated by the unknown. What will I have to change about my life? How much will it take away from my everyday routine? Can I handle the added pressure? Will I be strong enough to do everything it takes to be my best for my family?
These are all things I’ve had in my heart in the last 24 hours. I’ve since given them over to God and my spirit is quiet again, patiently waiting for the next step forward and being so sure of who my God is that the unknown shrinks into the back of my mind. But still, that was a process I had to go through. And what I deal with, again, is not really awful. I wrestle more with inconveniences and the feeling of being punished for trying my best. I have a drip, and I know there are those dealing with fire hoses and waterfalls. I am grateful and humbled that this is what I have been given.
I suppose what I wanted was to write down the journey. Sometimes I struggle to know whether what I feel on a given day is an extreme or an appropriate reaction. Writing it down can help me with perspective.
So, I still can’t eat gluten/wheat. I still can’t eat dairy. Or beef. Or peanuts. Or a lot of garlic. I can’t eat rice and potatoes and gluten free pasta too close together. I may never lose this last 20 lbs. I may always look like I’m 4-5 months pregnant on my bad days (not self-deprecation here, people mistake me for pregnant all the time).
But I can learn from this. I can learn compassion for others on their health journeys. I can learn self-discipline, which is always something I need to do better. I can learn not to look to food for my emotional comfort, but rather lean on my God. I can learn to be gracious and think of others’ needs when so many are gracious and thoughtful towards me. I can learn to get creative and have gratitude for what I am able to do, for what I have available to me, for being able to seek answers. There is plenty to learn.
Maybe I should start writing it all down.