L’sTiF: Ommmmm….

Here’s a thing you may not know about me if you’ve never met me before, or read anything I’ve written, or indeed heard of me in passing.

I’m a big ball of stress.

It’s not an attractive quality, and I own that. I worry, I fret, I take every negative thing inward and wrap myself around it, obsessing over how I can make it better, or how I could have prevented it in the first place. A lot of my energy goes toward prevention; looking at every possible situation, all the ways in which it can go wrong, and how I can prevent it. When I was 11, I was worried about my father’s health. Looking back, I’m not sure why, but I remember making him buy tunafish, thinking that would save him. He died suddenly of a heart attack three weeks after my 12th birthday. Somehow, instead of sending home the healthy and realistic message that I do not, in fact, control the universe, it made me more determined than ever to see the bad things coming and head them off at the pass.

Kind of like Gandalf.

I think part of my twisted psychology read the relatively tragedy-free existence that followed* as a result of my diligence, rather than just the odds working in my favor. In a country like America, especially when I was growing up, life for the most part tended to be relatively safe. The rash of school shootings, the terrorism, the economic collapse, Sarah Palin’s rise to national political figure… all of this stuff happened after I’d made it into adulthood and the patently ridiculous idea that I could prevent anything if I just had the foresight to worry about it first had already cemented into my head.

So, you can see how, with the entire weight of all the Bad Things in the universe on my shoulders, I would maybe get a little stressed out.

The irony is, of course, that I was incredibly stressed for all of my childhood and most of my adulthood, when nothing really terribly bad happened. I mean, yes, my brother was an addict and he was usually either in jail or in the hospital, recovering from another run-in with drunk driving. But I left home at eighteen, and moved across the country by twenty-two. I protected myself, as well as I could, and aside from my tragic, toxic family which I avoided, life was pretty kind to me. I had jobs when I needed them, never went without a place to live, had no major health issues, had good friends and fun times, and through it all I was still just waiting for everything to explode on me.

Finally, it did.

After years of functional denial, I admitted the fact that my marriage had gone bad on me. I had no real day job, just the writing, but I couldn’t live with my husband anymore. The only way to get out of my head enough to see if I could save my marriage was to separate from my husband, which meant taking my kids and go to the only safe space I had available; my best friend’s attic apartment. I applied for jobs during the worst economic downturn since the Depression, and failed to get anything that made more than the writing and the online teaching, so… I started a business during the worse economic downturn since the Depression. Finally, I realized my marriage was not going to work, and I asked my husband for a divorce.

It wasn’t a great time. For years, it felt like I was treading water, just barely keeping my head above the surface. Month to month, I wondered how I would make it through, and finally, things got a little easier. The business started bringing in more income; I had a romance with and married a wonderful man, who makes me happier than I ever thought possible; and living with Jenny switched from necessity to joy, something we did because it was good, not because there were no other choices.

So now after thirty-seven years of fake stress about nothing that was real, then three years of real stress, I find myself constantly vibrating with it. If there’s a sudden sound, I jump. If a call comes in the middle of the day while the kids are at school, I freak out that something horrible has happened to them. Every ache or pain is because I’m DYING, not because I’m on this constant stress cocktail which is, by the way, not good for you. The body makes adrenaline so you can outrun a tiger should that become necessary; for those fifteen minutes until you find safety, adrenaline just saved your life. Live with adrenaline pumping through your system on a constant drip for years, it’s gonna take its toll on your body.

For me, that results in the Gastrointestinal Distress which Shall Not Be Named. Just trust me that it’s uncomfortable, gross and annoying, and has been revisiting me from time to time since my mid-twenties. It is associated with stress, and I will go years without having a bout. Then, whomp, there it is. And it’s been whomping me off and on for the last six months, by far the longest bout I’ve had.** Certain foods are triggers; can’t have dairy, coffee, all fast food and some restaurant food, or anything processed. Oatmeal is great; I’ve been eating it by the truckload. I avoided the bad foods, and things got better, but not all better. I had fewer episodes, but as soon as a stress attack was triggered, it was back.

Then, I started two practices.

One was meditation. I’ve done meditation before and it’s really good, especially for me because it breaks that release of constant adrenaline from my brain. However, I always stop making time for the daily practice as soon as I start feeling better; I’m better, time to go back to the way things have always been! Because, you know, that works. Over time, my inner calm erodes, and then I’m back where I started. Finding the time to sit quietly alone when I was raising two small kids just wasn’t in the cards. Now, if I need that time, Alastair makes sure I get it, so that helps.

The other practice is naptime. I recently wrote a blog post about the benefits of daily napping over on LucyMarch.com, and siesta had always seemed like a good idea to me, so I started. Between 1 and 3 on most days (it hasn’t been a perfect record, some days just won’t stand for it) I take thirty minutes to an hour to just forget everything else and nap. I’m always shocked at how much better I feel when I wake up, what a tremendous difference 20 minutes of REM can make.

I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but it’s been about two weeks, and I haven’t had a real stress attack, and I haven’t had a bad episode. I ate french fries twice in a week, once from a fast food place, and while my stomach complained, I didn’t have a full attack. As time goes by, I see the connection; I’ve been slowly poisoning myself, day by day, through much of my adult life, and meditation and napping cut that cycle of stress. They give my brain a break, and my brain, in turn, stops dripping poison into my veins.

I say, it’s a deal.

Next Week’s L’sTiF: Homemade dryer sheets. 🙂

*I say that meaning that there were very few sudden tragic events, unexpected deaths, that sort of thing; there was plenty of trauma, but it was all of the boiling frog variety, easy to deny using my standard, “LA LA LA I DON’T SEE YOU,” coping mechanism.

**I know. I know. Go to the doctor, be sure it’s okay. I can’t. I don’t have health insurance, and I can’t afford it. If this exact thing hadn’t happened to me multiple times in my life, I’d be less comfortable with it, but because I’ve been here a few times over the last twenty years, I’m rolling the dice that it’s exactly what I think it is, and a doctor is only going to tell me to do what I’m doing after running a lot of tests I can’t afford to pay for.

96 thoughts on “L’sTiF: Ommmmm….

