Tag Archives: stress

Taking Care of the Caretaker

1 Jul

Here’s what happens when I have a flareup of my IBS/fibromyalgia. I awake exhausted, barely able to get out of bed. Everything hurts. My gut roils. I don’t feel that way every day, but when I do I can barely function. I have suffered bouts of increasing frequency, intensity and duration since summer of 2018, and so have had to ramp up my efforts to find effective treatment.

I can manage my symptoms, to a degree. Controlling stress is paramount, because it can trigger flare-ups. I maintain a very restrictive diet, which entails avoiding certain “trigger” foods that contain FODMAPs. These include a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, sauces, dressings, mixed spices, bread, cake, cereal, crackers, pasta, almost any processed food. I willingly forego eating what I know will make me sick; the problem is that triggers often lurk in other, seeming “safe” foods. One slip and I am sidelined for days.

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My doctor, Doug, has been very helpful. He referred me to two gastroenterologists,  neither of whom addressed my main concern, the IBS. Both wanted to order an expensive, invasive test to “rule out celiac”; I requested a test for Small Intestine Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO), but neither would order it, so I got a home testing kit. The results were positive. Doug prescribed Xifaxan, an antibiotic that kills only the bad bacteria in the gut. I stayed fairly well for a few months, but my symptoms eventually returned. Due to the danger of resistance, repeated courses of any antibiotic are discouraged, so I had to consider other options.

Doug ended up referring me to the Mayo Clinic Gastroenterology Department (Arizona campus) where I can consult with IBS specialists. The cost of air fare, lodging, transportation, incidents and out-of-pocket medical expenses are high, but thanks to my wonderful support system, I have managed to raise funds for the trip. (I set up a crowd fundraiser through Go Fund Me.)

Thanks for reading and, to all who have helped me past, present and future. I couldn’t take care of myself, or Chuck, without you!

Best, Laura Ann Garren

 

 

I Don’t Look Sick

13 Feb

I don’t look sick, but I am. I have an invisible illness, fibromyalgia, which causes  intermittent pain throughout the body; arthritis; fatigue and brain fog; and, possibly, my tinnitus. I also have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), depression and occasional bouts of anxiety. All are connected to each other and to stress.IMG_2054

Stress produces harmful hormones that in large doses can damage the immune system, causing a variety of autoimmune conditions, such as I have developed in the time that I’ve been taking care of Chuck since his stroke in 2007 (and about which I published a book, Stroke Happens, in 2017). The fibromyalgia pain and the unpredictability of my IBS symptoms (bloating, cramps, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue and brain fog) make it difficult for me work reliably.

My symptoms have been sneaking up for years, but suddenly increased in intensity, frequency and duration in the summer of 2018 after a particularly stressful personal interaction. I have submitted to dry needling, physical therapy, food sensitivity testing and other labs; I have sought medical help from specialists, but none in my are (South Carolina) were able to help me, so I have been referred by my general practitioner to the Mayo Clinic.

Meanwhile, I am learning to let go of the things I can’t control–in other words, most of life’s events–and control what I can–that is, my reaction to those events. I practice yoga and meditation; exercise; engage in a hobby (bowling); schedule time daily to “play” (spending time with my dogs in the backyard); eat well (I’m a vegetarian); don’t smoke; and am at a healthy weight. I get an occasional massage, which is one of the best therapies for pain because it suppresses the pain response and stimulates the release of serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good hormones.

Lately, I located a podcast, Like Mind, Like Body, which featured an interview with a doctor specializing in pain. Afterward, I ordered his book, Unlearn Your Pain, and have been reading the material, which includes worksheets and writing assignments. I also subscribed to an app, Curable, which offers meditation, brain training, expressive writing and education designed to help people recover from chronic pain. I can report a significant reduction in my pain since I started these regimes, and I highly recommend them.

My physical manifestations of stress make my life more challenging that it has to be. I’m sure I’m not the only caretaker–or victim of stress–who is suffering from such complaints. I understand how frustrating it is, and I hope that by sharing my experience, I can help someone else find a path to healing. Please feel free to reach out with your experiences with chronic pain, caretaking and healing.

Best, Laura Ann Garren

 

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