Bloated Idea

In this new stage of health, a change is of course something new to adapt to.

My IBS symptoms have stayed pretty consistent with what I expected and fall in line with the typical signs. While it’s nice to know there’s a reason why this is happening, it doesn’t make the effects any less annoying.

Because truly, my life has definitely changed since having digestive issues. You don’t realize how much your digestion affects every other part of your body, especially your mental health. On both ends, I’ve been honestly struggling. Off-balance in one aspect of health ends up throwing off the conditions you’ve already been trying to balance.

But on another note, besides the depression and anxiety, I now am reminded of the thoughts that I usually suppress and can manage but again, IBS isn’t helping.

Here’s the deal: especially when constipated or eating, after 3-4pm, I start seeing some major bloating. Sometimes so much it’s uncomfortable to move.

With disordered eating tendencies and body dysmorphia, being bloated COMPLETELY throws off the perception of myself. It shouldn’t be a big deal of how it looks, rationally I know that, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t have doubts and concerns from seeing my stomach and body swell up, even if I know it (usually) is better in the morning.

We all bloat. Our stomaches expand after we eat. That’s basic biology. But knowing that doesn’t still make me uneasy over it and have harmful thoughts creep back, or magnify what is probably not even noticeable into something huge and obvious.

When IBS really affects how and what you eat, and you already have a relationship with food that is…unusual, it complicates how I approach everything. Now when I look at food, I luckily stress less about the numbers and nitty-gritty details, but now I worry about how my body will react to it. And knowing that my eating disorder most likely contributed to having IBS in the first place doesn’t help either.

I know I am privileged, to have the body and life and health I do. I just feel very overwhelmed by it all. It’s like an extra unexpected hurdle to learn how to jump over when I already feel tired. Not like any challenge is one that’s planned. What would the point of that be?

Not only do I speak to remind myself, but to anybody else who might feel uninspired or at a low point with their relationship to their body. It’s not a straight progression to self-acceptance. At times, it feels like the world is just asking you to revert back to default negativity. But you’re so much stronger than you believe.

Even if it seems like your body is working against you, that it’s angry at you for its current state and past pitfalls, this is when it so desperately needs positivity the most. For me, that’s looked like what is basic hygiene and activities, but when you’re depressed, they can be the greatest forms of self-care. Yes, brushing your teeth and taking a shower are big deals. Accomplishing just one assignment of the entire list you had planned out is a victory.

Make peace with your body. The simplest phrase yet the absolute hardest to believe and implement. I’m by no means at that point, but I’m much farther than I used to be. That’s all I can ask for is looking forward. Not beating myself up for eating a food that my body reacts negatively to. Not shaming myself for what can feel like a crippling disability at its worst. Not letting my thoughts control me and enslave me back into nasty habits.

It’s about taking little intentional steps each day to be my best. I avoid being hung up by my reflection because there’s no point in worrying and guessing what my body looks like when I honestly cannot accurately see it for what it is (still a work in progress…). I dress in whatever I feel comfortable on that day. I do my best in that moment and don’t beat myself up if I’m not up to my full capacity. I take each day at a time, trying not to look too ahead and stress about what has not come yet.

Again, this isn’t an easy process for me. I hope to have more answers as to better managing my IBS symptoms soon and potentially strengthening my antidepressants, but until then, all I have is right now. Whatever progress I envision making isn’t going to happen overnight as per usual for any illness, physical or mental. Even if I feel defeated in my self-image, I can still move forward in other aspects of my life, and that’s okay. Is it ideal to have your body and mind feeling like they’re playing off each other to sabotage you? Certainly not. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make the best of right now. It’s all we have, and an optimism for the future, a potential only possible by taking care of ourselves in this moment.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie


A Dog’s Lessons about Anxiety

Olive, my sweet four-month-old puppy, has a special purpose in my life, besides being my fur child.

She also will (hopefully) provide emotional support, keeping my mood afloat when it dives and soars.

But this keeps in mind that she is also a living being with emotions. And those emotions can sometimes be as unpredictable as mine.

Since she’s obviously a newcomer to this world, there are still many things she encounters that scare her. Just to name a few, she has barked and ran away from all other dogs, including her own reflection, small children, nightmares, squirrels, any fecal remnants stuck to her fur, vacuums, and, randomly enough, riding lawn mowers.

So rather than relying upon Olive to serve as constant support, the roles are often reversed. I’m the one to discipline and also to hold when she’s unsure of her surroundings.

Which got me thinking…if my dog also experiences bouts of fear and doubt, what can that outside perspective offer me and others about our own anxiety? This is all in general terms, of course. I don’t think Olive is qualified as a psychatrist, but hey, a puppy can dream.

When you realize the different influences in Olive’s life that provoke her fight-or-flight reaction, what do we probably think? Those are nothing. How can something so simple, like seeing your own reflection in a mirror, really be that big of a deal?

Well, we could say that about most things that can end up triggering full-on panic attacks in people. For me, it can be the simplest of things that build up and take me over the edge. Eating can make me anxious. Shopping for clothes. Severe weather. Being too early or late to an event. Going to any social event at all, especially a crowded, loud one.

I could go on. Life in general can make me uneasy. But when you look at it from an outside perspective, when you’re in not in the midst of your own tension, you see just how small these fears seem. In our heads, we build up our anxieties into huge, impossible demons when they’re only just common occurrences that everyone faces. Which honestly, that either is helpful to hear, or it makes me more anxious knowing I’m turning nothing into something huge without much thought otherwise. It’s just an automatic response.

But it’s helpful to know that regardless of how isolating our anxieties can feel trapped in our heads, especially those with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, we all go through that. We aren’t alone in our doubts and fears and uncertainties. They might be toward different things, but we can relate and empathize with each other in a shared struggle.

Another thing I notice with Olive is that even when she’s barking at her own reflection or a piece of something stuck to her back-end fur, she is quite quick to come into my arms and hear me reassure her.

Because, unlike us, she probably doesn’t have any positive affirmations off the top of her head to remind herself in those anxious situations. Luckily, we do. We have a conscious ability to ground ourselves, escape from what is troubling us and remember that we are safe and okay.

Also, just like Olive, we have a support system to remind us those things, too. Our loved ones and the relationships we share are some of the most valuable resources out there, especially they personally know the feelings that arise. Our friends and family should be there for us with open arms to pick us up in our dark moments and surround us with good energy we so desperately need. If you don’t think you have that support system right now, or there’s anybody in your life who is not serving that purpose for you, maybe it’s important to consider that.

Naturally, all creatures have some inkling for curiosity. We jump or look around when we hear a noise, or go into a new environment with some hesitation. It’s when our lives are controlled by those jumpy reactions and hesitation that we need to reflect on our moods. Dogs depend on us to help them cope in thunderstorms and angry vacuums, but we must take our own responsibility to ensure that we are taking care of ourselves and implementing what we need in life to cope and manage anxiety.

They call it the dog’s life, one that is relaxing and simple. But we don’t have to make our own lives so complicated when they don’t have to be. Maybe we can take a lesson or two from our furry friends, know when to be in the moment, and keep on keeping on.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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