You’re about to learn way more about my internal organs than you’d probably care to, and I apologize in advance for that, but I’ll try to “de-gross” it as much as possible. For the past few months I’ve been dealing with digestive trouble that has deeply affected my day-to-day life. I am no stranger to stomach issues. I was your typical problem-picky-eater child, which likely contributed to the constant stomachaches I had throughout grade school. I also found myself exceptionally prone to food poisoning, and motion sickness in cars, but not amusement park rides. Go figure. Once, in middle school, my stomach pains were so excruciating that I was sent to the nurse’s office. She correctly identified my lack of fiber and dehydration; I gulped down a few bananas and chugged water and felt welcome relief as I emptied myself in the school bathroom after.
Some time later, my tummy troubles evolved with enough severity to grant me my first trip to the ER. I couldn’t have been older than 14. A doctor probed my young, previously un-invaded anus with a gloved finger, to which I could not properly respond to his questions and prompts on whether the pain was exacerbated because there was a finger up my butt and I was 14, dammit. So he sent me to radiology for an ultrasound which showed…a whirlwind of gas? They explained that too much air was in my stomach; a combination of carbonated beverages, fried foods, and swallowing air while eating, most likely from talking at the same time. As a result, my bowels had become inflamed. Lesson learned. Even today, I find I still hold my breath sometimes while eating, in a subconscious act to ward off accidental air gulps.
For awhile after, it seemed to do better, and was well-behaved throughout high school and college. It seemed I was finally outgrowing my membership with the Tummy Troubles Tribe. I tried to reward its good behavior in turn. The more I ascended into adulthood, the more I realized I should take more accountability for my picky eating if I wanted to be somewhat MILF-like and still be a ninja at age 60 (shout-out to Aunt Sandra). I had started incorporating gym sessions into my lifestyle, and learned that fitness and eating better were two-fold, so I’d have to step up my nutrition game as well. At the ripe age of 27, I cautiously waded into the world of vegetables, beginning with sweet potatoes and asparagus (shout-out to NerdFitness for the gateway veggie suggestion), eventually added kale, spinach, brussel sprouts (shout-out to Jo-Jo for that introduction) and got reacquainted with beans and lentils. I severely diminished the amount of processed fast foods I ate, bade farewell to quick meals from McDonalds, Burger King, Wendys, etc… (although Sonic and Dairy Queen still get a pass once in awhile) cooked more basic meals at home, stopped buying 2L soda bottles for the house just because they were cheaper, and drank more water. Candy bars in the front of bodegas and drug stores became invisible to me. Junk cravings decreased. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my cookies and cakes and I still indulge when the craving hits, but cleaner eating pulls me now.
Imagine my surprise when, after over a decade of smooth sailing and self-implemented gut improvements, my tummy troubles returned with a vengeance and landed me in the ER for the second time in my life. A debilitating cramp seized the lower right hand portion of my stomach after returning from a trip to Antigua. When it didn’t subside for 3 days, my ex-boyfriend pushed me to go to Urgent Care. After some gentle prodding and mounting concern that it might be appendicitis, Urgent Care referred me to the ER, a place I swear to never return to unless my limbs are dismembered or my intestines are spilling out. After 9 hours of unsympathetic nurses who hooked an IV to my hand because they couldn’t find the veins in my arms, inept doctors who couldn’t make a proper diagnosis, an ultrasound, CT scan, and physical examination by a surgeon later, I was told I had fibroids. While one of the earlier moron doctors had said that wouldn’t be the source of my pain, the surgeon confirmed that, yes, fibroids can absolutely hurt. And a quick Google search confirmed this, especially when they undergo degeneration. Millions of women suffer from fibroids and just as many of them experience symptoms as the ones who don’t even realize they’re there.
At that point, the ER felt like prison: they had not allowed me to eat all day, the hospital-grade pain meds through the IV hadn’t done shit so I had long since ordered them to disconnect it, and I wanted my real clothes again. I was relieved when they released me to go home with the diagnosis: fibroids + take ibuprofen. I was ready to suffer in the comfort of my own apartment. I medicated with Motrin and marijuana for the rest of the week until the symptoms drifted away. And all was well until a year later.
I first felt the crampy twinges in the same spot the brutal pains had occurred a year before, but on a much lesser scale. Instead, it was now accompanied by discomforting bloating and fullness. Eventually, I realized I wasn’t going to the bathroom as much anymore. Maybe once every 4-5 days and when I did, it was tiny pieces. My body wanted to release, but my booty wouldn’t. Google told me this was a constipation indicator. I tried all the recommended remedies. More apples, bananas and pears. More veggies. A spoonful of olive oil in the morning on an empty stomach along with jumping jacks. Coconut oil. Apple cider vinegar ingestion daily. I already log numerous Pokemon Go hours of walking and 2.5 gym sessions a week, so it couldn’t have been a lack of exercise.
