The tale begins with my gut problems. If you know me personally you already know exactly what I’m talking about, but if you know me only by my online presence the important details are thus:
- About three years I started having particularly insistent stomach problems, of the kind that find you rushing off to the bathroom like a lunatic while people stare after you in confusion and/or exasperation.
- I could never figure out a definitive reason for said stomach problems; sometimes certain foods would seem to bother me, but other times those same foods wouldn’t affect me in the slightest, so I eventually came to rule out any specific triggers.
- As a result of these continuing stomach problems and the fact that I couldn’t find a real reason for them, I eventually developed a bit of an anxiety problem, especially when it came to traveling (i.e. being without access to a bathroom for any length of time).
- That anxiety problem multiplied tenfold during my last job, at which I was expected to spend two hours a day on a bus that didn’t have a washroom on-board, driving through the middle of nowhere, most of which was giant open fields (in other words: not even a tree to hide behind).
Around the time that I was dealing with all this I managed to get in to see a gastroenterologist, and had a few tests done to determine if I had any kind of major issues, such as Crohn’s Disease or colitis. In the end I had a follow-up appointment with the doc, during which he informed me that there was absolutely no problem with me physically, and that my problem was that I had an anxiety problem. Let me tell you, I struggled with whether to punch him or burst into tears (I managed to restrain myself from doing either) because I knew I had an anxiety problem, dammit, but it was the RESULT of the stomach problems!
The official diagnosis eventually became that I have IBS, and that anxiety is my major trigger. I personally was never satisfied with this diagnosis because it seemed strange to me that I just kind of woke up one day and magically all of a sudden had IBS (and, again, the anxiety came second so how could that have triggered it?), but since all of the tests came back negative I figured I didn’t have much of an argument to make. My family doctor gave me a prescription for a drug that tames stomach spasms, hoping that this would at least help me to survive the bus situation.
I tried that prescription for a while, but eventually I found myself back at my family doctor, complaining that it really didn’t help at all because as soon as I would see the bus I would start to panic, and the second I started to panic my stomach would twist in knots and it would just go downhill from there. He asked me a few more questions and at some point during the conversation I mentioned that, “I was the kid who threw up on the first day of school every year.” He suggested that perhaps I really had always had an anxiety problem and that some kind of outward stress had triggered it, causing the domino effect of my guts turning inside-out. He suggested a mild antidepressant that is usually used to treat anxiety and I agreed to give it a go.
Here is where I admit that this antidepressant did not, by any stretch of the imagination, solve my problems. It did make me feel a little better, and it did make it easier to close my eyes and breath through the panic in the mornings (which are always the worst part of the day, for some reason), but it was not a cure-all. I continued to take it because any help was better than no help, but that’s where we come to the second part of the story.
A few months ago, while at my current job, I started to experience a different kind of gastronomic issue. This is the part that’s TMI, so I’ll brush past it and if you’re really that interested you can brave Google. At first this issue only seemed to occur whenever I was on shift out West and would clear up while I was home, so I assumed it had something to do with the food (which, at this particular work camp, can barely be classified as edible). Eventually, however, it started to be a constant problem, never going away, never letting up. I should have gone to my doctor about it, but month after month I was too busy to make an appointment (and it’s difficult to get in when you only have a ten-day window once a month), so eventually I started researching this problem on the internet. I normally hate doing this because when the internet is involved it seems like every tiny issue leads to some form of cancer, but this case was actually pretty different. The problem I was having, said the internet, could only be caused by one specific issue: my digestive system was not absorbing fat properly. When I read some of the the other possible symptoms of “fat malabsorption” this self-diagnosis started to make even more sense.
So then the question became, “Why would my body suddenly not be absorbing fat properly?” And back to the internet I went. From what I could see there were two major players in this game: gluten intolerance, or the pancreas neglecting to produce enough stomach bile.
You might remember that a few weeks ago I did a “Low FODMAP Diet Experiment“, which is basically a gluten-free diet plus the cutting out of difficult-to-digest sugars. Now you know that the reasoning behind this experiment was to see if the issue I was having would clear up at all. The diet was not easy to adhere to while restricted to the foods available at the work camp, but I struggled through the diet for two weeks, hoping that this would fix me while feeling pretty confident that it wouldn’t. My instinct was right: I saw absolutely no improvement in the slightest, leading me to the conclusion that the problem must, in fact, be with my pancreas.
But why would their be a problem with my pancreas? I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions (whoops, silly internet, there’s that cancer popping up again…tsk tsk), but I also felt confident that there was something there somewhere, that this was the problem and I just had to narrow it down to whatever had triggered it.
It happened near the end of the FODMAP diet experiment. I was thinking about the possibilities, wondering what I could have done to cause my pancreas to suddenly stop working properly. Then it occurred to me: when this had begun it was only happening while I was out West, but then it had become a full-time issue. So what was different in the beginning from later on? It came to me like a bolt of lightning: this issue had cropped up not long after I’d first started taking my anxiety meds which, at first, I was only taking while I was out West. I’d figured that I didn’t really need them while I was at home (because I wouldn’t be dealing with buses), but after a month or two I’d thought that maybe they weren’t helping as much as I’d hoped they would because I wasn’t taking them full-time as one usually would. So I’d started taking the prescription daily, and soon my little gut issue was a daily one as well.
Now, I didn’t just up and announce, “THIS IS THE PROBLEM!” I did do a bit more research first, and though the information was actually rather difficult to find (are they trying to hide this stuff or something?) I did eventually determine that, yes, some kinds of antidepressants can cause a domino effect that creates the issue I was having by screwing with your pancreas.
At this point I should say that a smart person would have gone to their doctor right away and discussed her thoughts and issues. I didn’t do that. My immediate thought was that for the little bit of help this drug was giving me, it definitely wasn’t worth making my guts ten times worse than they’d already been when I’d started. So, for better or worse, I immediately stopped taking the antidepressants and haven’t returned to them since.
It took exactly five days for the problem to clear up.
Now, my guts are by no means fixed; I’m just basically back to where I was before my family doctor and I started talking about anxiety problems. However, I definitely think I’m better off (fat malabsorption…look it up…it’s not a good thing), and I’m managing. I’ve found other ways to help control my anxiety, and I’m currently at a job with shorter bus rides on a bus that actually does have a washroom, so there’s that too.
Basically, what it all boils down to – and the point I’m trying, in a roundabout way, to get to – is that drugs are not always the answer and you should always consider that they may, in fact, be part of the problem. I do think that my doctor was right to prescribe something for anxiety, especially since I was having major panic attacks at the time, but in the long run the side effects just turned out to be worse than the results.
So that’s my little story, as vague as I could make it so as to avoid the TMI-monster. And the moral of the story is: modern medicine is awesome, but everyone’s body reacts to drugs in different ways so never just blindly assume that every drug is going to do its job properly for you.