For the last few weeks I have talked, briefly, about the fact that I haven't been very well lately. I haven't really wanted to blog too much about the illness itself and have instead been focussing on some of the implications of it, no caffeine, alcohol, etc. you've heard all about it. But recently, some of you (still can't believe that PNM has a following, let alone one that properly cares about how I am... THANK YOU btw) have asked a bit more about it and whether or not I can drink yet/am ready to talk about it (love the way your minds work!) There isn't really much to say, but I suppose in the interest of transparency and honesty and connecting with all of you, I am happy to talk about it, not least of all because for the next however many months, it will be the focus of my life and as a result, some of my content. (If other people's health chat bores you, I will not take offence if you switch off here!)
The problem is in my stomach and started to affect me in August. I was getting incredibly bloated after eating basically nothing at all and had a very upset stomach ALL of the time. (If earlier's warning didn't send you running, this might...). Anyway, after a couple of weeks I found a doctor who would look at me and who told me, matter of factly that it was IBS. He did no tests, no follow ups, nothing really, just told me that's what it was and that I needed to try something called the low FODMAP diet. (A recommended diet excluding lots of foods that cause flare ups). The list consisted of one hundred or so foods and this was a huge blow.
I took my diagnosis however and cracked on with life, but a few weeks later, I found myself feeling really overwhelmed, very hungry and still not much better. Luckily at this point my mum was talking to a friend of her's who's daughter had had something really similar, and had been totally 'cured' by this nutritionist in Switzerland, you deal with her over the phone and for £50 a month she will answer unlimited calls and emails. I got in touch with her at first just looking for support, perhaps some advice on what I should be eating but she told me almost immediately that it was MAD that I hadn't had any tests, particularly because I had had existing problems with gluten and dairy and in the last year alone had had shingles, tonsillitis, an ear infection and cystitis) and organised for me to have some straight away.
The first one involved pooing onto a tray every day for three days (I genuinely have never hated myself more) and collecting various bits of poo with a little spoon before mashing them together for various test tubes and posting them away. (The POOR postman!!!!). In the meantime I was told that I was not to drink, eat any sugar at all, that I couldn't have any caffeine and that I mustn't eat red meat (I already couldn't eat gluten and dairy because of existing problems) whilst we waited for the results to come back in and explain what was going on. I wrote about the struggle of quitting caffeine at the time and naively thought that this was only going to need to be a temporary thing, something that I'd have to do until the results told me I was fine. Sadly, not the case.
The results came back with lots of medical speak. It would seem that I had no good bacteria left in my gut, rather an abundance of bad bacteria which had killed all the good stuff, (apparently caused by too many anti-biotics being prescribed by GP last year) coupled with a bit of candida (a yeast overgrowth... ew) and a very low PH balance. That basically translates to: your gut isn't working. Our mission was simple: kill the bad bacteria (with medication), starve the candida (by following the anti-candida diet, no gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine, booze, fun etc) and try to kickstart my now failing immune system. Piece o' piss. Right?
Wrong. Initially there was the 'die-off', as the bacteria leaves your gut and goes into your blood stream which brings colds, sore throats etc. and then a couple weeks into my new nine-pill-a-day-no-nice-food-feeling-like-shit life, I was still feeling crap, but in new ways. Suddenly my food wasn't being digested at all (I won't explain that and I won't ask you to visualise it) and my stomach was the size of a beach ball. We had to stop all the medication (bringing a return of the earlier symptoms in addition to these new ones) and simplify the diet further. No more salad, it's too hard to digest. No more fruit, it's too acidic. No more brown rice, don't know why. And then somehow, it got even worse. As it turns out, coupled with everything that I already have, I have something called leaky gut syndrome - which is every bit as revolting as it sounds. I think it basically means that the lining of my gut is now pretty much pointless and all the things I put in my stomach are free to make their way into my blood stream. I am also currently waiting for the results of another test to find out what it is I am STILL reacting to, so at the moment, as well as everything listed above, I cannot eat potatoes, fish, red meat, nuts, fruit or anything else that a human could be intolerant to.
I don't know what that result is going to show, but at this point, I am not expecting good news. It has been 6 weeks since I have had a drink, 8 weeks since I have had a coffee and 2 and a half years since I ate a pizza, or anything with gluten or dairy in it. I am going to parties and having to leave early because I am so tired, I am the designated driver EVERY NIGHT and I have resorted to either crying, or frantically sniffing when people bring out food for themselves that I cannot eat. I have a very strong head and really do believe that I can do anything that I set my mind to, but what I am surprised by in all of this, is the effect that it is having on my brain.
I want to cry, A LOT. I am grumpy and irritable. I am tired ALL OF THE TIME. I resent my friends. I am angry with my boyfriend when he has fun (drinking fun, not playing with our puppy fun). I have no interest in going out anywhere. I'm finding myself struggling with this way more than I thought I would. Which is why I haven't really spoken about it before, because I have no idea what to say. I know in the grand scheme of things I am incredibly lucky that this has been caught before it turns into anything more serious (which is a strong possibility with leaky gut) and I know that compared to many, this is a very quiet and pathetic plight. But it is absolutely taking over my life and I haven't been able to see it as anything other than shit, literally.
All being well, this needn't go on forever. Initially, we had hoped that I would be better by Christmas, or 'better' enough that I would be able to have Christmas dinner and a glass of champagne on New Year's Eve at least, but that is no longer the case. I suppose I am probably looking at about six months of this 'affected' diet and a lifetime of watching what I eat after that. I am hopeful that there will be a day in the not to distant future where I, like everyone else my age, will be able to knock back the G&Ts like the seasoned pro I once was, but one step at a time.
I would like to be able to finish this piece with a whole load of silver linings, of lessons that I have learned but sadly, I am yet to see, or to learn them, so I cannot. BUT. Writing about it has helped and I do fully intend to become OK with this very soon. I'm going to enlist in a college to study nutrition, I am going to get really good at cooking and I am going to realise at some point that it is possible to have fun when you're not pissed, so thank you for allowing me to talk about this.
Because of my current predicament, Twitter and Instagram will not be as filled with pizzas and hangover days as I would like, but at least you know why. If you would like to see them, it might become full of healthy recipes that I conjure up, but again, only if you want them. This does not mean that I am turning this blog into a 'wellness' page and I am not going to talk your ear off about nutrition, as soon as I can I will return to what we are loved for, but I had to let you know in case any of you saw me out and about with a measly piece of chicken and had a go at me for being pretty abnormal and turning down and ice cream!