When Stress Takes a Physical Toll

When I received my degree in Communication at Westminster, I never imagined just how much I would be applying it to my personal life. But in the year since I’ve graduated (wow, it’s really been that long?!?!) the skills and theories I’ve learned in my degree have changed my life as well as those around me.

Growing up, whether intentional or otherwise, I was taught and shown that the feelings of others were crucial. I also inadvertently ended up thinking that the feelings of other superseded mine, and put myself down when my needs were at the conflict of others. Cue the immense amount of stress this cost me when others had issues, and no wonder there are so many health issues I’m struggling with.

My list of issues are long and varied. They include depression, anxiety, PTSD, allergies to Dairy, Crab, Nuts, Cranberries, Hypothyroid, Hypoglycemia, High Cholesterol, and most of all leaky gut syndrome. LGS has been linked to food allergies, thyroid condition, bloating, fatigue, skin issues, weight gain, adrenal malfunction, food sensitivities, low energy, joint pain, depression, anxiety, autoimmune conditions and slow metabolism. Which is about 90% of what I’m dealing with.

Leaky Gut is a complicated issue. I’ve gone ahead and described the details of it. But for those of you that want the short version, here it is. In a normal gut, there are tiny, microscopic holes that allow for needed nutrients to get in and go to the parts of the body where they are supposed to go. With leaky gut, those holes get larger, much larger than they are supposed to ever be. Depending on how large those holes get, it can be a minor inconvenience, causing headaches and body aches, all the way to an autoimmune disorder.

progression

That’s where it is for me right now. My body is attacking healthy and unhealthy tissue alike. That’s why some days, I’m fine, and other days I’m really not. It depends on what my body is attacking.

Now for the long version:

The four main causes of leaky gut, of which I have 3 are:
Poor Diet
Chronic Stress
Toxin Overload
Bacterial Imbalance

 Other factors that can worsen it include: GMO foods, cow’s milk, gluten, sugar, chronic stress, and environmental toxins.

 The main causes of autoimmune disease are food sensitivities, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, oxidative stress, hormonal imbalance, increased intestinal permeability, heavy metal toxicity and chemical sensitivity, and Chronic Infectious Diseases. .

 Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth: This condition occurs when the beneficial bacteria in our small and large intestine get replaced by bacteria that don’t belong there. Beneficial bacteria help digest our food, regulate our immune systems, prevent infection, and much more. So, when these beneficial bacteria get replaced by foreign non-beneficial bacteria it leads to poor absorption of food and dysregulation of the immune system. The foreign opportunistic bacteria causes the immune system to become overly stimulated leading to chronic inflammation. Also in the process, the immune system becomes confused between the foreign opportunistic bacteria and itself, leading to various autoimmune diseases. Symptoms of this condition are fatigue, gas and bloating shortly after a meal, mental fog, diarrhea or constipation, and abdominal pain.

 Oxidative stress: Essentially, this is an imbalance in the body’s supply of oxygen and its ability to purify the blood, which can lead to dysregulation of inflammation in the body leading to the immune system attacking itself. Some common symptoms of deficiency are chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.

Hormonal imbalance: Some of the symptoms experienced can look like autoimmune diseases. A few examples of this are: an increased estrogen/progesterone ratio in women, decreased cortisol production from long term stress, and thyroid disorders. When there is too much estrogen produced or too little progesterone produced it leads to many symptoms that look like PMS, but it also can present itself as an autoimmune disease. Another example is when there isn’t enough cortisol produced to manage inflammation in the body and this leads to autoimmune diseases. Decreased thyroid production can lead to chronic pain all over the body presenting itself like an autoimmune disease.

