A friend emailed me the other day asking if I’d share more about my journey with gluten-sensitivity and IBS. A lot of people are quiet about this issue, mainly because they are embarrassed to talk about it. There’s also not a lot that Western medicine knows about this right now– if you’re not officially “celiac”, you usually get an eyeroll or two and then get written off as a “fad follower”.
I’ve decided to open up about my journey this past year with all of these issues, in the hope that perhaps it can help someone else who may be suffering.
I’ve talked quite a few times on this blog about how I went gluten-free nearly 2 years ago. I don’t cheat, I don’t sneak the “occasional” cracker, beer, or piece of cake. I don’t even cross-contaminate and use the same knife or cutting board as anything that came into contact with gluten. After reading up on the nature of gluten, I realized that it’s all a waste unless you completely cut it out of your life, as even the smallest crumb doesn’t leave your system for over a week.
But going gluten-free didn’t solve everything. Sure, it made things better, but my symptoms were still persisting. Horrible stomach pains that left me doubled over. Unremitting nausea. Blood sugar crashes for no apparent reason. Dramatic weight loss. Bleeding ulcers. Panic attacks. Dramatic mood swings. Massive bouts of depression and crying that didn’t stop for days.
Around this time last year, I saw a “normal” run of the mill doctor at the local clinic. He ordered a ton of blood work, wanting to rule out things like diabetes, cancer, celiac and hyperthyroidism.
But it turns out it wasn’t any of those things. By this point last year, in addition to gluten I was also unable to eat potatoes (even small traces of potato starch), chocolate (the.worst.flu-like.symptoms.ever), dairy, shrimp and beans. I had just eased off my 3 month anti-acid medication, and was finally adding back in things that contained even small amounts of acid, like citrus and tomatoes. But the list of things that I could eat was slowly dwindling down.
I started using essential oils at this time last year, and while they helped, I was afraid to do any sort of “detox” and anger my system even further. I got a few debilitating sinus infections, and was struggling to even function because of massive migraines. I could keep things manageable using Digest-Zen for stomach pain (stops nausea in its tracks!) and peppermint and Deep Blue for headaches.
Needless to say, one of my top priorities when moving to Dallas was to seek out a few specialists to help me figure out what was going on. I’d found lots of ways to cope and manage the pain, but I knew that this was nowhere close to a normal existence, especially not for someone in their late 20s.
I got my health insurance straightened out somewhere mid-October 2014, when all of a sudden, I threw my back out. I’ve always struggled with my tailbone (ever since Gregory’s birth where I cracked it), and I assumed this was the cause of my back pain. It took me two days before I was off the couch, since I constantly needed a heating pad in order to keep the muscles from spasming. Ibuprofen was also not an option, due to my tendency towards ulcers, and I really didn’t know where to turn. My friend advised me to try kratom capsules for pain relief, but I decided I should consult a doctor first.
I knew that a long-time friend from church worked as an all natural holistic chiropractor, and I’d been meaning to make an appointment for some time, but couldn’t find a place in the budget for it. Our house in CA was needing constant money and attention, and I was nervous about paying someone a lot of money to help me (he doesn’t take health insurance).
But throwing my back out forced me into a crossroads, and I finally worked up the courage to ask his wife if there was some sort of arrangement or payment plan we could arrive at. Turns out, they had been looking for a new music/voice teacher for their kids, and that my background in choir and piano lessons was a perfect fit for them. We worked out a payment system that enabled me to afford it!
I saw this doctor within just days and began treatment. The first visit was an hour long diagnostic, and a LOT of things came up. We hardly even dealt with my back pain, because, as it turns out, it wasn’t at all related to my tailbone but to all the nasty craziness going on in my gut. (Also, if anyone has doubts about Eastern medicine, you won’t after just a visit or two. They can identify EVERYTHING that’s wrong with you without even listening to your history or telling them your food allergies. I’m always amazed, time and time again).
