Friday, 7 February 2014

Health, or my lack thereof: a rant

I've always been a physically healthy person (the classic triumvirate of eczema, asthma and hayfever aside).  Like most teachers, I catch a cold or a flu bug pretty much every winter, but I've otherwise lived 35 years in the full bloom of health. 

Until earlier this year.

It began with a recurrence of a problem I'd been experiencing, on and off, for a few years: IBS (ok, so maybe I wasn't always in perfect health my whole life, but previously my flare-ups would last - at most - a week or two).  For those of you unfamiliar with IBS, it can affect people in different ways but for me, it has three main outcomes: feeling bloated and gassy, having an upset stomach, and extremely painful stomach cramps.  It's about as pleasant as it sounds, and leaves me feeling lethargic and sick and generally grotty.   But a flare-up once every few months was easy to deal with, because I knew it would pass quickly.

However, over the summer my stomach became more and more irritable, my digestive system rebelling from foods I'd previously enjoyed.  Beginning with cream, the list of foods I couldn't eat without becoming very ill quickly expanded to include ice-cream, cow's milk, yoghurt (most lactose-rich food, basically), red meat, and anything fried or roasted in fat.  As the escalation of my IBS coincided with my vegan boyfriend moving back to Leicester, it wasn't initially too much of an issue: it won't have escaped your notice that most of those trigger foods are verboten on a vegan diet, which is what I've mostly been eating since September (apart from cheese.  You can pry my cheese from my cold, dead hands).

But then.

As much as I tried to cut out the foods which were making me feel unwell, I still kept getting ill.  I realised I needed to also add beans, lentils, onions and wheat to the list (basically, all of the foods that are prevelant in our vegan diet.).  My list of trigger foods just kept getting longer and it felt like the more I cut out, the more sensitive my digestive system became.  I've spent pretty much the last eight months constantly feeling like crap as my IBS has become worse and worse and worse.

And then.

A little something called Temporomandibular Joint Disorder happened.  Or, in layperson's terms, inflammation and pain of the jaw joint.  Sounds relatively minor, right?  Wrong.  I'm now in my sixth month of constant pain.  I wake every morning with an ache in my jaw (despite sleeping in a mouthguard) which, over the course of the day, develops into first a headache and then, two or three days our of seven, into a migraine.  Like IBS, TJD typically flares up and then resolves itself after a short period of time.  Like my IBS, my TJD has not resolved, nor has it responded to treatment.  I might have a day or two of reduced pain - perhaps after trying a new medication, or when my stress levels are very low - before it comes back, as bad as ever.

I think if I'd spent the past few months suffering from just one or the other problem, I'd be better equipped to cope.  But the double whammy of both IBS and TJD at the same time had left me drained of energy and struggling to cope.

And then.

Last week I hurt my thumb, in the most ridiculous way possible, and got an abscess under my nail.  Cue lots of pain, incipient blood poisoning, and a course of antibiotics (which naturally came with lots of lovely side effects).  I think this was the final straw for me in terms of my health; the point at which I wondered how much more suckiness I could handle.

The thing is, I really don't think I'm that much of a negative person.  I like the odd moan now and then - who doesn't? - but I generally look on the bright side.  The past few months have really challenged that perspective, and I'm starting to feel beaten down and destroyed.  And because both the IBS and the TJD feed on stress and worry, I enter a vicious circle of pain-stress-pain. 

One of the worst things about all of this is that it has coincided with The Boy coming back to Leicester and moving in.  Instead of having a halcyon first few months together, he has had to put up with my complaints of pain, the fact that some nights my stomach is so sore I can't bear him to touch me, the constant pill-popping.  Our life together is lovely and in many ways I am the happiest I have ever been, so I sometimes feel like the universe is having a laugh at my expense, "Ok, we'll send you this awesome guy, but in return we will curse you with months of ill health, which will make it very difficult to enjoy said awesome guy."  He, of course, is endlessly patient, but sometimes I joke that he should go and find someone less broken than I.

Because that is how I feel.  Broken.  And betrayed by a body that I had always treated well, and that I've always been able to rely on.

I know - or, at least, I hope - that things will get better.  Neither condition is life-threatening.  Neither condition typically flares up for long periods of time, so with any luck this is just a fluke set of events.  But equally, neither condition is curable.  It will be up to me to find ways to live with my IBS that include eating more than plain boiled rice and apples (pretty much the only foods I can completely tolerate right now).  It will be up to me to look into relaxation techniques to try and combat the clenching and tension that has led to my jaw pain and related migraines.  But right now, all I'm trying to do is find it in me to get up every morning.

