NOTE: My story is very long and inclusive, probably has some typos in it too. I will break this down further with time to be more “digestible” ;)
A Summer Trip
My story with IBS starts back in 1996 when I was 13, it was during the summer and my family decided to head out with some friends to do some swimming and have a barbecue. We headed out to some picnic grounds at a nearby park that had a river. Eventually we found our way into the water which was rather cold at the time. We were probably in the water a few hours, eventually the sun started setting and it was time to leave. While I was there we had some hotdogs, potato chips. When we headed back we stopped at a local coffee shop. I started feeling really tired around this time, perhaps it was being in the water all day or perhaps it was a sign of an impending illness, maybe I was just tired. It just stood out that felt a bit exhausted. After we were done the families split up and I and my family headed home. My mom went to bed but my brother and I stayed up to watch “The Gods Must Be Crazy” which was a pretty good film.
I went to bed around midnight. I felt a little bloated/gassy at the time. I attributed it to the food I ate earlier in the day. After lying in bed for awhile I started feeling a lot of pressure, almost as if I had to use the restroom, however usually it was just gas that once released I felt better. This continued to get worse and worse though, so I eventually got up to relieve myself. However upon trying to go to the bathroom nothing was happening. I sat there for awhile reading video game magazines when I started feeling very dizzy and nauseated. I am not one that handles nausea very well and I started to panic due to Emetophobia(more on this in another post) I developed when I had a bad stomach flu as a child. I leave the bathroom still feeling pretty bad. I tell my mom I am not feeling good and she in her sleep haze tells me “well if you’re going to get sick you’re going to get sick, you’ll probably feel better afterwards”. Not the words I wanted to hear!
I head downstairs and turn on the TV to try to distract myself. I start pacing back and forth trying to avoid the nausea. This is when I turn to something I learned from Xena: Warrior Princess when the character Gabrielle(ha!) gets sea sick and Xena tells her to tap her wrists to avoid nausea. This is actually a true technique some sailors recommend. This helped somewhat, but quickly turned into more of a pinching action as that seemed more effective. This is probably not a good habit to get into when feeling ill. The pain involved with the pinching seems distract the mind away from the nausea, but again you’re basically hurting yourself, so it’s not a great idea. I also remembered a technique recommended by a morning talk show guest explaining that eating a salty food like pretzels or potato chips can help combat morning sickness. I didn’t have either pretzels or potato chips, nor was I in the mode for eating them. I did have rock salt on hand and started eating a few granules. Salt would later become a crutch, as crazy as it sounds. Again probably not a healthy habit, but when mortally afraid of getting sick to your stomach, you don’t really care.
After a few hours of late night news, pacing, wrist tapping & salt nibbling the nausea subsided. “I had won” I thought, I was able to go to bed and wake up the next morning feeling pretty good. I was due over at my cousin’s house to spend the night, but decided not to due to feeling so bad the night before. The day went on like normal although later in evening I did have diarrhea, but that too subsided. My feeling is that perhaps there was something in the water we swam in, a parasite or something else which made me ill. A lot of people with IBS note a trigger, such as a flu or food poising which opened the gates to IBS. This is when I feel that the gate to IBS opened for me.
Anxiety & Symptoms Appear
A few weeks passed since the initial incident but I started becoming very anxious around bedtime. There was fear of getting ill again and indeed when lying down sometimes I would start to feel nauseated. Once my mom tried holding the door shut so I’d stay in my room, but I pushed her out of the way to escape! Late night TV/Radio became my friend. I got a big crush on JuJu Chang on ABC’s World News Now. I basically stopped sleeping in my own room & setup residence in the living room. My room wasn’t really MY room completely anyways it was shared with my brother at the time. I would also note that a lot of anxiety I felt also seemed to be geared with life in general. I felt I was missing out on something, somewhere. Family life was not all that great. We were poor, I never really knew my dad, my mom felt overbearing. I was homeschooled, which was on one end a blessing and on the other end somewhat of a curse.
As my late night “escapades” continued, I started developing heartburn, more often. This almost seems to have nothing to do with IBS, but a lot of my initial symptoms were more of the acid reflux kind. Usually I’d get a burning pain in my upper stomach area along with stomach aches, bloating & excessive belching & nausea.
Doctors Not Much Help
Concerned my mom did take me to see a doctor who prescribed a “stomach thickener” type substance which was in pill form. I can’t remember the name of it, but he did mention that one of the side effects was possibly getting sick to your stomach. This put me off a bit and probably lead to some anxiety regarding the drug. I took it only a few times and the results were mixed at best, sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn’t. Was it the drug or just my symptoms disappearing on their own? I eventually stopped taking it.
I remember at one point, I had a cold or ear infection of some sort. I was prescribed an anti-biotic and this seemed to really flare up heartburn attacks. I made it through the course of anti-biotics, but it was not a pleasant experience and the doctors didn’t really give much advice as to why or what I could do about the heartburn.
