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depression Gastrointestinal Problems Grief Hope Mental Health Psychology

Ruminating

How I Stop Myself from Spiraling

Maybe you’re in a low mood or you may be in a the midst of a deep depressive episode. Either way, ruminating on the past can be destructive to your well-being. You may find yourself wanting to focus on the present, but all of a sudden the mind gets triggered and goes down a dark road. Some days, it feels impossible to turn off the rumination.

In today’s post, I’m going to share with you a few tips on how I stop ruminating on the past. I hope they help!

As many of you know, my father died when I was twelve. I constantly thought about the days when he was alive. I didn’t want his memory to fade away, but it felt like I was living more in the past than in the present. Whenever things got hard, I would think to myself, “My life would be so much better if Daddy were here.” Or, “It’s not fair that he’s not alive anymore.” I would bury myself in schoolwork, but in my free time I would let my imagination run away with me. “If I could trade my arm for my dad’s life, would I give it up? What if I had to swim across the ocean? What about if I had to eat ten thousand live ants?” Every time I heard a song, went to a restaurant or park, or ate a new food, I would think, “The last time I did this my dad was alive.” I spent a lot of time reliving the past and letting my imagination concoct a strange dystopian world where my dad was alive if I had given up my eyeballs or my kneecaps. I ruminated on how good things were back then and how sad things were in the present.

Another time when I got caught up in rumination, was when I was sick. My teeth hurt from gritting down on them in fear and anxiety. Every muscle in my body was sore from clenching so hard, bracing myself for the worst. I wondered if this was my life now- bed ridden, diarrhea 15X per day, fainting from loss of electrolytes, malnourished, not being able to enjoy a bite of food, pain so bad I shouted once per day, crying myself to sleep, not seeing my friends, not doing anything but reading, watching Netflix, and waiting for my mom to deliver a few bites of white rice and a hardboiled egg to my room. Each night I cried about the life I used to have – one where I was healthy. With each month that went by, I wondered if this would be forever. I spent my time researching godawful, life-debilitating diseases to prepare myself for the worst-case scenario. I wouldn’t be able to sleep because I would tremble in my bed. I google imaged pizza, cake, and pasta. It felt like delicious food, or any food at all really, was a distant memory. Because eating food was my main coping skill (not a healthy coping skill, but hey, that was the reality) it was an especially hard blow. I got down on my knees and prayed to a God that I hoped was listening. I ruminated on my past health, unable to accept my dire circumstances.

A few months later, I moved back to Ann Arbor with my sister. Yes, I was still pooping my pants from time to time and couldn’t walk more than half a mile without having diarrhea, but life seemed a bit better. The GI specialist said I would be completely better in six months. A naturopathic doctor found a powder that I could mix with water to keep me nourished. I decided to enjoy life for what it was. I was as skinny as an Instagram model and I had just gotten into grad school. I felt proud of myself for accomplishing my goal. I was finally going to live up to my potential and study interesting things again! The weather was sunny and gorgeous. I spent my days working at a chill gelato restaurant, tubing down the river with friends, and dancing at bars. As shallow as it sounds, I spent the summer showing off my new rockin’ bod and dating cute boys.  And then six months rolled around… I was still sick. Not only that, I hated the counseling program so deeply. I couldn’t handle the burden of everyone else’s emotional trauma. I couldn’t focus on lectures, textbooks, or class discussions. All I could focus on was trying to get better. I spent hour after hour, night after night, ruminating on my Hot Girl Summer in Ann Arbor with my sister where I felt confident in my body and my capabilities. Can you believe it? I missed that time in my life when I was sicker than all get out. Also, I began thinking long and hard about my year in California. The ocean calmed my soul in such a profound way. All I wanted to do was move back. I began hating my life so much that I wanted it to end. It was nuts because I was falling in love, had amazing friends, and was living in a buzzing city- Boulder, with a view of the striking mountains from my apartment.  

Here are a few ways that helped me stop ruminating on the past. Let’s be honest, ruminating doesn’t help anything. It makes everything worse.

