TFDC in the Wild: Tessa's story

A holiday which triggered her IBS, stressful student life, and the relief of finding a doctor who introduced her to the Low-FODMAP diet... If you have unexplained tummy troubles, Tessa's story might just ring a few bells, and be the thing you really needed to read today.

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"Five years ago, I went on holiday with my family for the first time in almost ten years. On this trip was when I think my IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) was triggered. We had a lot of sightseeing to do and for me it very quickly became about where the next toilet was, despite the great history there was to explore. But nothing seemed to be able to distract me, no matter how magnificent the monuments were. It triggered something in me and followed me back home where I within a few weeks would be starting University far from the comfort of my family and friends in a city I did not know and had no one to lean on close by. This just made my beginning anxiety, and the natural nervousness of starting up somewhere new, that much worse.

So I had a rough start at University worrying about the constant stomach ache, and I was not really certain what to do about it at first. And doing nothing made it worse. After a couple of months, I finally went to the doctor where they simply told me to ingest psyllium seed husk every morning and that would bring my stomach back into balance. I did as I was told, and it did help to a certain degree, but it did nothing to ease my mind and at the time, because I did not know why my stomach only cooperated sometimes and other times it would be as bad as before. This definitely did not help my anxiety and I started to consider that maybe the enemy in this whole thing was my mind and not only my stomach.

I started noticing that I could trigger my stomach to make it seem as if I had to go to the toilet and but in reality did not have to go at all. I started going to the toilet before I went anywhere. I went to the toilet every morning before I had to go to class once my roommate had left so I would not have to stress about her having to use the bathroom, or before I had to go out with friends, even if I only had to run down to the store and grab a milk.

When I was put in situations where I was not in control, like being out with friends, going for a walk with my dog, or going grocery shopping with my mom or anything like it that would make me panic. When I was in the company of others, I would constantly be worrying about having to use the toilet and what worst-case scenario would be if I went out. In situations where I would not be able to leave would make it worse. I would feel so guilty when I would have to tell my mom that we would have to leave from places because I had to go home to use the toilet and then when getting there I would not have to go at all, and it made me feel horrible, sometimes it made me break out in tears.

This year, I finally had enough. After speaking to two different doctors over the last five years, (who told me to just ingest the psyllium seed husk), I just did not think it was natural that I just had to deal with this pain and all the stuff that came with it. I got myself a new doctor whom I hoped would not just brush off my problem as the others had done and demanded a blood test to find out if there was something seriously wrong with my stomach. Therefore, I was tested and it turned out that I did not have cancer, I was not a diabetic, I was not allergic to neither lactose nor gluten and then my doctor asked me the one question that no one had asked me before: “Can you explain to me how you feel?”. It was the first time that I in a safe environment could tell someone exactly what I felt and how my subconscious played a role in this whole thing.

So, I told her that I constantly dealt with stomach aches. I could sometimes have explosive diarrhoea for days and then the days following after that I would walk around with so much air in my stomach I sometimes felt I would float away and could not pass anything. At other times, I could have a good few weeks where my bowel movements would be completely regular and then I was also better at controlling my mind, and those periods of time were absolute bliss but few and far between. I told her how I thought that I might often trigger myself to having to go to the toilet and she finally diagnosed me with IBS, and I had no idea this was a thing.

She introduced me to the Low FODMAP diet that could possibly help me figure out what foods I should avoid and which were safe to eat. She also gave me some sources to read where I could easily put myself into the categories and recognize my feelings and the pains I sometimes feel. After this doctor’s appointment, I felt so relieved. Just knowing that it was not all in my mind, but also knowing there was nothing terribly wrong with me made me so incredibly happy.

I went home and started researching, where I found a bunch of bloggers/vloggers who shared their stories of IBS. For the first time I did not feel completely alone wallowing in my embarrassment and in my misery and always feeling like I was letting people down and most of all letting myself down for not being able to just go somewhere without triple checking that I did not need to use the toilet.

I think for me the worst part emotionally, has been the self-disappointment, because there is basically nothing anyone could say to make me feel better. It was not until I found a community of people online that shared many of the same feelings as myself that it started to get better, and that is how I found Laura’s blog late one night. I sat and read her posts and with each post, I just felt better and better about myself. The discovery of the food diary made me want to make changes, because the food diary makes it so much easier to keep track of everything. I figured I might as well just give it a shot to see if it worked and at the same time, I bought a Danish app called Sund Mave (Healthy gut) that just shows me what I can eat according to the Low FODMAP diet.

After using the food diary for a month I could already see which things gave the same specific results. One of them was milk products, which I have been switching out with lactose-free products instead. I have always been a huge bread-lover, but I have been switching the white bread out with more grainy breads instead and also homemade bread. I have also discovered that my stomach does not agree with onions or big amounts of garlic, but I feel like that is one of the common denominators with people that have IBS. In a month, I have managed to come to understand my health so much better and by reading blog posts and watching videos I have discovered a few things that have helped me, such as drinking peppermint tea when feeling bloated or which things can be used as replacements while cooking.

My favorite thing about the food diary is how it looks so much like any other notebook and does not stand out to make people curious. Inside the diary I find the “end of the month” page the best part, because you here get to look back over the last month and take notes on which days were good, those that were only ok, and the bad days, where you get to see how many you have had of each. You also get to discover specific triggers that you can write down and then look back at if you forget. This is also why I would recommend this to someone who is struggling the same way I have, but might be unsure if this is for them. You get a whole other look into your eating habits (and your toilet habits) and you are more aware of how you feel after every specific meal. It really does help.  

I would say that I am “recovering” taking it a day at a time and that is partially thanks to Laura’s blog and the food diary. I also decided that it would be better for me to share my condition with my friends and my family so they would finally understand what is going on with me, which I have never done before. Sharing information about toilet habits has always been taboo for me, but I cannot live like that anymore because that was what made me even more embarrassed. My friends and family have all been extremely understanding, all knowing how uncomfortable it is to have a day or two with diarrhoea and not on and off for months on end. It gave me an opportunity to explain to them that sometimes they needed to bear with me and accept that I do not always have the nerves to come out or that when I get my flare ups I just need to lie in bed and watch Netflix or read.

Mentally, I have gotten so much better at handling those bad days and always carry Imodium if my gut flares up. I’m not going to lie though, I am still struggling with the eating part, because everything I have been eating is basically now off limits. It is so hard to let go and it has been and still is a learning process to figure out what I can and cannot eat. I am taking it slow instead of jumping into this and accomplishing nothing, but I think all people are different and therefore also need to decide for themselves how they begin their journey to a better life living with IBS."

Thank you so much to Tessa for sharing her story with us! Do you have a diary story you'd love to share? If so, email us at hello@thefooddiary.co with "My Diary Story" in the subject line! And if you don't have your diary yet, it's time to start your journey to a happier, healthier you by getting one here.