A month later, with no improvement, I shakily told my current boyfriend, who proved to be incredibly supportive of my situation. It was time to up the ante. First, I pulled out the big guns and tried a laxative just to make sure, you know, it worked. It worked all right. Then we began a regimen of fruit and veggie smoothies blended each day with chia seeds. I began adding things I never ate. Strawberries, blueberries, grapes, peaches, carrots. I started drinking kombucha. Tried bone broth. Upped my probiotic count. Abdominal massages. Eight glasses of bottled water a day and I abandoned tap. I kept a food journal for a month and referred to the Bristol Stool Chart more than I’d ever had in life. Someone with a normal digestive system would have been glued to the toilet. I tried removing certain foods for testing purposes. One week I did away with dairy. Another week, seafood. Tried removing gluten for a week before realizing if you want to have a gluten test done to see if you have Celiac’s, you have to actually be ingesting it. Lame. But now it had been two months and I was still not consistently improving, so I scheduled an appointment with a gastroentologist to have my butthole probed again for the second time in my life. They did a bevy of bloodwork testing for food allergies, thyroid issues, diseases and imbalances. All negative. We scheduled an ultrasound to take a look at what was happening in there and make sure the fibroids discovered the previous year hadn’t become an issue. Unlike the last time I’d gotten an ultrasound in my childhood, this one didn’t produce much, except a growth on my liver that needed to be checked out via MRI. One MRI later, they said it was Focal Nodular Hyperplasia, a fancy term for a small, benign mass that doesn’t affect the function of its host. Along with the fibroids and the non-threatening lump discovered in my breast years ago, I’m accumulating quite the collection of benevolent tumors inside my body.
“So what’s wrong with me then?”
My gastro diagnosed me with chronic idiopathic constipation, which basically means, cause unknown. Over $1000 in doctor’s visit’s later (yeah, that’s WITH health coverage) and I get a diagnosis that says “We dunno why.” Her solution: go on Miralax long term. “It’s very gentle, you won’t get explosive diarrhea, and I even have babies on it.”
It will soon be 5 months since this new ailment has afflicted me and I am slowly learning to accept it. Something like chronic constipation may not seem like a big deal until it’s your body that’s not working the way it should, and until you need to rely on supplements and additives to be “normal,” you won’t know what it’s like to fear what will happen if their effectiveness fails. I am ridiculously thankful that I don’t have the pain or distention of severe sufferers; my liver is working fine, I don’t have the sort of fibroids that make me look 7 months pregnant, nor do they bleed when I work out. I’ve forgotten they’re there since my last ER trip. I’m blessed to be able to still live a relatively normal lifestyle, just one more centered around the bathroom. But at times I do feel like the universe has a very backwards way of rewarding me for attempting to pursue a healthier lifestyle.
Currently I’m operating well enough on a daily dose of Miralax, magnesium supplement at night (shout-out to Amazon for the Natural Calm), an almost-daily home-blended fruit/veggie shake and a double dose of probiotics. When I vacayed in Mexico, I saw TSA workers examining the powders in my vitamin containers, questioning my potential to be a drug runner. Some days are better than others. Staying active helps take my mind off the feeling of internal fullness that varies on a regular basis.
It’s slightly annoying when those close to me downplay the situation, even when I know they are trying to help. When my mom off-handedly comments “You and your bestie love to create problems with yourselves that aren’t there,” I answer back, “Yes, because I shelled out hundreds of dollars in doctor’s visits and endured multiple needles because something isn’t REALLY wrong with my body.”
Or if someone says, “Oh, just drink coffee! That always helps me go!” I would think if it would have been that easy, the doctors would have suggested it. But I doubt the COFFEE will solve what the fruit, berries, spinach, kale, chia seeds, flax seeds, oatmeal, olive oil, coconut oil, pumpkin seeds, and various fibrous additions cumulatively have not done, as well as hydration that makes my pee so clear, I could probably boil tea with it.
Google (as well as the doc) tells me CIC may vanish just as randomly as it crept in. But there is no way to know. Until then, I keep my stomach prepped for the day it might, by remaining active, increasingly choosing organic, maintaining increased fiber intake, continuing to drink probiotic drinks and include fresh garlic and ginger in my meals, as well as spices like turmeric and cayenne pepper. I practice stretches, abdominal massages, and even kegels, in the hopes that I can rebalance my body and guide my digestive motility back into submission at some point. Stressing about it multiplies the stress, so I try not to let it affect my day-to-day too much, pray over it and adapt to it, though it times it can get depressing.
I’m sharing my story because I’m not the only sufferer, and we need to talk about it. The docs don’t have a cure nor a reason for this condition, so it appears we are stuck in this tribe. If you know someone with similar symptoms, or if you have tips on how to manage CIC that have worked for you or another, please let me know, because the Internet is flooded with hopeless anecdotes on this condition. 😦 It is affecting more of us than you think.