This post is written for everyone, but especially for my SCD & IBD comrades. Many of you saw the post I left on Facebook, and I wanted to take this time to expand on it to answer some of your questions about stress and what to do about it.
I rang in the New Year of 2018 with the biggest bout of diarrhea I had experienced since 1998, when I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. Needless to say, I freaked out. I assumed it was a UC flare, but I had no other symptoms, which for me was odd. A typical UC flare for me would be accompanied by extreme exhaustion, arthritis in my hands, a bit of eczema behind my ears, and bloating and gas. But, I had none of those symptoms. I only had colonosocpy-prep-like diarrhea, and it lasted for nearly 4 weeks non-stop.
I did not call my GI doctor (which in hindsight was a poor idea). I did contact my GP doctor and she ran all sorts of tests to be sure I wasn’t dealing with an intestinal bug or H. Pylori, or C-Diff. I was not. All of my stool and blood work came back clear as a bell, claiming I was fit as a fiddle.
So, I continued to employ my knowledge of my body and food and went into nutritionist mode. I gathered my SCD and GAPS books and re-read everything I needed to make and eat. I made and ate broth until I couldn’t stomach anymore, or smell it without gagging. I started at the beginning of the SCD Intro diet and used the Pecan Bread Stages to employ my own Elimination Diet (as I do with all my clients), just in case some food was triggering my symptoms. And I did find that some foods I had been eating prior to this flare were no longer my friends, while other foods I’d cut-out years ago were okay for me now to eat. I took an Imodium when necessary to be able to function and leave my house.
I did all I knew how to do food-wise for 4 months and things improved, somewhat. By June I was still having 4-6 loose stools daily. It was no longer diarrhea, but things were not normal and my weight was low.
Over those past six months I cried a lot. I cried from frustration, fear, and for seemingly no reason at all. Bless my husband. That man is a pillar of strength for me and also a man who has no problem seeing a woman cry. In fact he encouraged it. There were days when I would just sit in our dining room, or stand in the kitchen and sob, huge shoulder-racking, can’t breathe, sobbed. Sometimes just for 10 minutes, other days for an hour or more.
I finally called my GI. When I talked to her she reminded me that a colonoscopy two years prior had shown inflammation in my ileum and at the time she had hypothesized that I might have Crohn’s disease instead of UC. She now brought up this possibility again. All I heard was her say Crohn’s disease. I went home and spent more days sobbing. How could I have progressed from UC to Crohn’s? I’d been doing so well.
Something I noticed, though, after these sobbing sessions was that while I felt exhausted and wrung-out, my stool quality would improve for a day or two afterwards. I thought about this and it was like someone slapped me in the face while saying, “Hey, Goof-ball, you’ve been focusing on food all these months, but what about stress? Remember how your gut always gets messed up when you feel anxious about travel? Or when you have to get together with a big group of people? Or when you are feeling pain from your bum shoulder or bad back? Could this be from stress?!”
I brought this up to my husband. “Could this be a stress response?” I asked him. “I just don’t feel that stressed.”
My husband laughed. And while he did I sat and just stared at him, feeling hurt but also curious. “Why is that funny?” I asked him.
“I’m laughing because it’s so logical and I’m sorry I hadn’t thought of it sooner,” he answered. “Think about it, you never think you’re stressed, until the stress is gone and then you either feel better or worse.”
He was right. I tend to have one of two responses to intense stress - either my gut lets loose before a stressful or anxiety-causing event, or it lets loose after a stressful situation.
For example, when I travel, by car or plain or train, I get anxious about it and then my gut goes off, causing me to make many urgent bathroom stops sometimes starting the night before travel and lasting into the morning or day of travel. Things tend to calm down once we get on the road to the airport, and then on the actual airplane. But waiting for the flight to board can be a time of anxiety and many bathroom calls are necessary. But almost always, by the next day when the travel is over things go back to normal.
As my husband and I talked about my most current situation, it seemed highly probable that what I was experiencing was not a UC flare, but rather a flare induced by extreme stress from the previous year (2017).