  1. Micki says:

    Oh, Lani. I can’t even touch the rotten childhood thing — I think so many of us who had a bad time seem to say, “Well, at least X didn’t happen.” *hugs*

    The meditation and nap thing sound like great ideas. When I’m feeling very low on energy, I’ll go out to my car at lunch and take a 20-minute power-snooze. It really is refreshing, and everything from my feet to my aching throat feels a little bit better after it. A lot of times it winds up to be meditation instead of actual sleep, but that’s OK.

    (-: I do feel a little guilty about it, but if teachers can go out to their cars for smoke breaks, I should be able to take a nap.

    • Don’t feel guilty; that power-snooze makes you more effective. There a gazillion studies that show it; print them out and keep them handy to remind yourself, or anyone who gives you a hard time.

  2. Lani, it sounds like your either dealing with IBS or a problematic gall bladder. check your symptoms on the Mayo clinic website and see what they say. Ive developed IBS myself, and can tell you it’s no picnic. Having no insurance means I can’t afford the meds, so I stick to being careful what I eat, getting lots of exercise and trying to keep my stress at manageable levels ( yeah, right). Whatever your problem, I hope it resolves quickly 🙂

    I am soo jealous of naptime….

    • Yup, that’s what she’s got. I had both, and she shouldn’t rule out GB, but it’s basically IBS and she’s too polite to tell you. Whereas I have no qualms in mentioning whether I’ve taken a dump or not when it comes to weighing in.
      But then, some people have no shame.

        • Doode, it’s a whole set of bodily functions attached to your second brain. How is that something to be shy about? You are, after all, a grown-ass woman! And a mom!!

          And you have my sympathies. I can highly recommend a book called The First Year: Irritable Bowel Syndrome, by Heather Van Vorous. Annoyingly not in ebook format (listen to me no patience I have hmmm). And no, it’s not your first year with this, nor as it turns out was it mine, but it’s a very good book full of edifying and useful information.

          I had a major breakthrough about eating, weight, IBS, and life when I finally got the distinction between stress = upset omentum + nausea vs. hunger… only took me 42 years of trying to be Gandalf to get why I stress-ate 😉

          Hugs and FGBVs and peppermint GI soothers to you and all!

        • I don’t have irritable bowel syndrome, but I do have multiple allergies that fog my brain and make me need to sleep. It’s like a physical breakdown of my body. To a degree we’ve worked it out to be Amine intolerance. So foods are very limited, but I have my brain back, all I’ve got left is, I sound like I’m on the tale end of a cold all the time.
          Lani, and I know I’ve banged on about this before, but if you could afford it, a trauma massage with someone who knows what they’re doing would work wonders for you. Accept what is happening and allow your body to go with the flow. And that’s not easy, even if it feels like you’re going to die,you won’t. 🙂 Hugs to you!

    • Danielle says:

      Yeah, I was going to say:

      “I can save you the cost of a doctor’s visit and all that testing: they’ll probably tell you it’s IBS (aka Irritating BullShit).”

      I have it, too. Lani, something you may want to look into, if you haven’t already: Fructose Malabsorption. By some estimates, up to 85% of people diagnosed with IBS have issues with fructose (and before anyone asks, no, that is not just HFCS – it’s apples, pears, wheat, barley, onions, and a whole truckload of other stuff). I was extremely sick for years and could not get a handle on it until I followed the guidelines on Dr. Sue Shepherd’s site (it was the onions – I was already avoiding all the other stuff on the list). I know a lot of people with IBS (I do yoga – something like 2/3 of my class is there for digestive relief) and I’ve told several of them about this. Everyone single one who has tried it has noticed a marked difference.

      Hopefully that helps you or other readers out.

      • Danielle says:

        I should probably add that for some people with FM, probiotics have a very negative effect. The problem is typically that the bacteria in their guts is fine – it’s that the sugar that isn’t being absorbed is finding its way into the bowel and throwing a luau. More bacteria = wilder party. Wild parties = extended visits to the loo OR no visits to the loo at all (*shudder*).

        So if probiotics don’t seem to help (they don’t really help me), don’t despair.

        Ok, now I’m done.

  3. Diane (TT) says:

    Peace to you. I just did a brief yoga routine (AM Yoga Conditioning for Weightloss) and am feeling, temporarily, serene. I don’t know if I can make it through the day (I have bad Fridays), but it’s a good way to start.

    I hope that you are correct about your internal disorders and that you are managing it correctly and successfully! My mom has had intestinal ulcers since her late 20s – another person of stress – but has, fortunately, always had the health insurance to keep it under medical surveillance. I’m not much of one for doctors (as you say, there’s often not much they can do), so I hope that your mind-change can bring about the body change.

    • Thanks, Diane! And good on you for the yoga. I love yoga. I don’t do it, but I love it when I do.

      Which is almost never.

      I believe in doctors, definitely, but I also believe that we’re a little quick as a society to intervene with pharmaceuticals. Sometimes they’re absolutely necessary, but I believe that my body, should I choose to listen to it and give it what it needs, will fix the minor stuff on its own. If I wasn’t responding so well to stress-reduction and small dietary changes, I would be more worried. Right now, I think my brain has been poisoning my body. Gonna see how far I can bring it back on my own, but if it gets worse, I’m going to find a doctor, somehow.

  4. I can so sympathize with this post because I tend to be a bundle of stress most of the time as well. I primarily carry it in my shoulders and back – I’ve had more than one massage therapist fuss at me to “Relax!” when they are trying to do their thing. I do not relax well. I also grind my teeth and in the last few years have had bouts of stomach issues.

    I’m glad you have found some ways to try and deal with your stress. If I tried mediation, it would turn into a nap and naps make me crabby. I love yoga however and I find that even just taking an hour to concentrate on postures and balance is like meditation for me – at least it sends my mind elsewhere for a while. Long walks are also helpful because I spend time noticing interesting things along the way. I’m sure that a bit of fresh air and exercise is never amiss either – and it can be a mood lifter too.

    Another thing I would recommend for the stomach issues is probiotics – I’ve been taking them this year and they do seem to help.

