Stomach Confusion

It has been a very long couple weeks since I last posted here. Regular readers know that I struggle with almost daily stomach pain. The source of this problem has been sought after by more than one doctor to no avail. When they can’t find the source they invariably fall back on the “its stress” diagnosis and tell me to get more exercise. In recent months I have discovered a direct relationship between my digestive misery and the quality and quantity of the food I put in my mouth. This discovery led a therapist I have recently begun talking with to question if I have some sort of actual food sensitivity to something like dairy or gluten. I am suspicious of this position. It just doesn’t reconcile in my head. I will have weeks or months where I continually feel nauseated and experience discomfort then I will have a shorter stretch of a few days or a week where I feel remarkably well. Nothing about what I eat has ever affected this except my recent discovery of what should have been the obvious impact of too much junk food. I have been under some pressure the last few weeks to try an elimination diet and see what happens. This past week I inadvertently did the opposite, and have had a better week for stomach pain than the two preceding.

About two and a half weeks ago as I was driving home I swung through a McDonalds drive up and got one of those frozen mocha frappe things. They are so damn good, but when I break down and have one I end up with an awful stomach ache about one out of every three times.  I sometimes wonder what illicit ingredient they put in them that makes me come back again and again despite the pain, but I suppose it is just my own weakness. This particular day I ended up with the stomach ache and was miserable the entire evening. What was different this time was that the next morning I woke up still feeling shitty, and the feeling continued throughout the week. Every day.

When the weekend rolled around it was my wife’s birthday and we had made plans to go out. My extravagant plan was foiled by a rainy day, but we still ended up in a nice restaurant for dinner. A couple times during the day she had mentioned her stomach was upset, but it was nothing that caused a lot of alarm. About half way through the meal she declared that we needed to go. She was feeling very sick and doubted that she would make out of the restaurant without vomiting. Now as many of you know the therapist that suggested the food test has been working with me on a strategy to deal with thirty years of emetophobia, and the idea that my wife had a stomach virus instigated a whole new level of terror for me. The following day she never got out of bed, and she remained perpetually nauseated for about four days, thought she never did vomit. Of course my brain was on high alert and with an already aggravated stomach situation every twinge and gas bubble the following week was the start of this phantom illness. I had several very important commitments over the course of the week that involved travel to distant conference rooms, and time isolated on boats with no facilities. It was a long and painful week exacerbated by trouble with a neighbor.

The neighbor story was something I had contemplated writing as a separate post, but my reaction to it is relevant to this post so I will offer a brief version of events here. A little over a year and a half ago the woman that lives across the street from me had a problem with us leaving our car on the street in front of our house. Within a very short time and without having a real discussion with us about her concerns she got the local police department involved. This was completely uncalled for and I was both angered and insulted that she had gone down this path. With the police mediating the discussion we reached an agreement on where we would and would not park our vehicles. I continue to believe the entire situation is ridiculous and has more to do with her inability to drive her tiny car than any real problem I created, but in the interest of neighborhood harmony I went along with it and didn’t cause I stink. So nearly a year and a half passed when on  Sunday I had a sick wife at home and a young child giving me trouble all day because he wants his mommy. We went to the grocery store and when we returned I parked in a way that was most convenient for me, and in violation of our police mediated treaty. I was about five feet into the area I had agreed not to park in. This was the first time in a year and a half I had violated the agreement. With everything going on I forgot to move the car when I got everything inside. Later in the day I was sent a Facebook message pointing out that I had caused her problems leaving her driveway. I was pretty pissed off that she couldn’t let a single violation go. I wanted to write an entire post on my bodies physical reaction to the message, but I will leave it for now that I planned to speak with her about her note, and the absurd nature of these circumstances.

Due to mismatched schedules it has been eleven days since she wrote her message and I have not been able to catch up with her in a way that won’t make it appear that I have hunted her down to talk about it. Every single time I think about speaking with her, even while writing about it here, my stomach cramps. The very thought of a confrontation with her causes me instantaneous pain in my stomach. Everytime. I look at this situation as a concentrated version of my daily existence. This very focused and specific event causes me a shocking amount of actual physical discomfort. Discomfort that I can easily replicate. There is no doubt that this source of stress causes the pain. With this truth in mind wouldn’t it also hold true that less specific and more generalized sources of stress would cause less predictable and indiscriminate discomfort?

