Stress and the support system

I got my diagnosis last Thursday. After all the testing, a tube down my throat and trip to the ER, the doctor determined my only problem was a little too much acid in my stomach.

As he told me this on the phone, my excitement at finally knowing what was wrong with me turned into a panic attack since this was not a one-and-done fix. It would take a few weeks of prescription acid-blocking medicine to return my stomach to normal. I answered the phone expecting to have my gall bladder taken out of me to stop the pain. But this wasn’t the case.

“You should be happy,” the doctor said. “You don’t sound happy.”

I asked him if I could change anything about my diet to make this healing process move more quickly. He said no.

When I hung up the phone, I started crying. I convinced myself I’d never feel better. I regretted taking the endoscopy test that left me with a torn-up throat. Basically I threw a huge pity party for myself. 

I complained to Nick and my parents and friends. I wallowed in self-pity. I saw only the negative about my diagnosis when in fact it was probably the best-case scenario. I didn’t have to go back to the Cleveland Clinic for a surgery. I didn’t have to wait and wonder what the hell was wrong with me. 

The next day, my coworker Sarah, whose husband is an ER pediatrician and told me it was probably just an acid overload from the beginning, better explained to me exactly what was going on in my belly. When food goes in, too much acid comes out to break it down and it causes a very small amount of inflammation on the top of my stomach. Now that I could visualize it, my mind started to change. 

The president-elect of the American Holistic Medical Association told me it’s great that I have medicine and a diagnosis. But she asked me to think about the root of the problem.

My anxiety has grown ever since the start of college. I started to allow my worried thoughts to spin out of control and consume my life. And after all of the stomach pain trauma, which is not completely over yet but has vastly improved, I have had to look my anxiety in the face. I see it now, and I am actively going to reduce it. Stress is such a powerful force that it can do physical damage to a person. I’ve seen the signs and I’m ready to turn to positivity and forward-thinking rather than negativity and past-thinking.

I started to reflect on the support I’d had from friends and family while I was going through this. My entire office at the American Holistic Medical Association (which is a GREAT place to work when you have an illness) stood by me the entire time I was in limbo waiting to find out what was wrong with me. They told me to take off of work if I needed it and constantly asked how I was doing.

My friends textedand called me and asked for stomach updates all the time. Kelsey Mayer even sent me a get well soon card with a black cat peeking out on the front. 

My parents and sister dealt with my sour mood better than they should’ve. Especially my dad, who took me to all of my Cleveland Clinic appointments while I sulked.

And Nick was by my side the whole time. When a pineapple wreaked havoc on my stomach and I told him I had to go to the ER, he jumped in the car with no shoes on and raced me there while he held my hand.

This painful experience has taught me that stress must be dealt with in healthy ways, like yoga, which I’m getting back into. It’s also taught me about the incredible support system that surrounds me, and has made me hope to be there for anybody who needs my help in their own time of need.Image




The Rusty Knife

Two months ago I decided to take my anxiety into my own hands.

Working at a holistic health association gave me the idea to search for natural methods of quelling stress. One suggestion was catnip tea. I like cats and I like tea, so I gave it a shot.

I walked down to the Kent Co-op and fished a few spoonfuls of catnip out of the glass jar and into a plastic baggie. I went to check out and asked the woman, “Uhh, do people often put this in their tea?”

“I’ve heard of it,” she responded unconvincingly.

Nevertheless, I stowed the green baggie in my striped purse, feeling a little mischievous. I played out the scenario of a cop asking me what was in my purse, and me fearlessly pulling it out. 

“Oh, this? It’s just catnip, officer,” I’d say.

But I ran into no such officer.

I got home with my remedy and brewed some chamomile tea. Then I sprinkled a few leaves of catnip into my porcelain cup, left it in briefly and then strained it out. I took a hot sip and then thought for a minute. It just tasted a bit more earthy than the usual cup of chamomile. 

