It is fair to say that stomach issues have plagued my adult life. The state of my gut has long been the filter through which I see my day. For twenty years the painful Gut Feeling was my normal, default setting.
Although I come from a digestively challenged family, (IBS, Crohns Disease, Diverticulitis, Bowel Cancer) I don’t recall ever having a stomach ache as a child. It wasn’t until I became violently ill from eating an ice cream purchased on the streets of India that my health took a hairpin wrong turn. Little did I know that that single strawberry scoop would alter the lining of my gut forever.
In the next year, there were times when I had such severe pain that I could not move. I was so desperate for an answer I would have been happy to hear that I had a terminal illness. Test results continued to come back negative. I dearly wanted to have a medical condition as justification for my constant pain.
Eventually ‘Irritable bowel syndrome’ (IBS) was pronounced. That didn’t help me at all. It was such an unsatisfying, vague umbrella term . IBS – “just learn to manage it dear”. “Eat more fibre” ……………. how absurd is that advice to my ears now.
How to fix things then?
I was beginning to see a link between certain foods and the worst pain but I was told with unshakable authority by my Gastroenterologist that diet did not cause my symptoms. Medical advice was inconsistent, contradictory, confusing and just plain counterintuitive.
Following recommendations from alternative practitioners I half-heartedly experimented with dietary changes. Bits and pieces made sense, even worked for me, but I found it too difficult to embrace and implement their diets long enough to see any real benefits.
I became vegetarian in the hope that this would cleanse both my spirit and my colon. I gave up meat for 8 years. During this time my mood was up and down and I suffered ongoing tummy pain with bloating and constipation the norm.
In the 90’s I worked hard and played hard. I was constantly stressed and had difficulty sleeping. Life was full yet, despite worsening gut health, I didn’t see how I could slow down. I began passing blood and was often depressed.
Feeling like a complete hypochondriac I insisted on a third scope – I will never forget the moment of pure relief when my Gastroenterologist came to my bed side and said: “you are right, you do have ulcerative colitis, I’m sorry”. His apology meant everything to me. To me this was just medical acknowledgement of what I had suspected for ages, but I felt at last I was going to be listened to. Finally I was entitled to appropriate treatment to help get me well. Finally things were looking up. I was treated for both depression and UC. I was very responsive to the medication and my colitis symptoms subsided quickly. For the first time in a decade I enjoyed some digestive normalcy. Most of all, I loved eating out with friends without facing the painful aftermath. I felt like a regular person – and it was about time!
It was a needed respite but it didn’t last. Over the next 10 years I managed UC flare-ups with drugs. I am lucky, my UC is mild and I have long periods in remission. I think it fair to say that I have chronic Irritable bowel syndrome (I accept that now) with a mild inflammatory bowel disease in the mix.
Today, I’m in control of my health.
Dietary changes keep me in a relatively stable and happy digestive place. Gluten and sugar have been banished; which is remarkable for a former pastry loving, sweet tooth! As a consequence my skin has improved and my brain has rebooted. My broken and fragile sleep patterns have been replaced by dependable lengthy slumbers. I now see my food sensitivities as a blessing (in a pretty rude disguise). After a lot of false starts; they have finally lead me to heal the damage before it becomes anything more serious. My sensitivities and reactions are a guide. They are my body’s unique voice telling me what I should and shouldn’t eat.
Troubled digestion is a common consequence from travelling around Asia. I’d be interested to hear if you have had a similar health journey?
Read more about how I changed my diet here.