  5. Mermaid Scribbler says:

    I second the hugs from Micki! You might try avoiding some of the top food allergens. They mimic the problems of IBS. I wouldn’t recommend going off wheat and gluten before getting a blood test for antibodies to gluten. Just know that Celiac mimics the effects of IBS, occurs in a high percentage of people of Irish decent, and can cause problems sporadically for years and then get full blown (usually in women) as you age. It is really common and under diagnosed. Also, dairy and soy are problems for lots of people with celiac. I wrote all of this for your awareness because undiagnosed it can cause tons of problems. BUT, it is entirely fixable without medication. No costly meds. I don’t want to give you a stressed, but being undiagnosed was terrible for me.
    I sympathize with you about stress. My marriage counselor addressed it last night. She referred to the old standard manual (can’t remember the name) that talks about Parent, Adult, Child ego states. She said we get lots of messages (usually from parents) and they can result in a fear state that drives us. For example, “Hurry Up” – Always late? Always saying “Oh my gosh, I’m going to be late? Feeling bad about being tardy? – You might be using fear to motivate or “drive” you because the unconscious message is “If I’m late, people will think I am unorganized and lazy. She mentioned “Be perfect”, “Be strong”, and a few others. The fears are things like being seen as weak, flawed, etc. Wow! I had a great childhood, and I still have some of these. Fear is a huge driver for me. I never saw it as fear before, just a nervous energy. I am a little hyper and always on go. Anyway, I encourage you to look into the ego states and “the drivers”. There is probably tons of info on the net. It might help you on the journey to relax. I’m going to work on it, too. I can’t keep up the frazzled pace that used to push me. I wish you everything good!

    • Kelly S says:

      Hmm, did she have anything to say for people who feel guilty when they use some time to have fun? I feel I must always be productive. The one thing I allow myself is sleep, because I could rationalize that my body needs it so I would escape with naps. I do do fun stuff but not for long bouts and usually with a secondary accomplishment involved, such as spending time with someone or producing a quilt. Reading can be a priority when it is a library book that is coming due.

      • cleo says:

        I do that, but I do it less now than I used to. Focusing made the difference for me – it’s an amazing technique (I do it with my therapist but you don’t need a therapist to do it). Working with the part in me that doesn’t want to relax /wants to keep working and working with the part that does want to relax has really helped me to regain balance in my life. Once I started listening to these competing parts, I was able to do a better job of fully engaging with work and fully engaging with fun. It’s still a work in progress – I still have days when I can’t fully relax, can’t stop working, but it’s so much better, it’s like a minor miracle.

        (More info at http://www.focusing.org/ and http://www.focusingresources.com/ )

  6. When Four was in first grade, the school called me every day to come get him. They couldn’t handle his outbursts and tantrums. He was in a special needs classroom, but this was before we had him correctly diagnosed. It was also before the school had a proper educational plan for him, and they were kind of lame; but I digress.

    Every day I held my breath waiting for the call. Then I would go collect my screaming child from the school, carrying his kicking body through the hallways, attracting the attention of everyone in the school. Our afternoons were spent trying to recover.

    It took a toll that I think I’m still paying. I liken it to PTSD. It took two years of him in a new school before the phone rang and I didn’t automatically assume it meant he was having a meltdown. It’s three years later now, and I still prefer not to take him to any event that will last more than thirty minutes, even though he’s so much better.

    The problem is that I’m not all the way better. I’ve been having heart palpitations for the past nine months. It’s more like a fluttering. We’ve ruled out any real medical issues, so now the doctor has moved on to anxiety as the cause. “Are you stressed?” he asked me. I have five children, two on the spectrum, one with an anxiety disorder. “Um, yes?” He wants me to try anti-anxiety meds, but I’m resisting. It seems like I ought to try and fix it myself. Maybe meditation will work. Because I don’t think I can cure myself of willful independence.

    • German Chocolate Betty says:

      Wow, Megan, you have got a full plate. As one who began suffering anxiety problems about 10-11 years ago (after my first husband died — long story, not important here), I understand the “PTSD” feeling. I still have major issues trying to get myself to open my mail (envelopes stack up for weeks), and even phone calls can cause sweaty palms and heart flutters. I had therapy for two years, which helped a bit, but it flares up again with the least aggravation.

      I have been having meltdowns for the past few weeks. Like, sitting at my desk at work and suddenly tears are streaming down my face. First, my dog died in mid-Jan, shortly thereafter my SIL who is a breast cancer survivor was diagnosed w/cervical cancer and is being operated on today, my dad fell and broke his femur and I am half a world away and can’t help, my husband is having problems at work and dinner times are his “unloading” time… Somehow, somewhere it all got to be too much.

      Here in Germany the doctors generally go with homeopathic solutions first. Only after all else fails will they go the pharmaceutical route. I was at the dr’s yesterday (and had a meltdown while talking to him) and he prescribed passion flower (passiflora incarnata) tablets, for anxiety and sleeplessness. While the normal dose is 1 tablet dissolved under the tongue up to 3 times a day, they also said that, in acute cases you can take up 12 in a day with 30-60 min gaps between tablets)to . Since I’d had the meltdown and the doc’s and was still shaking, I did the one-per-hour during the afternoon. It really helped. (Of course, one cannot discount the placebo effect, but subjectively I had the feeling I was much stronger — and I didn’t cry all afternoon! woohoo! Small victories!)

      Just FYI. I had never heard of this before, but if this keeps up, I will be a convert….

      • Big hugs, honey. Life is so hard sometimes. Be sure to be kind to yourself. And who cares if it’s placebo if it works? Placebo effects are a big part of the reason that I believe the body – and brain – are more powerful for healing than we think. There are times when you need full-blown medical intervention, but sometimes, I think maybe you don’t so much.

        But do what’s best for you, and as long as what you’re doing is working, that’s great. If it’s not, get all the help you need, even if it means pharmaceuticals. They’re there to help, and if you need them, there’s no shame in it at all.

      • Oh sweetie, big hugs! The placebo effect is a beautiful thing – not that we aren’t sensitive to more subtle variations than those induced by conventional Western chemicals. Sometimes all we need to break out of a panic cycle is to have it stopped for a little bit. Crossing my fingers and toes that you’re taking deep breaths and pushing back to get some peace and quiet for yourself.