17 comments:

  1. Hey, this sucks.

    Here is a thing you can disregard but change is stressful, even good change, so though you are happy to be all settled in a new life, with a new vegan diet could all that change be what triggered this? I know I got stress from getting married and moving to a bigger house (even though both things were ace and things I really wanted!!)

    I do hope things settle down soon though so you can properly enjoy life without the colour being a little bit out of it due to the pain and discomfort xx

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    1. No, I think you make a good point. I know that my IBS especially is triggered by the *good* kinds of stress more than the bad (I have lost count, for example, of the number of restaurants and pubs I have suddenly become very unwell in, when on a fun night out).

      And in terms of diet - I have pretty much resigned myself to the fact that if I eat nice food, I might be ill. I refuse to eat completely vegan (cheese! how could I cope without cheese!), nor is it realistic to completely cut out pulses and beans and wheat from a vegetarian diet.

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  2. That really shitty. Sorry to hear you are suffering. Its really hard when stuff you can't control gets you down. Hope things get better soon x

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    1. Yeah, I really struggle with the loss of control aspect of it. I'm a teacher, fer chrissakes, I like to be the one in charge!!

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  3. You have every right to rant, that sounds horrible! I'm so sorry to hear you're feeling so ill and it's making you feel so low :( I always feel like the fact that it's winter doesn't help. I really hope your symptoms pass soon and you can get to those halcyon days!

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    1. After your amazing post about cancer on Friday, I felt somewhat guilty for moaning about my relatively minor complaints. But I think it's the convergence of the issues at the same time that is making it harder to cope with; fingers crossed spring will be on its way soon, and I will start feeling brighter too.

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  4. Sorry to hear you've been feeling so unwell :( Tom also suffers from IBS but luckily it only flares up occasionally (though I know he said it was worse when he was at uni because of the stress/change that occurred). As the partner of someone with it you feel really awful and helpless when your loved one is in pain and you can't help them. I hope you get better soon. And don't blame you for not giving up cheese! xx

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    1. Yeah, cheese is pretty much my line. You can take away ice cream, chocolate, rare steaks, so many of the things I have loved, but you will never take my cheese!

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  5. Wow, this sounds awful - no wonder you needed a rant! I hope things start to get better soon. It's so frustrating when there isn't a cure as such - trying to manage these things yourself is not easy.

    Your cheese comments always make me laugh because that's exactly how I feel about dairy! I managed to stop eating all the other stuff, but cheese? Never going to happen!

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    1. Some things are worth feeling grotty for, and brie is definitely one of them!

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  6. Oh, that's rotten luck. Wish I had some good advice for you but instead I'm just looking sympathetically at my laptop. *hugs*

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    1. Thank you, internet hugs are always welcome!

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  7. Hi - late comment but when I read this I remembered a very good friend and work colleague who really suffered with her IBS, and found accupuncture extremely helpful. I am normally I bit of an alternative medicine sceptic, but there was no arguing with the results. perhaps it was because it was very relaxing (she use to fall asleep during treatments!). who knows. but it might be worth exploring...

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    1. Interesting, thanks. The only time I've tried acupuncture (at a weird free clinic in NYC for 9-11 survivors, where my cousin was volunteering) I was overcome with giggles and found the whole experience entirely unrelaxing!

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  8. Oh! I know only too well what it's like to live with chronic health problems and pain, and I'm gutted you're experiencing it too. I often find that taking a day to myself, and just spending my time pampering myself with nice body and skin products, good books and a cheesy film can do wonders for my mental state, if not my physical symptoms. It's almost like allowing yourself that time takes a weight off immediately.

    Just a quick thought - have you even tested if you are allergic to quorn? I am, and when I ate it I got IBS symptoms (I know it's a longterm thing for you, but might be flaring up extra) and really bad jaw and throat pain.

    Sending you lots of love and get well thoughts x

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    1. Thanks Louise. Weirdly, the past week after writing this have been the best in months! Maybe I just needed to vent and get some stress out.

      Did you know that Quorn isn't vegan? It has egg as a binding agent, very irritating when looking for meat substitutes, but it does mean I'm definitely not allergic to it!

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  9. Glad to hear from the above comment that things are on the up. It really sounds like you're fully justified in letting yourself rant a little! Any pain is awful, and to me there has always been something particularly bad about face/head pain. I seem to get a bout or two of painful sinusitis most years and (while nowhere near as bad as what you describe) it makes me feel really miserable! Hope things continue to improve for you.

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