I woke up the morning of the homecoming game my senior year feeling sick to my stomach. I was in band and had to be at school early to rehearse for our performance at the game, but my stomach was rolling with every step I took. The nausea didn’t improve, but I had to sit through rallies all day in the hot stuffy gym, which only made me feel more sick. I couldn’t go home because my grade in class depended on my performance at the game and I didn’t want to have to miss the dance the following night. At the game, I was a nervous wreck and my teacher (who was incredibly hard on everyone) let me leave after our halftime show because of how bad I looked. After about a week without improvement, I went to the doctor and was told I likely had the stomach flu. Another week later, I was told it was probably bad heartburn and put on a medication. This didn’t help either and I was sent to a specialist on digestive problems. He tried about seven different medications and performed three procedures to try to find out what was wrong with me. Each time, he promised me that this would help and we’d have answers soon. I went through extreme dietary restrictions with nutritionists and visited several other specialists to ultimately be told that the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with me. I had just spent the last nine months feeling miserable every day and I could not accept that there was nothing wrong with me. Eventually I was given a diagnosis of IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This diagnosis was technically an answer, but not at all a solution. IBS basically means that doctors acknowledge that my symptoms were legitimate, but they couldn’t find anything causing the symptoms, so it was only diagnosable by eliminating every single other possible cause. There is no cure and there are very few treatment options, but none are guaranteed to work and very much depend on the individual. My doctor told me that all he could do for me was tell me to “figure it out” because I’d most likely be living with it for the rest of my life. I was absolutely devastated. I felt like I had done everything I could, and the doctors who I was told to trust to fix this had let me down. I had put so much faith in them and in the end I had no more answers than I did on the day it all started.
Being sick consumed almost all nine months of my senior year where I was I couldn't make it through a single class period without running to the bathroom at least once or twice, I was having panic attacks when my stomach didn’t feel good, I struggled to make it through my 40 minute commute to school each day, I was constantly missing class, I developed really extreme anxiety, and I lost 20-30 pounds off my already small frame. I remember feeling like my life had really hit rock bottom one specific weekend when I got out of bed maybe twice only to go to the bathroom and spent the rest of the day in bed sleeping or wishing I was asleep. I didn’t want to be awake, see anyone or do anything- I just wanted to stay in my room in the dark. I was so weak physically, eating always made me feel more sick, and just thinking about going out in public triggered my anxiety. I hated feeling like I couldn’t live my life, but I felt so defeated- all I could focus on was getting through each of my hour long classes while everyone else was choosing colleges. At this point, I could hardly do anything beyond worrying about my stomach and trying to minimize my constant anxiety.
My friends knew what I was going through, but I didn’t have the energy to put effort into anything, and I feel that I distanced myself from them a bit. I also finally reached a point where I stopped caring enough to wear makeup to school. I was in the habit of wearing it every day, hoping that if I looked fine, people (including myself) could maybe believe that I was fine when everything in my life felt so far from it. I finally accepted that I was not fine, and I didn’t really care how other people thought I looked because I had to focus on finding out how to feel better. And eventually things did get better. The summer after my senior year I finally started figuring out what combination of foods and medications I needed to help me feel okay again, and now I can manage my condition so well that most people would never know I have it. When I do have to talk about it, it’s never very easy. No one wants to hear about Irritable Bowel Syndrome and most of the time I’m definitely don’t want to explain it or talk about it either. Most of my symptoms are a little too personal to causally explain to friends or classmates, so I’ve found that making my life look normal takes a lot of the embarrassing questions out of the equation. I’ve accepted that my life is never going to go back to the way it was before my IBS, but I can also confidently say that I now know how to respond to what my body tells me. I am so much happier with my life now, knowing that I am in control, rather than the other way around.