    • Meditation helps. Exercise helps (I say that on good authority, not that I’ve ever tried it ). But with five kids, three of them with special needs, how are you going to find the time?
      The right cocktail of drugs has literally saved my life, I expect (though I haven’t felt suicidal since I was 18). There’s no shame in finding the right meds to keep you going. If you were an insulin-dependent diabetic would you refuse the insulin?
      Consider it, please. I hate to think of you trapped in such a touch situation (and yes, I know you love them to pieces. It just gets so damned hard).

      • For the record, I absolutely believe in medication! It saved One’s life, which is why we were much quicker to use if for my other guys. That said, I asked the doctor about the side effects. When he was done I said, “Doc, I’m peri-menopausal and you just told me I may not want to have sex, I might gain weight, and I’ll stop caring. I think I’ll live with the palpitations.”

        My lovely Three then proceeded to have one of his completely irrational meltdowns about a basketball game. I filled the prescription.

        (Still haven’t started it, though.)

    • Megan–big FGBVs for you, roomie. And I’m not sure how old you are (although I know you’re younger than me–lol), but I developed heart palpitations as a result of menopause hormonal fluctuation. Ah, the joy of womanhood. Used to have them before that because of mitral valve prolapse (I assume they tested for that?), but they’re much worse now and often trigger panic attacks. Xanax is a life saver, although it can be habituating, so I only use it when I have to.

      The homeopathic remedies someone mentioned can help, as do Bach Flower remedies (especially the one called Rescue Remedy) and sniffing lavender, which is calming. But mostly, alas, drugs.

      I hope you feel better soon!

      • I’ve had palpitations my whole life. Diagnosed as premature ventricular contractions – benign, but annoying. Water helps; for some reason, it’s only really bad when I’m dehydrated or super-stressed. Had a bad bout when I was pregnant with Sweetness, ended up in the ER and wearing a holter monitor for 24 hours – not a blip on the screen. I was convinced it was Mitral Valve Prolapse because my aunt had that, and finally got an echo when I was pregnant with Light, just to be sure, and that’s when I got the PVC diagnosis. Something to think about; an echocardiogram can tell a lot.

        • I had an echo after one bout that actually gave me chest pain. Heart disease killed my father when he was 55, so as I age we like to check the ticker every so often. The echo showed really minor mitral valve prolapse, but everything else looked healthy.

          In reference to your symptoms, I had my gallbladder removed last June. I probably had ten years of symptoms before I did a definitive test, which was expensive. It sounds like you have IBS to me, but you can nurse the gallbladder with diet changes for a very long time. Stress exacerbates both.

    • JulieB says:

      Megan,

      You are right to liken it to PTSD. I was going to respond to Lani more fully below about that.

      This was probably in your tests, but my fluttering heart was related to my thyroid. It happens when my hormone levels shift – both when it went up and when it normalized. So, it may be something to re-check at some point, especially if you think you have other hyper- or hypothyroid symptoms.

      • Julie-hypothyroidism was my first question because my mother, sister, and brother all have it. And secretly, I was hoping to as well, because once they started their meds they all lost weight and had great energy. I’m a recovering drug addict, so I always want the quick fix!

        The thyroid is fine, darn it.

    • Carrie Trimble says:

      Megan,
      Is there anything better for an aspiring romance author to take than passion flower?
      I see so many nicknames possibilities for the Captain to use if you would only try taking passion flower. 😉

      On a more serious note, we like you and we want to keep you as stress-lite as possible. You spend an awful lot of time fixing your boys, shouldn’t you let someone or something else fix you? 😉

      • “Darling, stop on your way home and get me some Passion Flower.”

        “I’ll give you some passion, my flower…”

        Yep, I see how it would go.

        Okay, this isn’t my blog so I’ll stop responding to all the comments, but I wanted to thank everyone for their caring thoughts!

  7. LilyC says:

    I recently found an iPhone app called Headspace, which is useful for introducing meditation. Having said that, I got to day 3 then gave up because I got too busy and stressed. Hmmm…

    However, for short-term de-stressing, have a look at Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, from 1811. It’s just the sort of thing you ladies might find amusing.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/9103258/Dictionary-of-the-Vulgar-Tongue-from-1811-becomes-online-hit.html

    • OHMYGOD!!!! There it all is! Everyone bitches about Georgette Heyer’s use of cant (slang), saying she made it all up, and there it is. I know half those terms!

      Great topic for a blog elsewhere. Thanks for the link, LilyC!

      • Oh, that’s perfection! I recognize a bunch from Heyer as well. My husband used to get so annoyed with me when we played Scrabble. I kept pulling out vocabulary I knew from her novels. Own True Love: “Fop! That is SO not a word.” Me: “Look it up.” Own True Love (moments later): “I hate Georgette Heyer.”

        Though I never saw “Twiddle-Diddles” in Heyer — and I must say, I do hope that is a phrase whose time has come (snort) again. I suspect it will in my house. Can’t wait till my husband gets home and I can spring that one on him!

    • YAY words!!!

      I can also recommend a trio of apps called Heart Rate, Stress Check, and Stress Doctor, all by Azumio. My sleep therapist had me doing some biofeedback that’s a fancier version of what these apps do. Great way to track and focus on regulating heartbeat, which positively affects all kinds of bodily processes.

  8. “Wouldn’t this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If “needy” were a turn-on?”

    At some point, when you are forced to get some medical help or go to a free health screening, get tested for celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Just saying, that it sounds really similar even if it seems as though your food triggers are not necessarily gluten containing foods.

  9. NancyF says:

    I have a little story for you. I may have told it back in the ‘ol blog every day ’til I’m 40 days, but here it is again. And I am paraphrasing from something I read in Oprah magazine.

    Once there was a little girl who was staying with her aunt. They were playing imagine and the game was progressing into more and more detailed and fantastic scenarios.
    The aunt was surprised at how realistic the little girl’s stories were and was attempting to play along and take it seriously. The little girl asked the aunt
    “What would you do if you were surrounded by tigers?”
    The aunt, taking this under consideration started going over options in her head.
    “Well screaming would be a start, and I guess running wouldn’t work as they could catch you, and I would need something to distract them, or a weapon.” Soon the aunt was breathing faster and her eyes were darting around as if looking for an escape from the tigers. Finally she asked her young niece. “I don’t know what I would do, what would you do?”
    The young niece said… “I would stop pretending”

    I tell myself this story every time I start to turn into nothing but a big ball of stress. Then I start to work through my list of things-to-stress-about and decide which ones are paper tigers and which ones I can do something about. I also use meditation and sometimes I visualize tigers, made of paper, playing.
    Not all stress is paper tigers, but I think we get rolling that little ball and it picks up various small worries and rolls them in like a snowball.