I have been seeing this doctor 2-3x month in hopes of getting to the bottom of where all this is stemming from. As it turns out, a lot of the irregularities I’ve had ever since childhood are all linked together. For instance, whenever stressed, I start to shake uncontrollably. Playing piano for a few friends, getting into an argument, a foster care situation…all of it causes me to shake without being able to stop. The only thing that stops it is heat (heating pad, hot shower, etc.). When I do get cold, I have a few fingers that turn pink, and a few that glow white! Turns out, that’s NOT normal (I don’t know why I thought it was!) and an issue related to circulation. The debilitating migraines I’ve had ever since junior high? Directly related to where I store stress at the base of the brain.
And all of the sinus/allergies I’ve had? Directly related to my gut and the lack of health therein. Yes, even the seasonal allergies (which I used to be on lots of medications for) are a result.
Turns out, all of my symptoms point to have a hyper-aware immune system that starts rejecting foods and environmental hazards whenever I get slightly stressed. Certain people, it turns out, “somatisize” stress and store it somewhere in their body. This is why stressful situations or powerful emotions (anger, fear) manifest themselves physically. People who have a tendency towards it can be triggered by PTSD (for me, it was our foster care situation) and all of the tendencies can become full-blown.
Me? I store stress in my stomach, one specific place in my back, and at the base of my brain (which has nerves that connect to the nose and forehead, hence why the pain was always mis-diagnosed as sinus-related).
The closest our modern Western culture really comes to defining this phenomena is by targeting the physical manifestation and giving it a name. Krohn’s. IBS. Fibromyalgia. Allergies. Food Sensitivity. PTSD. Auto-immune. But we don’t really have cures for any of them, just ways to manage the pain.
Currently, I have just finished a one month detox program using homeopathic prescriptions from my doctor. We are now following it up with a powerful probiotic/prebiotic in order to restore gut-health. Although my diet could look more restricted than it used to be (the “no-no” list currently includes gluten, potato, nuts, starch of any kind, chocolate or any sugar including fruits, and any hydrogenated oils), it’s only because we are trying to give my gut a chance to heal itself before adding any stressers. Instead of these things, I’m following something very similar to the GAPS diet (although it’s Lent, so I’m actually not eating any meat other than fish, broth and eggs! Ah! Just a few more weeks!)
I still frequently experience daily nausea. I’ve actually likened it a lot to morning sickness (don’t worry, it’s not!), because it strikes at any moment and lasts for hours, only to disappear without explanation. I still get stomach pain, but it’s usually because I slipped up and ate beans, rice or (gasp!) gf cookies. But as long as I make sure I have a LOT of fat (ie., lots of butter on veggies! LOTS of avocados!) and a few servings of protein every day, I feel fine. I’ve been trying to keep my carbs under 20g/day, and I can cut that down even further once I can eat meat freely again.
And, best of all, I haven’t had a SINGLE migraine since I started seeing this doctor. I haven’t had any allergy attacks in over 6 months. The aches and pains have become fleeting, if at all, and my emotions and mood swings only stabilize more and more as each week passes.
Of course, I will keep updating things as the treatment continues. The goal is to one day be able to eat certain foods again in moderation without having it completely destroy me. I will always have this tendency, and retraining my body to handle stress in a less harmful way is going to be a priority for the rest of my life.
But I know what the problem is, and for that I am grateful. I know where to go for treatment, and I know more about myself than I ever used to. I know that I’m not “crazy”, and that all of these mysterious aches and pains have a root cause.
We’ve also identified that my 4 year old Gregory is very very similar to me in all the above ways, and so I know how to keep an eye out for any issues he may have. Turns out, his recent gluten and dairy intolerances (he used to throw up when coming into contact with them) are very similar to mine, and that with proper treatment, he should be able to eat those foods again, especially since we caught this early. He is on a special vitamin and a few other homeopathic treatments to stabilize his emotions and keep his gut strong. We’ve already seen dramatic improvement.
Thanks for listening, and hopefully this helps!
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