  1. Write, write, write!

Writing helped me make sense of the world. I carved out a time to ruminate on the past, but made it beautiful. I have an incredible memory, which helps me as much as it harms me. It allows me to write specific details and scenes. Writing is therapeutic for me and helps me better understand my feelings. When I wrote about my dad, I felt his spirit come alive. I wrote blogs about the awful symptoms of my gastrointestinal illness. After I wrote, I felt cleansed. I had purged all of the foul-smelling gunk. I no longer needed to dwell on it because I had just spent an hour writing about it. Sharing it with others has been empowering. I feel as though I might be making a difference to someone.

*Tip: Chronicling all of the negative things in your life will NOT help. Ex) My dad died, I got sick, I dropped out of grad school and feel like a loser. In order to move through it, you’ve got to talk about your feelings

2. Focus on your strengths

It will definitely boost your self-esteem to make a list of your strengths. For me, it’s making art through writing, my motivation to exercise, my vulnerability. Still, how does this help with rumination?

Let’s spin this into a strength. So, ruminating may lead to depression. When you do finally come up from this low episode (and you will! If you don’t believe me read my blog called A Glimmer or Sunlight…no matter how long you’re under there, you’ll ALWAYS come back up) how will you be a better person? You’ll be more understanding, empathetic, and compassionate. People may tell you that you’re a sourpuss or have a person filled with sorrow and melancholy by nature. This is NOT true. You’re just going through something right now. From the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry you’re dealing with this. Don’t let anyone tell you that your sensitivity is a weakness. Also, if you spend a lot of time ruminating, you probably have a great memory. Having a good memory will help you out in life, trust me. You do well on tests, you can remember all those background details that your friends tell you, all of the great memories of your life stand out to you, and the people who have passed away will never truly die. Why? Because your memory never fades.

Gaining a new perspective on rumination empowers me.

Summary: Try to view your rumination as a strength

3. Let go of expectations

Expectation is the death of happiness. Having goals for yourself and living up to your full potential are both great! However, when your expectations get too high, it’s a recipe for disaster.

You know Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? First, on the bottom tier, there’s physical needs – food, water, shelter. Then there’s safety needs – to not feel like you’re going to die on the streets or feel scared in your home. Moving up the ladder, there are belonginess needs- intimacy, community, friendships, love, belonging, connection. After that there are esteem needs – recognition, respect, prestige. If you’re lucky you may tap into self-actualization where you’ll live up to your full potential and understand the true meaning of life.

Many of us are caught in the esteem needs. This is where the ego dwells. Though Maslow may believe it’s a necessary experience that may propel you toward self-actualization, maybe it’s not so great after all. Letting go of your ego may be the best thing for you.

It’s easy to get caught up in the rat race. Let’s be honest, being hot and successful is intoxicating! We always want more and more – a new and better place to live, more money, to look thinner, a marriage to someone attractive and successful. This can all get shattered at any moment… Before you enter what I call “more-mentality,” think it through. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment. You’re on the hedonistic treadmill… Your brain adapts to your current circumstances. After you hit your goal, you’ll make an even loftier goal.

You’ll find that it’s never enough.

When you let go of expectations, you may find that you’re happier.

I am happiest when I let go of my goal to be thin or attend graduate school. When I had those things, I wasn’t that happy anyway. I wanted more – to be thinner, to move on to a better program. Sure, I miss feeling hot and accomplished, but it’s time to let that go. I don’t expect to be as emaciated as I was when I was drinking water and powder or to be a therapist where I’m depleted of my emotional strength. Those expectations have come and gone. I don’t want to be a shallow egotistical person anyway. I’ve let my expectations sail away to make way for bigger and better dreams.

It’s time to appreciate what you do have. Which leads me to my next point.

4. Gratitude

Think about what you do have in the present moment. You may be overwhelmed with gratitude.

  • Maybe I don’t have a thin body, but I am healthy.
  • Maybe I have a GI issue, but I’m alive.
  • Maybe my family is far away, but I feel their love, support, and connection from afar.

You get the idea. In fact, don’t even list the negative part of that phrase. Just list the positives.

  • The sunny day
  • My sister’s laughter
  • The phone call with my friend

There is so much scientific evidence and empirical data on the power of gratitude. Studies show that those who counted their blessings felt happier than those who listed the negatives.