    • Maine Betty says:

      Wow! I love that, “I would stop pretending.”

      I can get myself all wound up, telling myself pitiful victim stories, and I have trained myself to tell myself “That didn’t happen. You just made that up. Quit it.”

      I think tigers are one of the most beautiful of creatures, maybe I will try to visualize my own tiger friend, walking by and bumping me and saying, “Hey, you just made that up.” Making things up should work for you as well as against you.

    • German Chocolate Betty says:

      This is a great story. How often do we mentally make mountains out of molehills and scare ourselves away from doing stuff — when, in fact, it’s all in our heads (“pretend”).

      Must remember to integrate this into my thinking when I get stuck in my next “I’m doomed’ loop…

  10. My step-daughter has had IBS for years, and stress definitely triggers a flare-up. Changing her diet helped.

    I think meditation is a wonderful thing. I’ve been meaning to get back to my practice for years. Also, you might want to try tai chi, which is exercise and meditation in one. When I’m stressing, it can help to break the cycle.

    FGBVs and feel better 🙂

  11. It is so tempting to believe our vigilance helps — it’s a superstition I think, and like many superstitions, it’s powerful. How can we let go of it if we believe (even though we know better) that our worry and stress will protect the ones we love? Or that not worrying will mean we’re at fault if something bad does happen?

    Only, it’s not true. The stress takes a terrible toll and we get nothing but internal complaint in return. Our bodies have a point, I think: “You know, I really wasn’t built for this. Just because you CAN make me do this, doesn’t mean you should.”

    Meditation is a great idea. You are reminding me of how much better I feel when I meditate regularly (which I haven’t in years). Vitamin D is also your friend, or so my doctor says. And really good luck with that which will not be named!

    • German Chocolate Betty says:

      The closest I come to meditation is during my shiatsu massages. (Which I try to have twice a month, once a week in major stress phases.) I can kind of zen out there — and, since it’s one place where my “job” is to not DO anything, it is easier to convince myself to relax. Otherwise, I fight constantly internally with the little voice that keeps telling me “you’ve got so much to do, you can’t afford this time…”. This internal voice I would like to muzzle.

      However, as part of my trying to combat my recent meltdowns I have gotten back to knitting which I haven’t done for years and years. And knitting, for me, is a form of meditation…. So that’s good.

  12. Tai chi. I once bought a video on learning the tai chi movements. The practice building up to starting the movements was so difficult that I gave up. I’m sure there are better ways to learn that don’t add to the stress.

    I often have digestive symptoms when I’m stressed and right now I have a pain in my shoulder blade that won’t go away. Luckily, I do have health insurance, at least as long as I’m married.

  13. Oooh, wonderful thoughts, everyone. Thanks so much!

    I just did a little internet research on Celiac’s, because although I’m not Irish (I don’t think) I am Northern European (mostly English and German.) But it’s gluten intolerance, right? I can eat breads, oatmeal, stuff like that with no problem. Although mostly what I eat with no consequences is oatmeal, and that has been proven to not be so bad for people with Celiac’s. Gonna take a look at gluten, but I don’t think that’s the problem. Been eating Jenny’s banana-nut muffins sweetened with applesauce with no problems.

    Right now, I can’t eat: fried foods, dairy, honey-roasted peanuts, coffee.

    I’m great with chicken soup with rice or noodles; saltines; yogurt. Honey might be a trigger; I’ve been drinking it a lot in my tea, but switched to either no sweetener or a touch of sugar, and it seems to be better.

    Gall bladder disease is definitely a possibility; is that made worse by stress? I would think it would remain if it was the gall bladder no matter what meditation I did, or change in diet. But the meditation and stress reduction works wonderfully. Since starting that practice, I haven’t had a full-blown attack, mostly just gas pains. Of course, that’s anecdotal… who the hell knows, right?

    Well… doctors. A doctor would know. 🙁

    I’m, I’d say, 90% sure it’s IBS. I’ll be looking into low-income health care options to see if I can get a doctor’s confirmation, though. Couldn’t qualify before because my tax returns, until last year, were joint with my ex, so our combined income was too much. But now I’m properly destitute; maybe I can get some assistance. It would decrease the stress a lot to be sure, but since I feel great when I avoid certain foods (but then, of course, go straight for them once I feel better because I DON’T LEARN) I’m thinking it’s IBS.

    Thanks so much for all the ideas, though! I love crowd-sourcing these things; Celiac’s would have never made my radar otherwise.

      • Trust me, the more our politics here go insane, the more I think about it. The kids graduate in seven years, and Vancouver’s at the top of my list of places to check out. 🙂

        • Danielle says:

          Except that our politicians (I’m in PEI) are sadly doing their best to emulate yours (re: privatizing everything), so if you wait seven years, you might be out of luck.

          • Micki says:

            LOL, no, no, you and Alastair should come be English teachers in Japan (or Korea or China), and you can get paid and still have lots of time for writing (-:. AND, I believe all three countries have national health insurance of some sort or another. Japan’s not free like Canada, but it does cover dental (-:. After five years in the Orient, the US *should* have health care up and running (fingers crossed).

  14. Kat Peterson says:

    I hesitated to write this response, because I think that projecting the right tone might be difficult. But this question kept bothering me, and after a bit of contemplation in the spirit of ‘we all probably say what we need to hear’ I decided I’d want somebody to tell me. So my tone is sincerely respectful. I know that you are an adult and you can do as you please. But you do realize that at the beginning of your post you explain that you can not eat fast food because it upsets your (let’s just go with) digestion, and at the end you say that you ate in a fast food restaurant which upset your digestion? What were you doing in a fast food restaurant? Perhaps you were doing an experiment to see if things would be different this time? Or not.

    I think it’s universal, everyone does it. But honestly, just because there is a hammer on the tool bench– I am not obliged to hit myself with it. My issue (hammer) is different from yours (maybe thats why it seems obvious to me), and this post made me think about my own, so thank you.

