Frustrated? Confused? Just Keep Going…
Quick story: I first heard Rodney Atkin’s “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)” in 2006. I remember the exact day because it was my 25th birthday. I’d had gastroparesis for two years and I was still struggling quite a bit. To make matters worse, my jaw had been broken days earlier during a botched wisdom tooth extraction, so my mouth was wired shut and would have stay that way for 8 more weeks. As soon as we heard the lyrics, “things go from bad to worse, you think they can’t get worse than that…and then they do,” my boyfriend (now husband) and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. Too perfect.
Since then that song has become my anthem. Anytime I feel particularly frustrated about the challenges of living with gastroparesis, I crank it up and belt it out. It reminds me that the only way to overcome those challenges is to be proactive, maintain a positive attitude and keep moving forward.
Today I had the song on repeat. I really needed that reminder. Here’s why…
For the first three or four years after I was diagnosed with gastroparesis, I did so many things wrong. I didn’t know any better. At that time, I didn’t understand the importance of good nutrition. I didn’t realize that the body absolutely needs proper nourishment in order to function and especially to heal. Or, that without that nourishment I would wind up with a host of secondary issues. I didn’t know that the medication I was taking for misdiagnosed acid reflux was further impairing my digestion. I didn’t understand the power of the mind-body connection. I didn’t realize the toll that the chronic stress was taking mentally and physically. I wasn’t aware that continuing to whittle down my diet wouldn’t eventually lead to symptom resolution. And all of that led me farther and farther downhill.
Years later, I’m still climbing back up. Getting the gastric neurostimulator helped my gastroparesis symptoms a great deal, especially the nausea. But there are several symptoms that I still struggle with that, in my opinion, aren’t directly caused by gastroparesis. That’s not to say that they’re not a result of having gastroparesis. In fact, I’m sure they were caused by those mistakes I made early on: the severely limited diet, lack of proper nutrition, acid blocking medications, and poorly managed chronic stress.
I’m always looking for answers, so last Friday I had a consultation with Dr. Carolyn Dean, a medical doctor, naturopathic doctor, and author of The Magnesium Miracle. Dr. Dean is extremely kind and very knowledgeable. Based on my health history, we determined that there are likely a number of issues currently contributing to my GI symptoms and possibly even exacerbating the gastroparesis. These include insufficient stomach acid, sub-clinical hypothyroidism, magnesium deficiency, and yeast overgrowth.
None of this was a surprise to me. It’s all stuff that I’ve suspected based on my holistic health and nutrition training…but it was still a lot to process and my head has been spinning ever since. The yeast overgrowth is something I’ve been dancing around for a while, simply because it seems so difficult to treat. The best treatment is a very strict wheat-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, yeast-free diet — basically lots of veggies and protein. Not what we think of as GP-friendly and even harder with low stomach acid. I don’t eat a lot of these foods, mind you, but there’s whey protein in my Orgain (dairy), brown rice syrup in my MacroBars (sugar), and bananas in my smoothies (sugar). Hmm…
While my first instinct was to find a way to “make it work,” I know from personal and professional experience that that’s asking for trouble. Sweeping changes usually lead to horrible flare-ups for GPers. My next thought was that it’s simply impossible. Never going to work. I’m doomed to these things forever. (I tend toward extremes…)
I quickly started to feel really overwhelmed. So I took a breath, cranked up my song, danced it out for a few minutes, and then decided that tomorrow I will sit down, think through my options, and determine what makes the most sense for me, right now. And then I’ll give it a try. “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” (Luckily, the treatments for the magnesium deficiency and low thyroid are liquid supplements and should be well-tolerated. The low stomach acid is something I’ve already been working on.)
I’m sharing all of this to let you know that while I obviously have a very good handle now on living with gastroparesis, I still face challenges. Even though I’m committed to being positive and proactive, I still get frustrated, overwhelmed, and confused from time to time. It’s inevitable. The key to living well with gastroparesis is to not waste valuable time and energy wallowing in those feelings. Instead, figure out the best course of action and face the challenges head on.
As the song says…”if you’re going through Hell, keep on going!”
P.S. I’m also hoping this illustrates how the choices we make affect much more than just short-term symptom management. That’s why I’ve dedicated my career to providing the kinds of information and support that I wish had existed when I was diagnosed. I don’t want anyone else to make the mistakes I made because they don’t know any better. So, please take advantage of the resources that are available to you, become your own advocate and make your self-care your FIRST priority.
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