The pursuit of health blog was started after many years of struggle with multiple health problems – namely IBS. This post will detail the beginning of my health decline and the symptoms I experienced. Note – if tummy talk is not for you – I’d kindly suggest you try a different post!
GLANDULAR FEVER DIAGNOSIS
In 2009 at the age of fifteen, I was wrongly diagnosed with laryngitis and given a course of amoxicillin antibiotics to cure my sore throat and lost voice. Two days later, I was rushed to A&E with severe weakness, loss of appetite and an unpleasant looking rash that covered my body from head to toe. Fortunately, the A&E doctor immediately identified my symptoms as glandular fever, and I was taken off the antibiotics and advised to rest and follow a low-fat diet until the fatigue reduced. This took the best part of a year, during which time I was unable to attend school and spent my days lying down between my bed and the sofa.
Glandular fever is a viral infection, also known as the ‘kissing disease’ that according to the NHS, causes a sore throat, fever and exhaustion. I experienced all of these symptoms, but what appears to be less documented are the long term effects of glandular fever. For some people who contract GF, they are sick for a couple of weeks and then can return to their normal lives with no on-going issues. However, from reading forums & speaking to other sufferers, IBS seems to be a common consequence of GF, and I really wish there was more research in this area.
THE START OF MY IBS
It was during the days I was stuck at home in recovery that I first remember experiencing stomach issues. I remember my stomach making the loudest growl when I was sat alone watching television, and thinking how embarrassing that would be if it happened in a classroom. That thought, was the beginning of years of anxiety induced by quiet rooms. Alongside a loud stomach, I began suffering from constipation that was incredibly uncomfortable. I would have to make multiple unsuccessful trips to the toilet and often felt extremely uncomfortable just sitting down. These symptoms were not particularly problematic when I was at home all day, I could nip to the bathroom as many times as I wanted, and I was not ashamed of loud stomach growls in front of my family. However, as the prospect of returning to school loomed, my anxiety escalated. I had no idea how I would get through a lesson, never mind a whole day without my frequent bathroom trips. Even worse, some of the bathrooms had up to 15 cubicles and were often populated with girls applying make-up or chatting. It was not the kind of place you could sit comfortably for some toilet time whilst experiencing digestive issues!
I told my mum about my worries, who thought with the best intentions that it was mostly in my head. She was sure that when I went back to school, I would forget about my digestive issues as I’d be too consumed with school activities. Despite her encouraging words, she was wrong. In fact, I think things were worse at school, as my anxiety absolutely sky-rocketed. I would dread going to class, purposely skive assembly (and often get into trouble) to avoid having to sit in a quiet room with the whole year and took as many sick days as I could get away with. I would have multiple panic attacks a day sat in classrooms, counting down the minutes and squeezing my stomach to stop it growling the room down. It was exhausting, and took a huge toll on my mental health.
I visited the Doctors multiple times, who tried various drugs to no avail. They also sent off for a host of allergy tests and coeliac disease, all of which came back negative. I remember being asked ‘how’s your diet’, to which I responded ‘good’. And that was the only conversation that mentioned food, so at the time, I had no idea the types of food I was eating were having any consequence on my stomach. I was then referred to a Gastroenterologist who conducted a physical examination and referred me for an endoscopy, all of which came back as completely normal and he concluded that it was probably IBS. I felt very disheartened and isolated at this point, as I’d already tried all the various drugs meant for IBS, I was effectively left to find a solution myself or live with it forever.
Alongside my stomach issues and anxiety, I was also suffering from terrible acne. After again trying multiple pills with no success, I was referred to a Dermatologist and advised to start Roaccutane. Roaccutane did help my acne, however it also made my whole body extremely dry. I will write more about my experience with the drug in a separate post, but in summary, knowing what I know now, I would never have taken the drug. Being much stronger than antibiotics (and I was on them for nearly a year), I believe the medication worsened the state of my gut and made my IBS worse.