    BTW, I too am very optimistic so I felt a moment of kindred spirit (a la Anne Shirley) to you while reading the un-positive thinking post. Once actually had my gloomy boss yell, “Curse you and your relentless perkiness”. I burst out laughing, couldn’t help it, and it certainly settled his hash for the day.

    • Oh, baby, you’re absolutely right! I do it to test; has it gone away? And no, it hasn’t. It’s just me. This has come and gone over the years, and I’ve had ten year spans where I could eat whatever I wanted without consequence (except the fat) and since I feel SO great when I eat what I’m supposed to, I immediately go out after a few days and test it.

      Which is STOOPIT. But thank you for not saying that. You’re incredibly kind. 🙂 And also, very right. I’m not hitting myself with a hammer, though; if I knew it would give me a problem, I just wouldn’t eat it. I just keep thinking, “Maybe it’s gone…” Because I’m an eternal optimist.

      Sometimes, pessimism may be the way to go. 🙂

  15. Lani, babe, you are so right about stress being the major factor in your physical symptoms. Stress will eat you up. I know that my heart thingy (AVNRT) is due to a short in my electrical system and is something I can’t fix with food or exercise or anything except meds, which I’m taking twice daily like a good girl. But the joint pain–that can be helped with the swimming and getting the weight off. When I swim, the stress floats away. Went this morning because I’m so stressed.
    I’ve been stressing like crazy over work and the release of the book–to the point that I’ve lost my focus and can’t seem to write worth a damn right now. Scares the hell out of me because now I’m thinking “What if I can never write again?!” I can’t live if I can’t write…I hate, hate feeling stupid and that’s how sitting at the computer staring at the blank page makes me feel, stupid and unproductive.
    My dear friends keep assuring me that it’ll be back, the muse is resting and I need to let her rest for a while…dear God, I hope that’s all it is…

    • Fret not, Nan – it’s normal. We all wake up every day and think, “Fuck, what if I can’t write again?” And it always comes back, usually right around when we calm the hell down. For me, that took about three years, but that coincided with my divorce. And still, I battle it as my first thought every morning – what if I can’t write today? – and you know, some days, I can’t. But the balance works in my favor, and once I get bored of the panic, things start to come back. Go back to the work at the same time every day, even if it’s just reading the stuff you already wrote, and your muse will know where to find you. They like rhythm. Novel engage – 20 minutes/200 words a day, at the same time, every day. That 20 minutes can just be reading what you’ve already written. Did you see Jenny’s Don’t Break the Chain thing? Do that with novel engage.

      You’re gonna be fine. 🙂

  16. Anne V says:

    oh, the stress and the belly issues – yeah. when it gets bad enough, I have wound up on ginger in order to keep anything down at all.

    It is discouragingly easy for me to become invisible behind the obligations and the to do lists and just life. I get overshadowed, and then I get sick and things go awry. Therefore, I have gotten fairly – rigidish – about getting enough sleep and meditation and some exercise (gyrokinesis/gyrotonic) and because otherwise I get sick in my body and my feelings. which is bad. very bad.

    It always sounds INSANE to me, that the way to manage not being able to do everything is actually to spend less time on doing those things and more time on NOT doing those things and take care of myself. but at least for me, it’s true.

  17. Lani,

    I get that completely — must be on alert all the time, know all possible things that could go wrong and plan possible responses to handle those things, must always always always have a plan. I did it for decades. Literally decades.

    I finally stopped. The difference in my head is astonishing. I don’t know how I survived all those years of frenzied thinking. But it is gone.

    Easiest thing I did to stop the constant disaster-planning — put a song in my head. I swear, it’s that easy. You know how annoying it is when a song gets stuck in your head? Pick one and put it there deliberately. Just keep singing your song. Because it’s impossible to be disaster-response-planning when you’re singing a song in your head.

    Just try it today. That urge to plan comes along, possible disasters creep in, sing your song. It works, I swear. And after a while, you won’t have to sing. Your head can just be quiet and happy. It’s a great feeling.

    • OMG, the song thing is GENIUS! I’m going to have to try to see if that can work. I find there are almost always songs in my head now that I’m writing every morning with the soundtrack blaring. Good idea, though! Will try!

      • Lani,
        I was making some connections at the time — you know, this is where the stress comes from. But it sounds like you already know the source of yours.
        So just grab that song. First day, you’ll have to stop yourself from worrying a thousand times. But day after day, it gets easier to just hum or sing to yourself in your head. And soon your head figures out… oh, we can relax now. We can just stop and sing and float along.
        It really is an amazing feeling.

  18. It’s funny how these posts make me realize things about my own life. I carried a buttload of stress all my life, I could never figure out the knot in gut that wouldn’t go away, until I started seeing a therapist and she told me she thought I was suffering from depression. But, but, but how could I be depressed when I got up every day, went to work, hung out with friends, etc. etc. She said “You’ve been depressed for so long, you’ve just learned to live your life around it.” That’s when the knot started to disappear and I started to take care of myself. Of course, I ran into all the stuff that all of us good, goal-oriented capable people run into: I’m too busy to stop and exercise, meditate, eat good food!! So I stopped trying to be a perfect little spiritual sunbeam when I meditated and instead, I just sat down for a minute and closed my eyes. Just to rest them, you know. If someone asked “Are you meditating?” Nope, I’m just sittin’ here, restin’ mah eyes. I get a little folksy at times. And you know what I discovered? A minute of resting my eyes was all I needed at that moment and now, sometimes I take a minute, sometimes I take longer and sometimes resting my eyes turns into a nap. Awesome!

    I think the biggest lesson for me was the more I took care of myself, the more time I had to do all the things I wanted or needed to do. We all have massive ‘to do’ lists in our heads but by taking time to take care of me, I found that all those things still get done, one by one. Hey! That rhymes!

  19. The other night I watched “Anything Can Happen on the Way to the Forum” and I cannot get rid of “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” over and over in my head.

    IBS and/or gall bladder disease. Yikes! Neither is a picnic and can make your life very “unpleasant”. Gall bladder attacks are usually initiated by fatty foods as the BG processes fats eaten. When I was 23 a supper of batter fried fish, french fries & cheese sauce on spinach put me in the hospital for 45 days! I came out sans GB.

