Gut Reaction

I don’t often talk about my physical health here. Obviously I am extremely passionate about mental health awareness, but we cannot disregard the importance of your body and maintaining it at its optimal state.

Since learning about my own mental health and doing research, I’ve found that all aspects of your health are very interwoven and usually correlate with each other. That’s especially apparent when stressed, having adrenaline pumping through your veins, feeling restless and scattered.

FYI, if you are squeamish about bodily functions from your lower half, I’m mentioning some symptoms that aren’t so pretty. You’ve been warned.

When first starting antidepressants, I was confused to find a major side effect of the medication in my gut. I was starting to have much more bloating than usual and uncomfortable gas. Despite whatever distance they are apart in the human anatomy, the mind and the stomach are closely related. Your mental health and medications targeted toward neurotransmitters often result in changes in your bowel movements, hunger patterns, and overall comfort in the stomach.

With some gas relief pills in times of need, I had been doing much better with that, even when upping my dosage of antidepressant a few times. But within the past month, things have changed for my physical health quite dramatically. At first I thought nothing of it, just a random fluke that will pass through and never recur. However, from now having three instances in the last month of the same symptoms, I know something is up.

So here’s what happens: I wake up one day, not necessarily thinking anything is different in my life, at least nothing I can’t handle, and I’ll spend the day regularly needing to go to the bathroom with diarrhea. Never any blood, thank heavens. But at least for a day or two, I will need to be near a toilet every few hours. That is accompanied by an aching stomach, extreme bloating, and some gas. Between those times, I’ve basically been irregular and probably constipated without knowing it. And I still have the regular bloating and gas, but it’s something I’ve overlooked and dealt with as is.

Of course, with this routine happening for the third time in a few weeks, I scoured for research. Probably not the best idea to look for medical diagnoses online, I know, but it truly has helped better understand what is probably happening.

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is known exactly for my symptoms. The alternating constipation and diarrhea. The bloating and discomfort. It’s actually quite common with twenty percent of the population suffering from IBS, and it’s especially prevalent in women, very often with anxiety and/or depression, and symptoms usually arise in early adulthood. Simply put, I’m the exact person described right there.

Except I have no family history of IBS even though it’s often genetic. Again, further digging ensues. Automatically I assume my trigger for diarrhea symptoms especially is increased stress, which makes sense. Each time I’ve had an episode has been when I’m in a changing situation or am very busy. But not everybody with anxiety and stress has a gastrointestinal reaction. Of course everybody is different and I cannot base everything on that, but with this IBS coming up out of the blue, what gives?

I would have never connected the two on my own, but now it makes so much sense. Research shows that a vast majority of people, over ninety percent, of those suffering from any eating disorder report IBS symptoms. Even in those who have recovered or no longer have disordered eating behaviors, at least seventy percent still have some form of IBS.

I’m shy in saying that I actively engaged in anorexic behaviors for many years, and mentally, it’s still something I know could be triggered at any point. For me, it truly is a chronic illness that will always be with me in some capacity, a once active disease that hopefully stays dormant. Obviously in those many years of numbers and restriction, I was naive in hearing about the physical repercussions that result from those tendencies. The hair loss, the fatigue, the irritability, the weakness (all of which I did have), the heart and organ failure.

When you’re young, you truly take your health and body for granted. You’re in a phase of life where all you know is having the occasional flu or cold but never anything severe. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a generally healthy life, never needing surgery. I have immense empathy for those who have or currently struggle with physical illness, but I never knew what it felt like. Even as I wreaked havoc on myself, I didn’t think I’d be someone in a hospital. In that, I truly didn’t take my health seriously enough. I didn’t appreciate it like I should have.

So at this stage, I still can only relate to some others for having a “functional disease” that affects how I go about some of my days. Even after suffering from mental illness my whole life, it’s a new experience for me to understand, and I’m sure the same would be for someone with a chronic physical ailment and developing mental health problems. It’s not fun, and it’s not easy. I feel I am now learning of the true toll my body has taken from my mental health. You feel guilty for thinking that if you had done things differently, if you had been conscious at the time that resorting to self-harm would cause harm even after making better choices now…just regret, a sense of self-loathing even.

And as I continue to learn about my body and it reveals what other potential damage may be lurking, I will accept what is and really take the extra effort to take care of myself. Because you only have one body. Your health is one of the most valuable things you have. You cannot change your past, but you do not have to become a slave to its consequences. Take charge of your well-being, physical, mental, social and spiritual, now and appreciate it. Make healthy choices and nourish your mind, body and soul. And if that means some adjustments to accommodate conditions that have no consistent cure, that’s okay. You are strong. You are capable.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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