After finishing the whole 8 oz cup, I settled into the couch and fell asleep peacefully.

“Yay!” I thought when I woke up. “This could work!”

The rest of the calm night passed, and then the next day came. When I got home from work, I brewed up another cup of my secret solution.

This time, I was so tired that I didn’t strain the leaves out. I left them floating in the pale yellow chamomile hot water. I drank some of the cup and ingested a few leaves. It started to gross me out, so I tossed it down the sink and went to bed again.

When I woke up the next morning at 6:30 a.m., I felt the way I usually do at 6:30 a.m.: Tired. Nothing more and nothing less. I got in my car and went to work.

As the day wore on, I developed a nagging, burning pain in my upper abdomen. I crunched myself up in the fetal position in my stiff gray office chair, trying to get through the last three hours before 5 p.m. When I couldn’t remove the hands clutching my stomach to type even one more sentence in Microsoft Word, I told my boss and he told me I could go home.

The hourlong drive home was a nasty one. Crunching up in a ball while driving is not exactly the safest technique. When I pulled into my gravel driveway I raced to my bed, shoved a pillow in my stomach and cried.

The dull pain did not go away all night. It was still there when I woke up on Wednesday morning to babysit. But I went anyway.

I didn’t eat much that day, and I managed to get through the day with a little less pain than the day before. I Googled my symptoms and then a lightbulb flashed on above my head.

A search for “Catnip side effects” on WebMD showed the herb can cause nausea and vomiting. 

“Ah-ha!” I thought. “It’s just the catnip. What a dumbass I was for trying that. But phew, at least I know the cause of all this!”

How I wish this story ended there.

The pain seemed to gradually go away. Nick and I started cooking food for ourselves much more often than we ever had. I was eating the healthiest I had eaten in four years of college. Yet the dull pain showed up again. And I don’t mean dull as in ‘not that painful.’ I mean dull as in a rusty knife slowly stabbing and turning in circles in my midsection.

It made no sense. Here I was, eating less meat and fast food and eating more vegetables and fresh fruit and I was having constant stomach pain.

At this point, the pain was manageable. If I was active and took my mind off of it, I hardly noticed it. I was watching my diet and trying to be as healthy as possible.

Then my friends and I went camping for the weekend in New York. I brought my own healthy food and figured I would be fine. I turned down delicious, spicy tacos for a bowl of Greek yogurt with granola and fruit. But 30 minutes after eating it, I was in the worst stomach pain yet. We were sitting by the bonfire and I could hardly talk, it hurt that bad. I went to bed early, clutching my stomach once again.

It still hurt the next morning and I felt completely hopeless. Here I was, saying no to the foods I wanted to eat in favor of ones I thought wouldn’t hurt my stomach, yet I was still immobilized by a single banana. I knew I had to do something, so I asked Nick to take me to Urgent Care. 

We got there and had to wait in a tiny room with sneezing, sick people for a long time. Nick tried to distract me from the pain by playing Sporkle. 

By the time I entered the waiting room, I’d researched the hell out of my condition. I had diagnosed myself with Gastritis, an acute or chronic disease that involves inflammation and bloating of the stomach. I told the doctor what I thought and he said I was probably right. He prescribed me an acid-blocking medicine and sent me on my way.

The medicine worked enough that I could enjoy the rest of my time there, but it was not the cure to my problem. When I started hurting badly again, I called my family doctor. She told me inflammation happens to everybody and that I just need to stop stressing and start exercising more. I left the office even more hopeless than before.

After a few more nights of debilitating pain after eating the blandest of food, I had to see someone else. I scheduled an appointment with a well-known gastroenterologist.

My appointment is tomorrow. I’m terrified that the doctor won’t tell me anything new. I’m trying to be hopeful, but at this point it’s not easy. I ate a peach two hours ago and my stomach is still burning. 

But I know many people who deal with pain on a daily basis. If they can do it, so can I.