Another visit to the doctor a few months later, again about my heartburn problems landed me on Prevacid which is a Proton Pump Inhibitor(makes your stomach produce less acid). This seemed to do wonders for awhile. However one of the side effects is possible diarrhea and this started happening to me. I’d get chronic diarrhea on Prevacid, so I eventually quit it. At one point I tried starting it up again, but with the same results. It was not the be. This was however the start of more of my IBS like symptoms.
Lower Digestive System Starts Acting Wonky & A Bad Crutch Develops
As time progressed my symptoms started to include more of my lower digestive system as well as the upper digestive problems. I started noticing I had to make more trips to the bathroom, stool was not as solid as before or I had diarrhea, feelings of incomplete bowel evacuation, gas, bloating, nausea. None of which was fun. The symptoms would flux and I’d have periods of feeling fine and periods of feeling pretty terrible.
I kind of gave up on doctors at that time and started developing my own coping techniques. My main concern was nausea while out and about. I once tried to help fix the problem by taking some pepto-bismol before heading down to my local library. This seemed to make my situation worse as I started feeling very nauseated and of course this caused me to feel more panicked as it was a long walk home. Again I did not get sick to my stomach, close call though!
Salt actually became my dominate way of coping. I would get a sour/bitter taste in my mouth which would trigger me worrying about getting ill. Salt mixes with sour and neutralizes this flavor. As crazy as it sounds I started carrying around table salt in my pockets. This did lead to some embarrassing moments such as when it’d fall out on to back seats of cars and people would wonder how salt got back there. My friends thought it was just something goofy I was doing. It was actually something more serious and it was really my gateway to being able to function. “Feeling nervous? Feeling sick? You have salt! Take a nibble.” This would help greatly. Perhaps it had as big of a mental affect on me as it did a physical affect.
My symptoms and coping techniques continued for a couple years. I did enroll in half-days at the local high school working int their computer lab. I didn’t have much of a social life, just some friends at school. I did not want to go on trips or be invited out due to IBS issues. Keep in mind most of this time I was not even sure what was wrong with me, if it was possibly all in my head. Even today I sometime wonder, but there have been more grave circumstances I’ve had to deal with regarding my digestion which have lead me to feel that indeed there is probably some underlying physiological malady playing a part.
At the age of 16 I dropped out of high school officially and started working doing technical support at a call center. Call centers would become and still are my main profession. Perhaps it was the best possible profession for someone who has IBS as bathrooms are nearby and you can take a brief break when you need to. Again though, social life didn’t progress much and things I’d like to do became very difficult. Things like taking my GED or getting a drivers license seemed daunting given my symptoms. I did eventually obtain them, however I almost panicked and quit out during the math section of my GED because I started feeling nauseated and started cramping up. This was probably due to my poor choice of eating a microwave burrito before the test.
Bad Food Choices Lead to Embarrassment
A bad food choice before a 20 mile trip to the airport to help drop off one of my mom’s friends caused quite a bit of embarrassment. I had eaten a can of chili before hand and I originally though my brother was going to be going with my mom, not me. However she decided it would be best if I went since I was lighter and the car was unreliable so she felt I’d be less stress on the suspension. I agreed feeling somewhat cocky, however only a few minutes in my nerves started up, my salt was not helping, I eventually translated my nausea into the need to go to the bathroom, which relieved me of the nausea, but I had some of the most intense cramping and urges ever. I was a terrible experience and here it is about 1am in the morning, not many business are open and I am freaking out with a terrible need to use someones restroom. Eventually we find a Texaco and I make it in time. It was a extremely embarrassing.
Another incident I was on a trip to our local coast with my girlfriend and AGAIN food choice plays a part. I had fish & chips a few hours and we were planing on going for a beach walk a few miles from our hotel. I had been feeling bloated the entire trip and felt a slight urge to use the restroom before I left. Having already tried a few times to relieve myself and without I success I ignored it, thinking I am not going to let my wacky digestion control my life. A few minutes later while I am driving and again, I get intense cramping and an urge to go. This is on a coastal highway between cities. I remember there is a WAL-MART in the next city over and eventually get myself to it. The girlfriend had fallen asleep while I was driving a long but eventually awoke as I pulled into the WAL-MART parking lot. I explained my situation and hopped out of the car, without putting it in park, so it started rolling off into another parking space. Luckily the girlfriend was there to get it into park :P! Embarassing, yes. We did laugh about it later. But it was not fun at the time.
You may wonder why I’d eat “bad foods”. Well quite simply it’s hard to tell what is going to trigger your symptoms. Also at those times I was still in denial. I wanted to be normal and most people want to have normal lives with IBS but it has morphed into something all consuming.
Over the years I have visited quite a few doctors and tried different things, both pharmaceutical and natural. I have no silver bullet and still face many of the same challenges I’ve faced over the last 13 years. I am going to continue to post more information and reviews about some of the products I’ve tried to help relieve my symptoms, as well as just my general life experiences.
*Just as an FYI I have had multiple tests done for things like celiac or Helicobacter Pylori, also have had upper and lower endoscopies done with nothing wrong except for an esophageal hernia which my gastro doctor poo poo’d.