In January 2002 I met my husband of now ten years and was in the happiest place I could be as far as finding the love of my life. I met him four months after turning the big 3-0, getting out of bad relationship and most painfully reeling from the 9/11 tragedy on American soil.
However, I was under a great amount of stress re-living the day's events of 9/11 trying hard to move on with my life walking through life in a fog passing candles and photos all around me every where I went of the faces of missing loved ones.
This was indeed a time of great emotions for me and others around me. The stress began to take a toll on my stomach day after day, month after month. It got to the point where I would need a bathroom on a moment's notice and have to run into a store or nearby hotel begging to use their restroom. The constant twisting pain in my tummy became unbearable.
Deciding to channel my stress and the need to do something to help, I dived into volunteering, something I love to do. I was able to find comfort in helping with the clean up, supporting the police and firefighters who were working long hours, and taking charge to gather necessary items for families in need post tragedy. Getting involved helped me to avoid the television watching the events clearly imprinted in my mind. I felt selfish but did what I thought was necessary to get back to living among the living.
I then decided to continue the volunteering, which was bringing great reward for me and others, and signed up for a cycling event with The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of America, where I met my husband, who also lost his dad to a blood related cancer like I did. I liked riding a bicycle and found that I loved it too. It was incredible how I could shut my brain off to all that was going on around me.
But, when I wasn't on the bike, stress still happened, life continued and my stomach continued to hurt. My husband, who had been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), encouraged me to go to the doctor. The gastroenterologist suggested I get my first colonoscopy. I was just 30. I thought only older people got this procedure, and mostly men to prevent colon cancer. If you can believe it, I remember that day very clearly, right down to laying on the table as the medicine dripped it my arm, heated up and put me to sleep for the procedure. As soon as I realized that all was done my doctor unequivocally told me I had IBS too. To this day, I remember that conversation so vividly. He told me that as soon as he went in with the scope my colon tightened up at nearly every touch.
So with a diagnosis, and learning about the disease, I started to watch for triggers that activated my symptoms. Thus, it came as no surprise that stress was the strongest factor followed by caffeine and too much dairy.
Over the next few years I would try different approaches including medication and go through periods of feeling great, then terrible, then good, and so on. I continued to work with my doctor to find options that could work for me. Then we found it. I now rely on medication daily to alleviate my symptoms and also find other ways to reduce my stress. Cycling, dancing, painting, writing, reading and spending time with friends and family were great therapy for me and I made sure to build that into my life frequently. When I became a parent my stress levels were significantly high with worry the main culprit, with concerns about my newborn when she was sick, making sure she was thriving, and more. Eventually it got easier and stress subsided.
Disease is not one size fits all. Therefore, what works for one person may not work for everyone. The process does require trials and tribulations before finding what may work for you. Thankfully my type of IBS is manageable in that reducing stress, cutting back on caffeine and dairy and limiting unhealthy food choices makes a significant difference. Also, having an outlet to do something I enjoy helps to clear my mind and give it the rest from the hustle and bustle of life and therefore unties the twists and turns inside my belly.
IBS is nothing to be ashamed of. It's a condition like any other and it requires management. Not every condition requires medication. However, don't rule it out if it can really help. I used to think that way and realized I much preferred feeling better and have tools I could rely on to alleviate my symptoms including medication, diet restrictions, more sleep (when possible) and managing life's expectations too so as not to feel pain.
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