Tales from the Belly Whipped
I belong to a family of navel-gazers. I’m referring not to excessive introspection – though we are, in fact, a clan of worriers who process our woes through the gut. No, I’m talking about our frequent attention to our bellies.
Between the five of us, we’ve had heartburn, gallstones, lactose intolerance, GERD and, of course, IBS. It was called by different names—spastic colon, or dyspepsia, or plain ole indigestion–but I’m certain that at least my late father had it. I was diagnosed with IBS-M in 2011 after a lifetime of symptoms.
Dealing with the family trait
Maybe you can relate to this: My Dad’s medicine cabinet was a who’s who of brand-name digestive aids. Alka-Seltzer, Rolaids, Tums, Mylanta, Pepto Bismol, Phillip’s Milk of Magnesia, Immodium, Bromo Seltzer – that was our favorite! That magical, effervescent powder in the cobalt-blue bottle could fix headaches, nerves and any stomach issue, Dad said. The taste wasn’t kid-friendly, but the fizziness was. And it did help my tummy after kraut dogs at Der Wienerschnitzel.
(Fun fact: Bromo-Seltzer was discontinued in 1975 after the discovery that its primary ingredient, bromide, was not just a sedative and anticonvulsant—hence its ability to calm “nerves”–but slightly psychoactive as well. Oops! No wonder it was so popular as a hangover cure.)
The trunk of Dad’s car always held cases of Vernor’s, a potent Midwestern ginger soda that I learned to tolerate drinking warm -- because we drank it straight from the trunk, no ice, on many occasions. In college, I sipped from a bottle of minty Mylanta as I hustled between classes, popping then-prescription Tagamet pills that Dad periodically sent me in the mail.
In hindsight, none of this was “normal.” But we accepted it as normal. It was the only way we knew how to deal with our family trait: Touchy tummies. Sensitive digestive systems. We were – to coin a phrase – belly whipped.
Our bellies weren’t the only body parts causing us trouble, either. We’ve also suffered our share of clinical depression, which many people with IBS also experience. That “gut feeling?” The drop in the pit of your stomach when something makes you anxious? It’s real. You can read about the brain-gut connection here on Irritablebowelsyndrome.net.
I'm behind the wheel
When I look back, I can see how my emotions and symptoms were intertwined. After being diagnosed with clinical depression in the 1990s, though, my belly pain improved. Why? I believe it’s because I began taking antidepressants (SSRIs). Although these medications can reportedly exacerbate constipation, they did seem to help me. (Read more about antidepressants as a treatment for IBS.)
Fast forward to today. My medicine cabinet is still crowded, a bit like my father’s. (Of course, I have a lot more skin care products!) There’s no silver bullet, only silver foil packages. The brand-name remedies have largely been replaced by health food-store brands: Multi-syllabic probiotics and organic fiber supplements. But I continue to rely on good old pink Pepto Bismol (when I’m having a rough day, Saccharomyces boulardii plus Pepto is my go-to remedy) and carry Immodium tablets wherever I go.
Am I still belly whipped? Well, as a wise bumper sticker once put it, “Some days, you’re the windshield. Other days, you’re the bug.” Some days, my belly whips me. Other days, I feel like the one in control. The important thing is that I’m the one behind the wheel.
Do you think there is enough awareness of IBS?