Let the gratitude course through your being. Keep a gratitude diary. After a few weeks, you may feel grateful to be alive.

Gratitude has the power to stop rumination in its tracks.

5. Appreciate the fragility of life and health

The truth is, we are human. Appreciate your vibrant life right now, because it’s fragile. We are mortals; death and illness are inevitable. It’s time to accept this. It won’t be easy, but it’s the truth. Getting caught up in circumstances is harmful.

It’s natural to not want to think about death and sickness, but it’s part of our reality. In the same way that you can’t be happy without the contrasts of low moods, we can’t have life without death. All of this energy will be recycled for the next generation, the next life. All you can do is be your best self and try to make a difference while you’re here.

6. Meaning

Victor Frankl once said that if you can find meaning in your life, you can get through most anything.

He lived through the Holocaust and developed a therapy – logotherapy- where you find meaning in your suffering.

I finally got to a place where I found meaning in my suffering. My dad died and my physical pain has shaped me into the beautiful, creative, sensitive person that I am. Readers, YOU are my meaning. I am here for all of you. When you read my words, you’re helping me feel that my life is meaningful. If my words helped one person today, I have had a meaningful existence. If someone out there relates to my grief and chronic pain, I will feel even more worthwhile than I did before I began writing this post.

Find your meaning!

7. Find the comedy

I’ll keep this one short and sweet. Yes, there was a point where I was barely hanging on by a thread. I literally sent stool samples to countless doctors and google imaged pizza. Yes, pizza. WOW. If that isn’t sort of funny, it’s time to lighten up! I pooped my pants at work and my sister had to bring me a new pair of underwear! When my uncle was alive, he put a funnel down my dad’s pants when he wasn’t looking and dumped water in it! My body went from Barbie to blahhhh. OH WELL. HAHA! Find the humor in how much it sucks. It’s not eloquent, but it IS funny. I am so thankful for my sister for helping me laugh instead of cry or ruminate about all of this.

We’re all on a weird journey together…and it’s sort of funny.

8. Awe

Fill your world with wonder and awe. Seeing a sunset or going on a stroll through the woods can do wonders. I find that when I see beauty in the world, my ruminating stops. The pacific ocean, the pink sky after the sun sets, the majestic mountains, or even the bird tweeting out of my front window.

When I’m awe-struck I remember that the world is a beautiful place filled with magic and miracles.

Instead of dwelling on the past, look around.

When you see all of the gifts that this world has to offer, you’ll feel connected and present.

One last piece of advice- I just want you to know that I still struggle with all of this. And that’s okay. It’s all part of the journey.

Thanks for reading, best of luck!!

Categories
Gastrointestinal Problems Mental Health

Food Poisoning (Part 2)

Hey guys. Where we were?

Let’s see, I was livid with the gastroenterologist specialist, staying up at night googling worst case scenarios, drinking soup, reading novels, listening to my stomach make noises that resemble a barnyard animals, watching a lot of Netflix, and spending 50% of my time on the toilet? That sounds about right!

Meanwhile, I was losing so much weight that I was becoming malnourished. A naturopathic doctor gave me some powder that I mixed with water to keep me healthy. They insisted on running all of the tests again. Blood work, urine samples, stool tests, allergies, etc.

At one point I somehow made it to Florida with Mom and Matt. I couldn’t actually go to the beach because I couldn’t predict when the urge for diarrhea would hit me. I remember sobbing one day, as Mom and Matt packed up their beach chairs and headed to the ocean. All alone in the dark corner of my room, I got down on my knees and prayed. I begged for mercy. That was one of those wall-spinning moments that I will never forget. I’ve only ever felt that low a handful of times in my young life. Once was when my father died and once was when I left home when I was seventeen. 

Over the next twelve months, I got 30% better. Instead of having diarrhea 12 times per day and pooping my pants at work, I only had diarrhea 6 times per day. Initially, I felt happy about this progress, but then I adapted and soon felt discouraged once again.

 “So, you’re better?” friends and family asked gleefully. Sure, sure, whatever helps YOU sleep at night. Eventually, they stopped asking. I was both grateful and resentful.

