It's like they always say, it's the things you love that hurt you the most. But seriously, when a basic necessity becomes painful, your mind can be very deceptive. I've covered a bit of ground on what I know my illness entails thus far, however, I want to elaborate a bit more on my digestive system, the confusion surrounding it, and the mental repercussions that stem from its malfunctions. From dysautonomia, arises a plethora of hard to detect, uncommon, and complicated GI issues. Not only is this the most painful part of my condition, but also the most misunderstood. This is why I feel it be so necessarily to dedicate a post on this topic.
Years ago, I learned to avoid my trigger foods, and got by managing my pain through the foods I ate. When May came around, my stomach went haywire along with the rest of my health. My pain management mechanisms of the past were thrown out the window along with everything else I thought I knew. I threw up, bloated three months pregnant, became debilitatingly nauseous, and developed fever and chills every time I ate. Stabbing, dull, aching, the pain changed, but never left. I could eat the same meal on two different days and have completely different reactions. The time of day I ate had a significant effect on how I tolerated certain foods. So many details mattered, and it didn't make any sense to me. It didn't make sense to anyone else either. I spent months trying to search for some sort of pattern to this madness, but I just couldn't find one.
In May, I lost 15 pounds in two weeks. This was not intentional. I wasn’t doing anything different, and I’m still not even sure why or how it happened. This was the first warning sign that something was unusual, but given my symptoms closely relate to those of the long term repercussions of an eating disorder, my parents and doctors understandably became skeptical. Rapid weight loss, chronic fatigue, throwing up, low pulse, low blood pressure, fainting, digestive issues, anxiety, these all parallel an eating disorder. I am not an anxious person by nature, but I started having panic attacks before every meal and would sometimes blackout because I was so petrified of the debilitating pain that came with eating. Since we weren't aware of what was really going on, it looked like I was loosing my mind.
Upon initially seeking holistic medicine, I was put on a lot of different diets. People kept blaming my pain on the foods I was eating, so I made food the enemy. "You just need to find your trigger foods." I was told this over and over again as I did countless elimination diets and experimentation with the way I ate. Despite this, I was still constantly in pain thinking, "Well, apparently every food seems to be my trigger food!" Every doctor, healer, and health foods blogger has a different idea of the "perfect diet." These "perfect diets" are merely opinions that I mistook for fact. I wasn't in the place to handle and decipher the barrage of information being thrown at me.
Gut health is at the center of holistic medicine. If you have any sort of stomach pain, many holistic healers blame candida, SIBO, parasites, leaky gut or viruses. Often times many optimal health issues and autoimmune diseases are effected by these factors. I am not here to devalue this line of thinking, but to stress that in my case, this does not apply to me. I have done every candida and parasite cleanse in the book. I have a low sugar and anti-inflammatory diet on lock. I can take all the probiotics in the world, but I won't feel any different. Sure, probiotics don't hurt, but they are by no means a cure. Dysautonomia is widely misunderstood by much of the medical world, but especially the holistic community. Holistic medicine does miracles for some people. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I love the idea of healing naturally, and tried for three years to do so, but natural remedies have failed me. Dysautonomia requires the attention of highly knowledgeable Western doctors.
On the Western side of the coin, if your colonoscopy and endoscopy come back clean, you are lumped into the "IBS" category. My own GI doctor even told me that IBS essentially means nothing. It's a friendly "I don't know." Then the doctor ships you to a dietician, or tells you to take laxatives. Again, this isn't a bad thing for everyone. For some people, finding their trigger foods and adding probiotics into there routine creates big changes. I've tried a lot of laxatives and a lot of medications, again, not effective. Not every unknown digestive disorder is "IBS." My autonomic nervous system doesn't act appropriately, because this is what controls the motility of your digestive system, I experience many unusual problems.
We eventually uncovered that due to my dysautonomia, I have gasteroparesis (slow stomach emptying), acid reflux, a sub-functioning gallbladder, atrophied muscles in my colon that prevent me from having bowel movements on my own, an overall sluggish system, and many food sensitivities… that’s a recipe for disaster. Not to mention, I have been on five rounds of antibiotics since January (!!!). It’s no wonder I was in a world of pain and confusion.
Months of practice and patience later, I have learned to make peace with the debilitating pain I experience from eating. It doesn't suck or hurt any less, but I know it's essential for me to be properly nourished. I have learned not to make food or my body the enemy. It's a waste of time to make anyone or anything the enemy, especially in the context of a medical crisis. I now simply accept this for what it is, the result of a medical condition I cannot change or control, but strive to improve. This was by no means an easy place to get to. Recently, there has been more openness about eating disorders on social media, which is awesome. There's also more awareness about chronic illness and chronic pain, also awesome. However, there's not a lot of talk about the intersection of the two. The effect a physical condition might on your perception of basic functions, such as eating, confusing and inaccurate medical information, and restrictive dieting all play a roll in the picture.
If you are someone struggling with food fear, do not blame yourself. Don't feel bad for not being able to "rise about the pain", because I couldn't either for a very long time. I would've rolled my eyes if I read this six months ago. It's an imperfect practice that takes time, and being only human, I still struggle. If you are someone in the midst of conflicting medical information, be patient and listen to your body. You are your best guide.