‘That Same Old Feeling’
Because I’d had so many flus and ear infections through the year, my sister-in-law gave me a dietary supplement that was meant to boost my immunity, but after a month of taking it, I developed stomach pains.
Sometimes, it felt like my stomach was shrivelling up, the way a balloon does. Other times, a line of pain would move down through my stomach over the course of a day. Cramps and stabbing pains were periodic, as well as bloating, as well as times it felt like rats were trying to chew their way out.
Dr Warren examined me and told me my stomach was fine, but I remained in such pain over the course of following the week, I went back and insisted something had to be wrong. I showed him the dietary supplement my sister-in-law had given me; he checked the ingredients and said nothing in it should cause a problem. We then discussed options, including a gastroscopy, but it was early November, so the likelihood was – with the public health system – I’d be waiting until the new year to get any sort of appointment (at the least).
The one test I was able to get immediately – because it was from a private hospital that was covered by Medicare – was a Barium X-Ray. I swallowed a chalky substance, and the x-ray tracked it to show whether everything was going where it was meant to – it was. So that was one test that proved things seemed to be working okay.
My brother and sister-in-law took me to see their naturopath, Ellen, for the anxiety, and she gave me a whole heap of other stuff to take, including a herbal concoction (that contained St John’s Wort) that was meant to rehabilitate my nervous system. She also asked me to undertake a whole series of tests to check on my stomach’s digestion, and all the vitamin levels in my bloodstream. I asked if the stuff my sister-in-law had given me could be responsible for my stomach problems. She told me no.
I went on the Net and did some research on anxiety, stomach problems, and the dietary supplement. I learned it was common for anxiety to somatise in the stomach. No real explanation existed why it happened. One possibility posed was the mind became overloaded, causing the anxiety to re-manifest itself physically. With the dietary supplements, there were literally a couple of complaints that it had caused stomach issues, and the complaints themselves were only a sentence each.
When I spoke to Ellen the next time around, I told her about that and she said that the only way the supplement could cause issues was if I was fructose intolerant, as the supplement had grape extract in it. Until now, I’d never heard of fructose intolerance. Fructose – called ‘nature’s sweetener’ – is in all fruit, some vegetables, and used in drinks and foods.
I suggested the possibility to Dr Warren, and he said there was a test to find out for sure, but again we had to wait for the new year. He was confident I wouldn’t be fructose intolerant, though, because I wasn’t presenting with any symptoms other than the stomach pain.
I stopped taking the supplement, and stopped eating, because so many things made my stomach worse, and I could no longer be sure what was safe. My stomach was in agony from the moment I woke to when I went to bed. I couldn’t sit or lie still, as I had to keep moving to relieve symptoms. I had to decline editing work, and what editing work I had, I had to do standing at the computer. I had planned to flick the pension with the amount of work I was getting, but now that was unlikely. I started to feel as if, subconsciously, I was sabotaging myself, because I was afraid to be out in the world. Anxiety and depression had become so ingrained within me, so deeply rooted, that it would never allow me to be self-reliant, regardless of what I wanted externally.
Everybody had suggestions and advice. My parents wanted me to go on antidepressants. The naturopath wanted me to rely on naturopathic solutions. Dr Warren was sure that everything was related to my anxiety.
Some nights, I awoke, my breath blocked and a tight pain in my chest. I knew, in all likelihood, this was anxiety, and tried to bear through it, telling myself that it couldn’t kill me. My head didn’t always believe me, though. Other nights I woke up in excruciating pain in my stomach and feared I must have a twisted bowel or something, although when I would later get checked out, Dr Warren continued to assure me that physically nothing was wrong. That was hard to believe when my body was telling me something different. On top of everything, I started to suffer dizzy spells and light-headedness.
Something was wrong. I knew that.
And it wasn’t something I’d encountered before.