    IBS is not as easily gotten rid of any a GB. And I am with you on the “it’s been a while since I had that, I wonder if it still will make me sick” mentality. This past month in an effort to take some dangerously addictive meds out of my life I went back to using over the counter products that most people can take with impunity. Apparently, not me. My IBS and gastrointestinal issues let me know in no uncertain terms that they were not “happy”. So, they can send a man to the moon but they cannot make a non addictive, hypoallergenic pain killer that’s easy on the stomach and bowels!!!!!!!

    Since being placed on LTD I have discovered the NAP. I have always believed that civilized countries make arrangements for people to have an hour or so nap in the afternoon.

  20. cleo says:

    I read this post this morning and it reminded me to meditate, so thank you for that. I’m meditating every day for Lent (well, I always INTEND to meditate every day, but since I haven’t been lately, I thought I’d use Lent to get back into it).

    And, FWIW, I have Celiac and when I read your post, I also thought “get tested for Celiac” – even if you don’t think you have it, it’s a good thing to eliminate (so to speak). It often is misdiagnosed as IBS and it’s not easy to self diagnose, partly because gluten is in so many processed foods (and not necessarily labeled as such) and partly because it’s a tricky disease. There’s a blood test – the U of C’s Celiac Center offers free screening every Oct here in Chicago (http://www.cureceliacdisease.org/living-with-celiac/screening) – there may be something similar closer to you.

    And congrats on keeping with your meditation practice.

  21. JulieB says:

    Hi Lani,

    This is a very good post. Something you said really struck a chord with me. My sister and I just talked about this recently with my mother. She’s a great woman and has a lot of wonderful traits. However, she injects a lot of worry, and worries long distance. As a consequence my sister and I grew up pretty sheltered and rather timid in terms of doing things physically. Even at almost 47, she’ll still say things to me, such as, “Oh, don’t go out tonight. The weather is bad. Just stay at home.” We live 200 + miles away from each other.

    Anyway, she injected some worry into a situation at my sister’s house recently, and my sister was discussing the incident with her counselor. Her counselor pointed out that this all stems back to the death of my oldest sister at age 3. I was only two at the time, but for my parents, it was something they could never completely heal from, even though they had happy times later. The counselor said it. It _was_ PTSD. For three years they went through many heartaches, with my sister having seizures, finding out she was probably blind, learning she would not be able to sit up, working through genetic testing (which still left many things unanswered back in the ’60s).

    What we know now is that was just have to let Mom be heard when she starts to worry, and give her grace. I also know that I learned to be a worried mom. I try to be aware of it, and manage it, and take care of myself. I’m sure I’ve been shaped by my sister’s death; what I hope is to ease the stress for my future, for my kids.

    I think this applies to you as well. I would consider my life very good, even though if I told it to many people I think they would say some aspects were very unusual or stressful. But I felt secure in my family’s love, and so I don’t see this. I think even though you say you didn’t have large, tragic events after your father’s death, don’t downplay that stress, and the other stresses of your family.

    I’m not saying dwell on them. I’m saying you deserve to give yourself grace.

    • Micki says:

      This is so true — a trauma can be inherited. My husband’s grandparents lost a child to some silly cold (it was during the war, and they couldn’t get to town) — and so the whole family is really uptight about going to the doctor. Coming from a family where you went to the doctor if you had an ear infection, and that was about it, it was really weird for me until I figured out what was going on. Understanding that helped me not get so annoyed at “attempts to control my life.” They were attempts to save my life, even though I wasn’t in any danger . . . .

      • JulieB says:

        Micki,

        I didn’t see this until today. It truly is a blending/balancing act, isn’t it? I’m more inclined to take the kids to the doctor than my husband. And, I perceive his family to be actually rather scared of doctors. I’m sure the truth is on both sides, and in the middle too. 🙂

  22. Hi,
    Didn’t have a lot of time earlier to get into this, but now… I went through the whole IBS, stomach burning, heart pounding cycle. Had every test possible.
    Turned out, it was stress and the thing that worked for all my intestinal stuff was anti-depressants. Seriously.
    Kept reading and researching, and it turns out, the largest number of sensory neurons (what we think of as brain cells) outside of the brain, are in your intestines. Tons of them. When we say we feel things in our gut, we really feel things in our gut.
    And what do our brain cells need when we’re depressed? They need seratonin, which they get from drugs like Paxil.
    Turns out, those sensory neurons in our gut need seratonin, too.
    It’s one of those $5-a-month medications in generic form. I don’t know why more people don’t try it for IBS. I questioned my gastrointerologist at length, and she finally admitted, about 50% of the people she sees end up with the generic diagnosis of stress or IBS and the drugs they have for them suck. Awful side-effects.
    I was sure I had something dire wrong with me, because the symptoms were so physical. Nope. Needed seratonin.
    I’m not saying there aren’t some foods that are harder to digest than others. Just that your gut can be functioning in a kind-of okay way with stuff that’s easy to digest, and then something tough to digest comes along and the combo of that and not enough seratonin tips you over into icky stuff.

    Another thing to try on your own is the reverse-elimination diet. You start with two completely bland foods, chicken and rice. No sauce, no butter, no nothing. Chicken and rice.
    Eat that for three days. If you feel okay, add one food. One simple food. Like… a veggie. Or a fruit. Eat those three foods for three days. If you feel okay, add another.
    Keep doing that until you have a reaction. Eventually you’ll find your triggers.

    • Wow, really interesting about the seratonin. I’ll look into that some more.

      So far, I’ve got a handful of things I can eat just fine – oatmeal, chicken soup with rice or noodles, vegetables, fruit, yogurt. Today I ate completely on the board and I feel fabulous. It’s shocking what a difference it makes! I’m going to give myself a few more days, then add other things in to see what triggers.

      • Danielle says:

        Ok, ONE more point and then I will really and truly shut up and leave:

        I read somewhere (I can find out if anyone cares – I’m just at work at the moment and don’t have the reference handy) that Fructose Malabsorption disrupts the absorption of tryptophan, which is found in a surprising number of foods.

        Tryptophan apparently helps the body produce….