Life became a daily struggle. When I was school, I lived in chronic fear of the next lesson, terrified that I would need to leave the lesson and spend an abnormal amount of time in the bathroom or that my stomach would make embarrassing noises and the class would hear. The trapped wind was also incredibly painful, and people occasionally made comments such as ‘why do you look so uncomfortable?’ Which just then added more pressure as I tried to look like I was relaxed when underneath I was likely having a panic attack. As a self-conscious sixteen year old, the constant fear left me feeling utterly deflated.
In terms of coping mechanisms (and I would absolutely not advise these to anybody), I would either skip meals or stick to the very few foods that seemed to have the least impact. In particular nature valley granola bars, very often I would eat nothing but these until dinner time, where I would have a normal meal prepared by my mum. Most of our food was heavily gluten based, we probably consumed pasta at least four nights a week with a mound of cheese, and sandwiches were readily available at all times. Looking back, it was no surprise my stomach was having a hard time.
In sixth form, I took up smoking (admittedly partly in an attempt to fit in), but also because it reduced my appetite. Often I would have a granola bar in the morning, and not eat anything until I came home where I would binge. Or after I had my last lesson I would pick something up from the cafe knowing that if my stomach was bad, I did not have to try navigate classroom restrictions around my toilet needs. This would mean that sometimes I would be forced to skive a lesson because I was starving and could not wait any longer for food. I consequently lost a fair amount of weight, and I think my relationship with food was probably in the worst place it has ever been during those sixth form years.
I found school days draining. As soon as I got home from school, I would go straight to sleep. Whether this was due to lack of food, my body’s attempt to recover from the anxiety or as an on-going symptom of glandular fever, I don’t know. But I was constantly exhausted, and would sleep from around 4.15pm-7.30pm daily, wake up and eat, and go to bed for 10pm.
I did not tell any of my friends at school about my problems. When I returned from my year off, my friendship group seemed to have grown strong without me, and I felt too much of an outsider to share this embarrassing problem. When I changed friendship groups in sixth form, I think I was so used to ‘dealing’ with the problem alone, I wasn’t brave enough to tell my friends. Looking back there must have been an underlying fear of rejection, or being thought of as embarrassing because of my stomach. It’s a huge shame, as I think hiding something that takes such a toll on your life, stops you from creating really close friendships.
Unsurprisingly living with huge levels of anxiety & fear of other people’s judgements took a huge toll on my confidence. I had no idea how I could possibly navigate having a boyfriend when eating was so anxiety-inducing and problematic. It took a huge toll on my self-worth that was probably exacerbated by my introspective nature.
UNIVERSITY & ONWARDS
University in some respects was slightly easier. There was less accountability for missing classes and less contact hours. At the same time, we had one bathroom between six and classrooms went from 25 people to lecture theatres of 250 people, which I found very anxiety inducing. To get through, I reverted back to my old techniques of not eating, smoking and consuming vast amounts of granola bars. I do sometimes worry what long term damage I inflicted on my body during these years, living such a high-stress, low-nutrient lifestyle.
In my working years things became slightly easier again (still very far from fixed!), as I had learnt that wheat and dairy were triggers, I cut these out as much as I could and quit smoking. However, by this time, I think my gut bacteria was just destroyed, and my health was in such a bad place, that it was not enough to give me a ‘normal’ stomach. In hindsight, I do think that if I had used this approach as soon as glandular fever struck, I probably would have saved myself years of struggle. Unfortunately, gluten wasn’t a known term ten years ago and healthy-eating was much less widespread in comparison to today.
THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE VERY LONG TUNNEL
Following a break-up when I was at a particularly low point, I was recommended by a dear friend to visit a lady who referred to herself as a ‘healer’. You can find out more about how she treated my health issues in this post.
If you’ve managed to read all of this, my guess is that you must really be struggling. The purpose of this blog is to help those who are, and I hope provide some solutions to make you feel better. IBS is a condition I would not wish on my worst enemy, it tormented my life for years and could not be happier that period of my life is over. If you are struggling, please make sure you speak to somebody and seek help as soon as possible.