Many doctors had competing views on treatment. Some straight up didn’t believe others. “Those test results aren’t worth the paper in which they were printed on,” one doctor told me about a certain food allergy test. He told me to never bring this paperwork into his office again. Great, I guess I’ll scrap those.  One doctor who was supposedly the most knowledgeable person at the clinic told me to go on the BRAT diet, but then said apples had too much fiber and may cause more diarrhea.

“Oh, and don’t eat toast because it has gluten.”

“So…bananas and rice?” I asked. Was this some sort of sick joke?

“Yeah. But don’t eat too many bananas in one day.”

Great.

Friends had all sorts of advice for what to eat and what not to eat. I stopped listening to people’s strange anecdotes after awhile. So-and-so stopped eating this and it really helped her. Maybe you should try to stop eating this or that because it helped ME. I tuned everyone out.

I learned that if you eat a certain food it can take up to three days before you get an adverse symptom. Also, it can take weeks before certain foods leave your system. Apparently, the amount of food you eat matters. When it comes to food issues, it’s pretty complicated!

One doctor advised against the naturopathic route. He said that naturopaths will do a bunch of tests and find something that is wrong, but it won’t have anything to do with the actual problem.

Still, I couldn’t give up, right? It took weeks to hear back from these tests and the results were negligible. Get your thyroid tested. Have you heard of SIBO- Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth? Maybe you have leaky gut. I wasn’t really looking forward to going down those rabbit holes.

I moved to Boulder to start graduate school and needed to find a new doctor. It took weeks before he could see me. He wanted to run all of the same tests because of course, certain tests couldn’t be trusted.

I was put on six or seven supplements that I had to take a few times per day. I had to take some on an empty stomach and some with food. One supplement- that looked like gunky lip balm – made me gag in my mouth every time I took it.

I decided I was finished with doctors for a while. Screw them and their condescending attitude. I’m sick of dealing with the emotional rollercoaster. Maybe this person will be able to help me. Maybe my life will finally get better! No thank you, I’ll just have my diarrhea 6 times per day in peace.

It dawned on me that five medical workers had failed me. This sent me sent me into a tailspin. When medicine and science fails you, your mind goes to a dark, dark place. Is this how it’s going to be forever? Will I have diarrhea on my wedding day? Will I have to pull over as I drive my kids to school and have diarrhea in the gas station? Will I be able to eat at restaurants with my family or will I continue to have to have powder water forever?

I wallowed in despair. Graduate school was sucking which definitely didn’t help things. I couldn’t even go on hikes up the beautiful mountains because the altitude made me scream in pain. My classmates had to counsel me down the mountain. Luckily, we were all aiming to be therapists. Hah!

If it hadn’t been for my boyfriend that I met at a coffee shop in Boulder, I think I would have lost my mind. He was my saving grace, my bit of joy in the sea of despair.

I decided that maybe I should try out a nutritionist. I found one in Boulder that greatly helped me. She immediately told me to stop taking the supplements that were mimicking antibiotics, saying that my gut needed a break. She gave me supplements that would help my mucosa lining. She told me to get a crockpot and eat soup for every meal. Everything I ate needed to be soft. I was eating baby food from a jar at this point, so soup was a welcomed delight. She gave me information on a probiotic enema, castor oil and heat applications, and told me to eat way way slower. All of this helped me heal another 50%.

My boyfriend, Eric, and I bought a crock pot and a giant sand timer and began chopping up our soups each night. I was so grateful to finally feel some relief. Ahhh, it felt so good to be able to go through the day without having diarrhea. I’m so thankful that I have made almost a full recovery. I was overwhelmed with love for my boyfriend that he would eat soup with me at home instead of going out on dates.

Thank you for reading my blog post on my health journey! Chronic pain is not easy. I often grappled with the question of, “Should I give up hope?” I thought back to a time when my dad died. There was no hope that he would come back. I had to accept my new reality and learn ways to cope in his absence. I wondered if reaching an acceptance would help me finally move forward. This way, no one could let me down. I would get my hopes up so high, and then I would have explosive diarrhea yet again. This emotional rollercoaster killed me. Maybe I should give up hope….

