I spent this year’s Easter Sunday clutching onto my stomach, sobbing, and walking around my living room because I was too bloated to even lie down.
One of the most frustrating things in the world, when you have a mysterious chronic illness, is not knowing how in the world you are supposed to care for your body. The things that are common knowledge that you learn growing up just don’t work. And at that point, I would’ve eaten insects on a stick or drank a dozen raw eggs if my doctor had told me it would make me better. I didn’t care what I had to do… I just didn’t know. I felt helpless.
Thankfully, as of May 19, 2017, I was officially given a positive diagnosis for SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth). It was a day of rejoicing because there was finally understanding of what was going on in my body and I could take steps to care for myself better and improve my quality of life.
While I was visiting doctors and waiting several weeks for my test results… I didn’t know how I’d make it.
But I did.
And these are seven lessons I’d like to share with you on basic self-care strategies that helped me when I didn’t know what else to do.
1. Make a routine and stick to it (including an early bedtime).
I realize everyone has different rhythms. You know your body best. Listen to it.
For me, I function best in the morning. I like to take 30 minutes to lie in bed before starting the day. Then, I’ll usually have my probiotic, make breakfast, and begin the day. I’m not encouraging you to live the same day over and over again… but finding a routine that is good for you will hold you accountable to something, help you set goals, and help you accomplish them.
It will be unnatural at first – and then it won’t. It could be something as simple as waking up earlier and forcing yourself to write down one thing you’re grateful for everyday. That can be a huge game changer for your mood and stress levels. Or something bigger like going on a run every other day.
Just make sure you’re getting to bed at a reasonable hour (10:00 to 10:30pm for me) because your Circadian Rhythm will thank you by blessing you with better sleep and you’ll feel more rested.
2. Drink LOTS of water.
This will make you or break you.
I ended up in the ER because I was so dehydrated that I was dry heaving all night (sorry it’s going to get a little up close and personal in this blog).
That’s a lot of water.
It aids in preventing constipation (a common SIBO symptom), regulates your body temperature, and does a whole mess of other stuff. Even now, I feel like I’m still not getting enough water (and you’ll rarely spot me without a glass of water next to me).
Something I’ve found helpful is keeping a bottle/large glass of water next to me that I can constantly refill and keep track of how much water I’m getting. I find when I am drinking small cups here and there… as much as I think I’m drinking a lot of water… I’m really not.
3. Remain present.
This is one of the most crucial things I’ve done that I believe has made a world of difference in my health. I haven’t started antibiotics, herbals, or an elemental diet yet. I have just been practicing stress management techniques. Here’s a common scenario.
I’m taking a shower and my mind starts to wander… “Okay, so once I get out and get dressed, I’ll send that e-mail to my boss and make dinner for tonight so I can go to that event and I’ll need to bring my books with me too for later.”
Then I stop myself.
Oftentimes, I’ll be mid-thought. And I’ll say to myself (audibly) “Stephanie, just take a shower”. Or whatever it is that I’m doing. Enjoy each moment. Even if you hate it and you pride yourself on saving time and being an excellent multi-tasker. Is it really so wonderful of a gift if you’ve ended up here with your health?
It is super unnatural, but learning to slow down and be in each moment has physically improved my symptoms. I’m not saying other things like prayer, yoga, going on a walk, etc. doesn’t help. I still do those things. I’m an advocate. But we weren’t meant to go 100 miles a minute. I have learned that on this side of things.
4. Do something that lightens your load, or makes you happy, once a day.
Stress management doesn’t just have to come in the form of things like deep breathing, yoga, or “quiet” practices that make you feel like a monk. My boyfriend loves to play the guitar. I mean, he will get home from work and I won’t hear from him for half an hour because that’s just what he likes to do to forget about everything else. It’s his happy place.
For me it’s tucked in the pages of a good book. It’s on a dance floor. It’s watching a funny show. It’s going for a swim. It’s going to the beach. On a walk. It’s getting tea with a friend.
If you don’t have time, you need to make time. It doesn’t need to be 2 hours. Just some time during the day. Your body and mind will thank you.
5. Learn to say no.
Saying no sucks.
The more you have to say it, the less people ask you do stuff, the more isolated and removed from society you feel, and then comes the missing out, depression, and all of the other sad things that come with not living the life you once had.
But… do you really want to go to (insert that thing) feeling like scrambled crap on a stick? You always end up:
- Go to something feeling miserable.
- Letting someone down because you can’t be 100% present or yourself (see point 1).
There’s no way around that it stinks having to bail out on stuff (especially if you’re a young adult). But when you learn how to say no to things when your body is just not having that day (or week), you will feel better for not having tried to push your body. You will find out who your lifelong friends are. They won’t stop asking you to hang out or do stuff. Usually, they’ll come to you. And all of the helpful research that I have done on my illness and treatment have come from nights when I’m sick.
It’s easy to sit around and be sad. And normal. But once you’re done being sad, take the time to read a book, do some research, watch a funny show, play a game on your phone, text or talk to a friend, write a blog post, or something else I haven’t even thought of. If you’re gonna feel like dirt a lot of the time, you might as well make the most of your time.
6. Learn to say yes.
It’s easy to get used to the habit of saying no. But you can’t let your illness own you.
On my good days, I still don’t feel good. I could have wheezing, shortness of breath, fatigue, and some bloating or stomach discomfort… but I’d still consider it a good day (depending on the severity of these symptoms). I know and have been listening to my body long enough to know that if every day is like this… I could lie in bed and become a sad noodle… or I could go to tea with a friend for an hour or two.
I can go walk at the park with my boyfriend. I can go to church. I can go to a bible study. A book club. I can go to a wedding and bring my own food (which I definitely just did this weekend; and asked this super fancy staff to microwave my SCD approved meal).
Learning how to manage your new normal can be overwhelming. That’s okay. Just learn how to manage. Learn what you can do. And what you can say yes to. There is hope. Some establishments are extremely accommodating and you’ll find your friends that want to do stuff with you will be too. There is life outside of doctors and your home.
7. Just eat.
I am by no means trying to be insensitive to my fellow people with digestive issues. I 100% understand personally what it feels like to have a genuine fear of putting anything into your body. If every time you eat, you end up in the bathroom and/or in excruciating pain, you are being classically conditioned to not want to eat. I’ve been there.
I have found in my personal experience that the obsession with my disease, treatment, and what I should put into my body were producing even higher levels of anxiety. Every diet I researched was different and if all was said and done after putting all the diets together… I’d be eating spinach for the rest of my life and calling it a day. So… I just decided to eat what felt right.
Am I condoning going to McDonalds and buying a Big Mac right now?
Heck to the no get out of there RIGHT NOW and put the cheeseburger down.
Be smart. Treat your body kindly. Give it foods that are good and nutritional for it. Intro diets are great. If you don’t know what foods to eat – neither do I! Keep a food diary and see what your body does well with. There is so much information out there. There are doctors, naturopaths, and nutritionists. People that want to help you learn your body and what it needs. Dr. Alison Stiebecker, a leading expert on all things SIBO, explains in this encouraging podcast that you should just pick one diet and stick to it, modify it to your needs, and everything will be okay. And you know what? It really will be.
These may seem vague – but these seven practices helped me make it through weeks of waiting for answers. If you have any questions on these, ideas, or cries of outrage… I’d love to hear them. I’m simply sharing in my own experiences. I hope some of these help you. If they don’t, I’d love to hear what does.