In January of 2017 I was experiencing severe shoulder pain and ended up spending 4 months working on relieving an extremely painful frozen shoulder. As I began to feel better from that I decided to try and get back into yoga by enrolling in a few classes. I took three classes over a two week period and loved them and the yoga community I had found. The night after my third class I woke around 5:00am with world-spinning vertigo. I had had this before and knew that it was BPPV (benign positional vertigo). If you have had this then you know how terrible it feels. If you haven’t had this, it’s like having the bed-spins but no matter what you do it doesn’t stop. Long-story-short it took 3+ months to work through the vertigo and much of that time I spent not able to live life off the couch. I was also experiencing moderate back pain but couldn’t focus on it at the same time as the vertigo issue. In October, I found a lump in a breast. When I saw the gynecologist (a new one because my other had retired), I was sent for all the tests to rule out/in breast cancer - again, until you have this experience you can’t know just how much stress consumes you 100% of every day; I can’t imagine what it is like for women who have breast cancer). After three weeks the news came back it was benign. But now my Gyn wanted to test me for Endometrial cancer (for a variety of reasons I won’t bore you with). It was another month of 100% stress before we could rule that out, too, thankfully. Then the holidays were upon us and family came to visit. No matter how much I love family, guests cause me stress. And it was 3 days after our holiday guests left that my 2018 Flare hit!
Voila! It had to be stress.
So, in June I re-embarked on all the stress-relieving things I know help Me:
I contacted my Energy/Reiki practitioner and made an appointment. And I see her at least once a month now, sometimes more.
I gave myself permission to take time for me, without guilt.
I stopped taking on new clients. But, I am now accepting new clients for 2019.
I allow myself to be selfish - To do what is best for me, not necessarily what is best for others.
Meditation - which can be true sitting meditation, or just sitting quietly without distraction from people, phones, traffic, work, family. We have designated a space in our house where no work, phones, electronics, etc. are allowed. I sit here, quietly every day for 10-30 minutes.
Exercise or Yoga or a Walk or Hike - again without distractions.
Earthing - getting your feet or your whole body in contact with the earth.
I stay away from Social Media 90% of the time, and rarely go to disease-condition chat rooms. I find that thinking about and talking about my gut causes me to live in my health far too much and it can make me sick.
I see food as my friend, not as a challenge, and I control as much of what I eat as possible.
Your job is to ask, “What helps me to feel less stressed?” And live in that question for a while, maybe even days or weeks. Notice what causes you stress, and then notice what helps to rid you of stress, and then make time in your day, every day, for those things that help you relieve stress - no matter what kind of stress - physical, mental, emotional, family, friends, or food.
I know that most of you will say, “But I don’t have time. I have kids, work, after-school activities, etc.”
Here’s the thing, you can either choose to make time for yourself now, and help your mind and body to calm and relieve stress and hopefully illness, or you will be forced to make time later to heal when you become sick, which will inevitably cause more stress.
I’m not saying do everything on my list to relieve your stress. I don’t do everything listed above every day. But these are the stress-relievers in my Tool Box. Your task is to figure out at least 3 stress relievers you can put into your Tool Box.
In October I had an appointment for a colonoscopy. I didn’t really want to do it because I was doing great. My BMs were back to the best they’d been in 20 years, I had gained back all the weight I’d lost plus a few pounds more, and I was feeling well. But, there was still that question that my GI had put into my head, did I really have Crohn’s? I wanted an answer.
And that answer is: No.
Not only did the scope show that I don’t have Crohn’s, but it didn’t show any sign of inflammation in my gut or in my small intestine (she did an upper endoscopy at the same time). So, for the first time in 20 years I am IBD-free.
In my follow-up appointment with my GI she admitted she was very surprised by my results, and asked what I think made the big turn-around in the past 6 months. My response was, “I’ve stopped eating all nuts, I now eat 2 cups of homemade 24-hour yogurt every day, and I am making myself and my stress-relieving self-care the most important part of each of my days.
I hope my good gut health continues. And I hope the same for you.
If you need help on your path to better gut health email me to set-up a time to meet.