*** (this is the main issue I’m struggling with) Increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut):  Increased intestinal permeability occurs when the intestinal barrier is damaged and this causes the intestinal barrier to weaken and become leaky. This leads to absorption of undigested foods that aren’t supposed to enter the body to enter it. When these undigested foods are absorbed the immune system sees it as foreign and it is stimulated to attack the foreign material. Because of the constant stimulation of the immune system, immune cells, cross react with normal tissues in the body and leads to autoimmune diseases. Leaky Gut can become autoimmune, depending on how big the holes are.

 Heavy metal toxicity and chemical sensitivity: There are many people that have difficulty eliminating these toxins from their body. These individuals experience many ill effects from chemical exposure. They experience fatigue, headaches, tremors, symptoms of autoimmune disease and many other symptoms.

The last two weeks or so have been pretty bad. Being that my treatments are alternative, they aren’t completely covered by insurance. So they can be pretty costly. All of the medical bills just added up, and being that my condition is so unpredictable, I cannot work regularly (hence my decision to work freelance at home) which means that my husband is the only regular income provider. And being that many of my friends just got out of school, many of them now have the time that they didn’t before.

Now, I’m going to take a step back to explain something that might not seem entirely related. I struggle with severe social anxiety, probably worse than my depression and just as bad as my PTSD. This means that I have a psychological fear of disappointing everyone around me. Many people who I talk to about this tell me to just not worry what other people think, that it doesn’t matter what others think of how I’m running my life.

If only it were that easy. My brain is literally hardwired to tell me that it DOES matter, that I have to do what everyone expects of me, or I’m this nobody, this wash up loser person who just bums around and does nothing good with life. In order to see otherwise, I literally have to rewire my brain.

On top of that, I’ve had an incredibly restrictive diet, which is difficult to stick to at the best of times.

All of this added up to me going to the hospital yet again, because in leaky gut stress pushes hormones through the gut and puts them in places where they are definitely not supposed to be. Last week, this manifested in specific pain on the right side that was so bad, I genuinely believed my appendix had burst. The ER thinks it is likely an ulcer, so now I have to wait a few weeks to see a GI and schedule a scope so that they can look to see if they can find one.

I have a treatment plan that includes supplements and iv drips. But the biggest thing that I need to control is my stress levels. Many of those that know me know that I’m generally a high stress person. I chalk a lot of that up to my anxiety, but I haven’t spent a lot of time on stress management.

My doctor and my therapist have both told me that I need to say no more often, that I need to rest a lot and not overextend myself, because it is physically damaging me each time I do, let alone the mental damage. I need to change my lifestyle to reduce stress greatly.

To the outside observer, it might look like I’m slacking off or just having fun, I’m actually being proactive to prevent leaky gut flare ups. So when I tell people what I’m up to, it hurts, it really hurts when people are like “oh, you’re so lucky you get to sleep in,” or, “at least you don’t have to work”. It’s like people don’t even realize what I’m going through, that I did not choose this. Believe me, I’d much rather be in a place where I can work than have to deal with this illness, but here I am.

That is exactly why my pain and symptoms have increased lately. I have been so stressed out and I have not been doing much about actually treating it.

And that is something that I need to stop.

I would ask for all of your forgiveness in future actions. If I cancel plans, or seem standoffish, if I lose contact for a while, know that it is not anything that you’ve done, but rather it is just me trying to take care of myself. I need to put me first, because my health depends on it. So please just know that it isn’t personal, it isn’t because I don’t want to spend time with any of you or that I don’t like you. This is just a time where I have to take care of me before anything else.

Don’t get me wrong, I have dreams. Becoming a novelist and influencing people with my words is chief among them. None of this means that I’m giving up on them. Not at all. In my doing this, I’m giving myself the tools I need to chase those dreams, I’m building the foundation on top of which my dreams will go, brick by brick. Right now, I need to take care of myself. And other people need me to take care of me as well. I have two options, one I could give what little I have right now until I’m bled dry, maybe give people a stop gap. Or two, I could make them wait, maybe disappoint them for the time being while I take care of myself. Then, when I have the ability and resources to do so, I can give them so much more than they could have hoped for.