I am sat here in my dad’s apartment, eating plain breadsticks because they’re the only snack I can have as I prep for my SIBO test tomorrow, and I realize that I have not ever written about being ill. So here’s the first in what may be more entries in “Tales of a Sick Girl,” stories about my illness.
“What illness?” I hear you asking (unless you’re one of my friends or a family member in which case you know). Well, my illness doesn’t have a name, but I’ve begun to affectionately call it “Knock-off Crohn’s Disease;” I do not have Crohn’s Disease, but my symptoms are very, very similar to it. I often get stomach cramping, diarrhea, and nausea, and they can just come out of nowhere. This is because my stomach does not make any good bacteria, only bad, and I used to have a very bad bacteria in my small intestine. Fun right?
I really started noticing that my stomach wasn’t “normal” when I was a freshman in high school. Up until then, I thought it was normal to be nauseous every single night, but it began to get incredibly bad when I was about fourteen. I would stay up every single night crying about my stomach, scared that I was going to throw up (because on top of stomach issues, I have a fear of vomit). After weeks of this, my mom finally took me to a gastroenterologist who determined that I probably had bad gastritis. For those who don’t know, gastritis is when your stomach makes too much acid. It can cause nausea on an empty stomach due to excess acid. Oh! So that’s why whenever I’m hungry I’m nauseous! Sounds good! My doctor wanted to run some tests to be sure, but he was fairly sure.
These tests he ran included a sonogram on my digestive track (which, shockingly, is more uncomfortable than a sonogram on the reproductive system), and an endoscopy (when the doctor sticks a camera down your throat and into your stomach). This confirmed the gastritis diagnosis, I was given prescription strength Pepcid and I went on my merry way.
The summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I began to notice my stomach acting up again. This part of the story is going to talk about poop, and I know that is ”taboo” to talk about but it can’t be taboo when your stomach is messed up. Every time I ate something, I would poop it out within a half an hour. During this same time, I was enrolled in a pre-college program at Pratt Institute, and I would often have to text my friends that I would be late for the afternoon class because my lunch decided to go right through me. This was around the time that I began to lose weight. I started out 2016 at 145 pounds, and one year later I was down to 107 pounds. My stomach was seriously not doing well.
Things came to a head in January 2017. I had a colonoscopy, another endoscopy, a CT scan on my stomach, and a test to see if my stomach digested food correctly. All of these came back normal, but my stomach was hurting every single day. Between January 2017 and March 2017, I didn’t attend school. I was so sick that I could barely move off the couch to go to the bathroom. I had to drop out of the school musical, I was kicked out of my acapella group, I was temporarily kicked out of my elite choir, and I almost didn’t graduate. I was still taking my midterms in May! This is also when I lost the bulk of the weight, and my friends refer to this time as ”the time that Liz died for a little while.”
This eleven week period was the hardest for me. I have situational depression and severe anxiety, and being sick sent it skyrocketing. I began to distance myself from my friends, but then get mad at them that they wouldn’t reach out to me. I would spend days and days just watching Disney movies and crying my eyes out because I was so depressed. I started keeping a journal, and all of the entries during this time period are just upsetting to read back. I genuinely never thought I’d feel healthy again. I was watching my friends live their lives to the fullest and I simply could not do that. I wanted nothing more than to be healthy again, but it just wasn’t happening.
I went to an immunologist in March and got about 24 vials of blood taken in order to find out what was wrong with me. I took a SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) test as well, and we finally found out what was wrong with me. I remember being close to tears in the doctor’s office when he told me that everything could be treated. I started taking probiotics, a medication called Welchol, and a whole lot of supplements, and I began to feel better in just a couple of days. I was back to school by mid-March! Around this time I also began to take Prozac for my anxiety, and I attended therapy twice a week, which were the big reasons why I was able to get back to school. We worked so that I wouldn’t be anxious to leave my house, and I graduated right on time!
Since then, my stomach still has its issues. I still poop almost all of the time, my friends still tease me about the fact that I’m always in the bathroom, and my stomach still hurts sometimes. Just a few weeks ago I had to cancel my excursion on the cruise I was on because I had a flare-up. But I’m finally living again, instead of just functioning, and that’s all I could’ve asked for.
I still have to do tests, and if I choose to continue this series it will probably be whenever I’m preparing for one of those. But this illness has become such a major part of my life, and I honestly couldn’t believe I hadn’t written about it before.
Stay tuned for more ”Tales of a Sick Girl, ” and follow me on twitter for some fun complaints @liz_zarb.