The Mind-Gut Connection
For the last six months, every time I have an IBS flare-up, I get laid out on the couch for between three and five days. This has been one of the most frustrating experiences of my life. I have missed so much work that I am almost out of vacation days and I haven't taken a vacation. I've been sick and there has been no doctor that can offer any suggestions for me about my fatigue and overwhelming malaise. The best answer I got was actually from the first doctor I saw, who was my PCP. She told me that when my stomach is in distress, my brain sends a message to my immune system telling it to put out the fire. When after several days, the immune system sees there is nothing seriously wrong, it goes back to taking care of other business. And in the meantime...I feel like crap.
How do you explain this to your boss, your significant other, your friends and family? I know for one, my mother doesn't buy it. She thinks I am depressed. Now, see here's one of the problems. Many of us with IBS have anxiety, depression and other mental health related issues that I'm sure most of our family and friends are aware of. They see you laying on the couch again and all of a sudden someone wants to 302 you (302 is mental health jargon for being committed to a hospital involuntarily). I try and explain the Mind-Gut concept and all I get is blank stares. So now your ‘support system’ thinks you're just having an acute stress reaction and you feel alone. Terribly alone. It’s time to find your support elsewhere. IrritableBowelSyndrome.net is an excellent place to start. The articles, messages, and community can help put things into perspective. You are not alone. You just may have to look outside your natural support group for help.
The Mind-Gut Connection
So what to do about this Mind-Gut conundrum? Well, I suppose, the first thing is that you have to learn to eat all over again. What I mean is that some or a lot of our eating habits have been causing us a lot of problems. We tend to eat too fast. Sometimes we eat sideways on the couch. Sometimes we even eat lying down! No…nuhnuhnono…no. It is helpful to chew your food slowly and until your mouth is empty before taking another bite. I have actually started using chopsticks to help me with this little ritual. Eat sitting upright. Prepare food that you want to eat and be thankful for the food. Make it RITUAL until it becomes HABITUAL. There are great teas and stomach friendly foods…embrace them. I could go on but for the sake of this article let’s break it down again. Diet, exercise, maintenance of your mental and physical health…say it with me one time. DIET, EXERCISE, MAINTENANCE OF YOUR MENTAL and PHYSICAL HEALTH. There that wasn’t so bad…to say… I have been just taking a day by day approach and taking notes on what causes the troubles. If I can avoid making the same mistakes more than once, twice, three times a…yeah. Do what you can, while you can because it’s awfully hard to make the tough decisions when your immune system has relegated you to the couch.
Do you have difficulties with setting boundaries and saying no?