Yet, I could not.

I could not accept the limited life I was living.

There is always hope for you. Hope can be healing. Nothing in life is stagnant. Days, weeks, and months of suffering can go by but this does not mean that you’re going to feel this way forever. Eventually, the winter ends, the sun comes out, and the flowers bloom once again. 

Annie

Categories
Gastrointestinal Problems Mental Health

Food Poisoning (Part 1)

For two years after that hellish appendectomy, I was completely fine, other than my twenty-five pound weight gain. Maybe it had something to do with all of the sugary Moscow Mules and dinners out, but my sneaking suspicion is that it had to do with my body growing more and more inflamed.

But otherwise, things simmered down. I took a probiotic every day, but that was my only supplement. Things pretty uneventful, at least as far as my gastrointestinal life. If you asked me about my relationship, my job, or my plans for the future at the time, you would get an earful of DRAMA.

In January 2018, I got “food poisoning.” I was visiting my then boyfriend and we feasted for days. I’m not sure what exactly did the damage. I had rounds of sugary cocktails. “Keep em’ comin bartender!” We shared a plate of ceviche and pork dumplings one night and rolls of sushi the next. Then there was the night where we gorged on raw oysters, and of course chips and guac. If I didn’t get “food poisoning” (you’ll see why I keep using quotes later) from one of these dishes, I would simultaneously feel my mouth water and experience nausea from the description of this smorgasbord.

The next day, I had diarrhea every hour. I’d never gotten food poisoning, but I figured it would go away in 24 hours. Hey, I’ve had C. diff for a total of eleven days back in the day. I can handle anything!

Unfortunately, this diarrhea day coincided with a breakup and an emotional conversation with my sister. I remember walking along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz staring at the gorgeous sunset, crying. I watched a surfer catch an enormous wave before it crashed onto shore. The dazzling pink and plum-colored clouds swirled around the pods of surfers as the bright orange sun slowly nestled down behind the horizon line. Seagulls squawked, the yellow and purple flowers danced in the wind, and tears slid down my cheek as I thought about all the people that I had hurt that day.

Suddenly, I had the urge to poop again. I ran back to the Airbnb praying that I would make it. Thank god, I did. I went to sleep, thinking that this would all be over tomorrow. It didn’t go away the next day, or the next day, or the next. I went to the doctor (Yes!) and they took blood and urine samples. I ended up having to call my ex to help me walk to the bathroom because I was feeling so faint. I felt light-headed, dizzy, and nauseous. I realized that I needed to go home. I booked an expensive flight for the next day.

Thankfully, my ex drove me to the San Francisco airport. We had to stop once at a random gas station because I was exploding with diarrhea. When we got to the airport, I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye or to thank my ex because again, I had to relieve myself. The car stopped and I booked it to the bathroom as soon as possible, not looking back. The flight was awful. I used the bathroom six times. People stared, but I didn’t care. I quietly moaned the whole way. My Mom and Matt met me in Cincinnati with hugs.


We went straight to the emergency room. When I finally saw the doctor he said, “It’s only been six days! You’re fine. You’ll recover soon.” They tested one of my stools for parasites, but found nothing. I could tell by the way he talked to me that he thought I was a hysterical woman who went to the emergency room all of the time.

Not at all, buddy. Not. Even. Close. I felt judged and misunderstood by this guy. I felt like a kid again when an adult would tell you that you were in fact, wrong. No, actually, you don’t know anything. Nope, not even about yourself, your own body. I know it feels like you’re going to die, but you’re fine. I’m right. You’re wrong. End of story.

For a brief moment, a dark fantasy came into my head. I imagined that something was very wrong with me. That way, I could shove it in this medical worker’s face. “Hah! See I told you, you ignorant scumbag. There is something wrong with me!” I quickly and shamefully pushed this wicked and sickening thought out of my head. What the hell is wrong with me? I want to be healthy. I want this to end. I wanted this to end so badly. I sent a silent prayer into the universe, “Please make this pain go away. Please, please…”

My stomach was in knots and making all sorts of weird sounds. It sounded like a dying herd of goats. It felt like someone was wringing out my intestines like a towel. OUCH! I could barely tolerate this pain. It wasn’t as bad as my ruptured appendix “leaking for days,” but it reached a point that was concerningly close to that level a few times an hour.