At the beginning of this post I mentioned I accidentally conducted the opposite of an elimination diet. This past weekend my wife was feeling better and I decided to do something special for her birthday. Something she would enjoy more than the meal we ran out on. Sunday morning I let her sleep in and I made blueberry muffins for the family from scratch. She said she would like fish chowder so I made a chowder and I baked her a chocolate cake. The cake and muffins are an obvious wheat source, and my fish chowder includes Half and Half, Light Cream, and milk. On Sunday I ate three blueberry muffins, a bowl of chowder and a piece of cake. The chowder was large so on Monday I again had a muffin for breakfast and chowder and cake at dinner. This was a pretty strong concentration of all the things most likely to be the external causes of my stomach upset, but I felt better the first half of this week than I had for two weeks prior. My frequency in the bathroom was way down, and today is the first day I have had any really stomach pain since last week. It is interesting to note that this week has been pretty quiet in terms of outside stress and commitments. Things will ramp up a little again next week.

Taking all of this information into consideration I am having a hard time believing in the food sensitivity theory. I suppose I could still try it, but without a fair chance of success it feels like a lot of trouble to put the entire family through. I have never managed stress very well, and I have always felt it first in my stomach. Despite my frustration with my neighbor her childish behavior has offered me a little insight into what goes on inside me. I was having some doubts that there would be much to talk about this week with the shrink, but maybe I ought to lay this out for him and see what he thinks.

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6 thoughts on “Stomach Confusion

  1. Your anti-elimination diet seems proof-positive that you aren’t allergic to gluten or milk. But, have you considered seeing an allergist for a skin-prick test? That would be easier than the elimination diet. Of course, I know there’s insurance and co-payments that might make it difficult. I think you found the source of your problem by analyzing the past couple weeks. Nicely done. Definitely talk to your therapist. –Daylily

    • When I was a kid they used to call it a nervous stomach, I don’t know what they call it these days, anxiety I suppose, but somehow I lost sight of the true impact of stress on my body. The last couple weeks has really highlighted that for me.

      • I wish their was a simple cure for you. I imagine your nervous stomach has a lot to do with the fear you have of vomiting. As a kid, you probably felt like any minute you would throw up because your stomach was always jumping around. That’s a hard way to live. I feel for the little boy (and man) that had to suffer through that. But, I do think you are putting the pieces together and perhaps understanding what will bring relief. I am thinking how the anti-anxiety meds helped you so much but I know that is not an option.

        I wonder if another medication would ease the stomach distress? I sense that is the root cause of the phobia to vomiting and if your stomach would calm down and act “normal” you could begin to relax about vomiting. I know when my depression was treated and relatively under control my life began to significantly change for the better. I lost the fear of social sitations and became a more active member of society/life.

        Just my thoughts. –Daylily

  2. Oh, you remind me of my husband. The stomach. It almost sounds like stomach acid. And, coffee=acid. Perhaps not the dairy/lactose/casein or gluten, but the acidic qualities of the beverages you are consuming could be exacerbating an already sensitive stomach situation. Second brain is in the gut. You feel stress, but you repress your anger or knee-jerk response for whatever reason, your stomach produces acid. Throw a soft drink on that which is LOADED with acid, and you will hurt. Throw some coffee on that, and you will hurt. Other foods will also exacerbate that as well. So, foods could be exacerbating this, but the root of this is probably how you deal with anxiety, stress, and anger. You most likely internalize it and repress it. My husband’s stomach is the exact same way, and he feels it in his stomach, too. It got so bad that he had to go to the doctor. His doc ordered tons of tests–endoscopy, etc. He was absolutely fine. Stomach acid production causing some irritation, but, in the end, he needed a better diet and exercise because he wasn’t handling his stress well.

    As for the skin-prick test, a gluten-intolerance or dairy-intolerance is not the same as an allergy and won’t be detected by a RAST test. Celiac Disease, for example, isn’t detected by skin-prick testing. Intolerances are different from allergies so one usually has to do an elimination diet, and then do a challenge.

    • I have written at length on here about my relationship with coffee. I never have mentioned that soda will also sometimes react badly, though not like coffee. I have been thinking a lot lately about how I manage my emotions. My reaction to the neighbor issue was very strong, but suppressed. I cant really tell her what I think about the situation. It just isn’t allowed in polite society. I have vented to friends and told them what I think about it. I really want to speak to her about the conflict, but it has reached the point that every time I turn up my road my stomach hurts from anticipation that she will be outside and i will actually have to do it.

  3. I think therapists would call this hypervigilance and hyperawareness of your own physical sensations. I do wonder what the therapeutic antidote would be? And a nutritional antidote, too….

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