        …seratonin!

        And melatonin, too, incidentally – so if you have IBS and have trouble sleeping and/or are depressed, this may be why.

        PS: I’m harping on the fructose thing because I know there are probably a lot of IBS sufferers out there reading this and this might help them – not because I think this issue particularly applies to you, Lani…just hijacking your comments section… Thanks everyone for not kicking me out.

        PPS: I also wanted to say thanks to everyone for all this information – I’m filing it away in my mental IBS reference library! You guys rock!!

        • Danielle – don’t be shy! The more information, the better, and it seems like a lot of people are having similar problems. I don’t seem to have problems with anything but the honey – regular sugar, apples, even HFCS in the occasional soda (can’t do artificial sweeteners, and hate regularly-sweetened soda, too sweet, so it’s rare) and god knows there’s HFCS in everything. But it’s great information to have, and I’m really grateful you shared it – thank you!

          • Before I was diagnosed with Fructose Malabsorption, I wouldn’t have connected my gut and other symptoms with eating any of the problem foods associated with FrucMal. I discovered that there doesn’t have to be a direct effect ie. eat an apple, get a sore tummy within a couple hours. It can also be a build up of factors over a day or more; sugar on wheat based cereal, a sandwich at lunch, a sweet in the evening, then it’s the small glass of juice the next morning that finally takes me over the line.

            The problem with honey might indicate a problem with fructose; another hint might be how you react to eating a couple stone fruit in one sitting. Regular sugar won’t necessarily be a trigger as it’s half fructose and half glucose, and the glucose helps the fructose be absorbed correctly. It’s when you eat something with more fructose than glucose that problems can occur (honey, peas, stone fruit, apples, in particular). There’s also fructans to avoid(wheat, onions, leeks…) but I’ll stop there. If you want more info, I’m happy to help.

            I’m not saying that I think you’ve got FrucMal, but it’s a tricky condition and, as I wrote earlier, I wouldn’t have thought I had it, if it wasn’t for getting tested.

            Oh, and Danielle’s right about the Tryptophan etc.

            If you’re googling FrucMal, I recommend the Yahoo Fructose Malabsorption Group and any information from Sue Shepherd in Australia.

  23. I’ve had digestive issues for as long as I can remember. Ten years ago when our critique group decided on cute names, like Peaches, Kiki, Candy Bam-Bam, I chose Bubbles. : )

    Anyway, last year in September I read a book on Kindle called Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat Lose the Weight, by William Davis. I went gluten-free. I was self-diagnosed. Since then I’ve also cut back on dairy (I use Almond milk), wine, and sugars. There’s a ton of good stuff to eat and I’m actually enjoying food and food preparation more than I have in years. My digestive health is the best it has ever been. One thing though, for the first two or three weeks it was kind of rough going and I almost gave up, except that I knew whenever you change your eating habits, it’s like your system goes into shock. So I hung in there and am so glad I did.

    • It’s amazing to me how few people can really tolerate dairy, especially. Wheat, too, but the dairy thing is very wide spread. I have a lot of trouble, and have discovered I really love both almond milk and oat milk. It’s such a pleasure to drink that milky glassful of something again!

      Good for you for working it out….(but WINE? oh, have mercy….)

  24. Eileen says:

    I haven’t read all the comments above so I don’t know if anyone said this same thing. First off, I’m glad you’ve figured out your triggers. Nap and meditation are wonderful mechanisms to help you get through all. Regarding getting tested. I too have major stomach problems that occur without any triggers. I’ve done the food diary to see which food set it off. I’ve done the colonoscopy and endoscopy that turned out normal. I even did a digestion study which was normal too. Now after many years, I have figured out a few of my triggers, dehydration, stress and low vitamin B12 readings (a known culprit for digestion problems). So I drink lots of water. When I start feeling nauseous I reach for a Vitamin Water which is high in vitamin B12. I also know that my diabetes is a contributing factor, but we can’t prove it as my bouts are not regular. I just wanted to say that being tested might not give you results so don’t feel guilty that you can’t afford to do so because of a lack of insurance. Go with what you know works and consider adding some vitamin B12 to your diet. Good luck with it.

    • Danielle says:

      Ditto on the B12 (I take sublingual tablets, because I can’t absorb it digestively). I have also found that vitamin C helps me – I have no blessed idea why.

  25. I’ve had stomach issues off and on since my teens, when my doctor put me on tetracycline for my rosacea and left me on it (with no effect on the rosacea) for SIX YEARS. A lot of sugar can make my stomach act up. Travel makes everything stop, even just car travel. And since having my gall bladder out in 2003, eating too much fat/grease can leave me awake in the night with an excess of bile and no place to put it (like last night). I have to treat my tummy better or it’s gonna do to me what my mom’s and gram’s did to them: cause a hiatal hernia (ulcer). (Me and sugar are going to have a long talk, now that I’ve caught up with the Jenny post from a couple of days ago.)

    As for the stress? PTSD is alive and well and living in my apartment with me. Yes, you are obviously experiencing hypervigilance and it isn’t good for you. I suppose if I meditated, I could decrease that. Haven’t gotten around to it yet. Meditating could do you a world of good with the h.v. And that can only make the tummy stuff better. Good luck!

    • Carrie Trimble says:

      Skye,
      I know this is hindsight on all our parts, doesn’t it baffle the mind that an MD thought a six-year dose of antibiotics was appropriate? My sister’s MIL had (um?) rheumatic fever and was given penicillin for over ten years. This was in the ’60s, but, still, yikes.

      • German Chocolate Betty says:

        Not quite as stooopid as years of antibiotics, but when I was young, my mother suffered from a sort of mastitis-y thing (painful breasts). Her GP had her on Valium for years. Then her old GP retired, and the next one was female. When she talked to the new doc about it she said, you know, we’re not sure why this works, but a number of women get relief through megadoses of vitamin E (’cause, of course, years and years of Valium ain’t good). My mom tried it, and the problems went away. My mom is still pissed off about that — all those years she could have just taken vitamin E instead of drugs….

        • Danielle says:

          …..and THAT’S why I’m with Lani on the I’m-gonna-try-to-manage-this-with-diet-and-exercise-first thing. Yikes, these are scary stories.

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