We left the emergency room and booked an appointment with my PCP (the same one who gave me those c. diff meds!) She told me that I most likely had a parasite. At that point, I was discovering long and white threads in my stools so it made complete sense. She said that a server probably didn’t wash his or her hands after using the bathroom. I had most likely ingested the fecal matter that landed on the food. It didn’t matter that no one else got food poisoning from the food. Since I swallowed the fecal matter, I got sick. If that doesn’t make you throw up in your mouth, nothing will. So, I took the parasite antibiotics. I took a few rounds of it each day for four long and agonizing days.

At the end of this course of antibiotics I felt a whole new level of pain. Let’s say the pain I felt before was like getting stepped on by a horse that weighs half a ton. All you want is for that horse to MOVE! Get off my god**** foot! But it won’t. This post-parasite-antibiotic pain was like getting hit by a bus. I actually screamed in pain at the top of my lungs. I rolled back to my PCP (my mom pushed me in a wheelchair because I couldn’t walk.)

Welp, it’s not a parasite. Who knew what the hell it was. Sorry, thanks for coming. See ya later! Best of luck!

We went to a GI specialist. He told me that I had a 99% chance of having Chron’s or colitis based on my severely inflamed colon. To be sure, we scheduled a colonoscopy and endoscopy for one month down the line. (You have to be off of probiotics and such for a few weeks before.)

So, how did I cope that month? I read like ten books and watched hours and hours…and hours of Netflix. My mom would climb the steps to the attic to give me food, a few asparagus, a hardboiled egg, and soup. Thanks for carrying soup up two flights of stairs, Mom. Yikes! Matt (my mom’s boyfriend) made sure I was drinking two giant jugs of sugar-free electrolyte juice to keep me from fainting.

I stayed up at night googling worst case scenarios. I began following people on Instagram with ostomy bags or who had Lyme’s Disease. I cried, imagining how I would hula hoop with an ostomy bag. “What if this never goes away? What if this is my life now?” My heart thumped loudly beneath my tightened chest. I felt so alone in the world. Friends and family called, hoping for good news. “You’re better by now, right?” NO! I wanted to yell. I know you want this to be over, but it’s not effing over with. I’m in agony. True agony.

I had the colonoscopy and endoscopy. To the doctor’s surprise, he found nothing wrong. Apparently, the inflammation in my colon was gone. It had returned to normal levels. He told me that if I wasn’t better in six months to come back. He gave me some sort of anti-cramping med and said I had post-traumatic IBS.

He basically told my mom and I to beat it, insinuating that I wasn’t that bad. Get over it, move on, don’t be such a cry baby. Haven’t you heard? Life is painful and unfair. He expressed ZERO empathy and was a total you know what. For the next year, I felt so much anger toward him that I would scream his sorry name in my car whenever I drove somewhere as loud as I could. I couldn’t fathom why he would behave in such a nasty way toward me.  Did his mom not teach him any manners? Did he see so many patients each day that he became apathetic as a coping skill to get by?

I had never felt such anger in my life. I imagined trashing his name in my memoir and ruining his career. I listened to angry music with dark lyrics. I shouted at him in my car for weeks, months, a year. Now, the only thing I wish now is that this idiot would stop treating people. You may be good with illness, but you suck with people.

Though I was filled with outrage, vitriol, and anxiety, but I also felt an overwhelming gratitude for my mom and Matt. They showed their love and support every day. I am thankful for our close relationships and the bond we developed during this time. Thank you for making me smile.

Thank you for reading Part 1 of my “food poisoning” blog post. Stay tuned for Part 2!

If you’ve experienced this type of pain, confusion, and disrespect, I am truly sorry for you. From the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry.

Life is full of pain and suffering, but it’s also full of miracles and beauty. It can be hard to find the glimmers of beauty when you’re deep in the bowels of emotional and physical pain.

I see your pain. I see you hurting. You’re not alone.

Annie