When my doctor told me that I had IBS—a disease that has no cure—it sent me spinning. I felt alone, depressed, and confused. My tummy troubles were omnipresent, I had daily headaches, and I was prone to anxiety and panic attacks. Most days, I felt both miserable physically and miserable about myself.
Digestion and bowel issues are overwhelming as it is, but they can also cripple your mental health. For me, depressive thoughts meant no energy, no inspiration, no motivation, and most importantly, no joy. I needed help!
Luckily, I was able to find the right resources to help tame my IBS, but it wasn't easy. For anyone struggling with a digestive disease—or any chronic health condition—here are five of the most important lessons from my healing journey:
1. Find an extraordinary naturopathic doctor.
My naturopathic doctor insisted that while IBS can't be cured, it could certainly be treated and healed. Her words were like a ray of hope. After listening intently to my health concerns, she proposed a cleanse in the form of a restrictive, sugarless diet to bust the candida that had inhabited my gut.
I was skeptical that I could stick to that type of regime, but I wanted a normal life more than I wanted sugar. This took several long months, during which my symptoms would fade and return, and I never knew what condition I would wake up in.
2. Be patient with yourself through any food transitions. It's often discouraging, but never give up the fight.
After being tested for food allergies, it seemed like I was sensitive to so many foods that I could barely keep track of them all. I had to stop eating wheat and dairy completely. Navigating a restaurant menu was such an adventure that cooking at home became my salvation. I quickly learned which foods my body embraced and what foods it rejected.
I discovered quinoa spaghetti, and I ate organic chicken and turkey, grass-fed beef, some vegetables, fruits, and a ton of white rice. I had to cut out coffee, black tea, and alcohol, but I felt better! I was taking vitamin D, a multivitamin, omega-3s, calcium/magnesium, homeopathic drops for gut support, and super-strength probiotics. My friends could not believe the struggle I was going through in order to heal naturally.
3. IBS can manifest itself differently in each body.
This means explore your options, do your own research, and read, read, read. I once read an online report suggesting that IBS sufferers refrain from eating white rice, but this had become one of my staple foods. Another report recommended against drinking any type of tea, but herbal tea was my drink of choice when meeting friends after yoga or grocery shopping. I thought I tolerated them both well, and they had become linked to pleasant social outings; I was mad, and I wasn't ready to give them up. And although my heart and mind both rebelled at the thought of yet another dietary restriction, I knew I had to try it to see how my body reacted.
4. Be open to embracing new avenues of eating.
After feeling sorry for myself for a few days, I eliminated white rice and herbal teas from my diet. Instantly, my digestion was better. It was like my body was telling me, "You are almost home." Brown rice has become my best friend, and I've settled for drinking bottled water instead of herbal teas. Going forward, my naturopathic doctor's advice for me was to eat foods from the low fodmap diet. It's restrictive, but it forces me to get creative with my cooking and plan ahead.
5. Stress, inflammation, and chronic disease go hand-in-hand.
The first thing anyone diagnosed with a chronic illness needs to do is take an honest look at their stress levels. Unbeknownst to me, I had already been working to reduce my stress by practicing yoga. I know it played a major role in my healing. I loved the movement, the flow, and the way it made me feel. Being mindful of stress is one of the most important parts of healing from any disease. I'm now addicted to the sweet feelings of contentment, peace, and well-being that yoga and meditation bring to my soul.
Today, I feel as good as I've ever felt. My headaches are gone, my anxiety and panic attacks are in the past, and my stomach actually functions well and feels normal. I know my journey with IBS is not over, and as a human being, I have moments of weakness when I eat chocolate or ice cream knowing full well the consequences.
Overall, I am thankful for my IBS because of what it has taught me about myself: that I am strong, resilient, and adaptable. The gratitude I feel for my body, my health, and my life is immense. And although it was a rocky road to recovery, I have high hopes for the future!