After the Break

I took a little Spring Break from blogging and it has served me well. I managed a lot more pages on my manuscript and that was the idea. Or in part anyway. I also feel like after 19 years blogging, daily then weekly, I needed to reassess its usefulness. I come back to blogging determined to continue the Retirement Diaries category despite my husband hating all social media and not wanting me to write about him. He did not mention photos, however. So enough about him! I’ll continue to write about writing too. 100 pages into my manuscript. Thanks, Covid. Writing up a Storm. Vaccinated, too. Maybe soon I’ll get back to behaving as normal again? I miss my family and friends face-to-face. Miss everyone, but especially my grandkids, who are still at the age where they think grandparents are cool.

I’ll catch you up on my writing next time, but today, I have a (sort of) (for now) health triumph. When my innards took a slow turn downward, it was difficult to write about, because as one editor, when rejecting her manuscript, said to Tessa Miller, author of What Doesn’t Kill You, “poop stories don’t sell.” I picked up Miller’s medical memoir because I also have the same digestive health challenges and wondered if she had any tips for living easier with what ails me. Miller has Crohn’s disease, which is the most horrible of the chronic poop diseases. At least I came away with that…there may be worse. Wait. I know there’s worse. She mentions them.

I’m feeling grateful that once again, I have found a pill and diet that seems to work. Meaning, I go to the bathroom like a regular person. For too long, I was very hung up on diets, hoping to cure myself if I just avoided dairy/sugar/wheat/grapes/broccoli. I don’t think that anymore. Much more important, which I knew but conveniently forgot for awhile, was to eat smaller meals. Easier on the digestion. There was not a whole lot of “don’t eat this food ever” in Miller’s book, or much mention of food at all, such a nice relief from the heavy focus I’ve had on food since all this started about eight years ago.

For eight years I was convinced that the right diet would make me right again. I tried “mostly plants” aka vegan, that didn’t help at all. Before that was vegetarianism, which I practiced for years, but also did not stop the progress of whatever disease I have. My doc is treating it as IBSD, but I need more testing once I’m back in Michigan. Another diet my doctor suggested was the Mediterranean diet; it didn’t help the core problem either. I did the “Starch Solution” which people swore by, although I think it was more about losing weight while eating potatoes. Yet all these diet did make health claims that just weren’t true for me.

Another thing Miller said was that it takes a long time to diagnose gut disease. I still don’t have a solid label for whatever has been plaguing me. First it was “lactose intolerance” but the meds for that stopped working after a few months. Finally, wheat was the last thing I had not given up. Wheat. It is in everything. Also, I love toast! As my new pill says, most people will not be able to stick with a diet that cuts wheat. Here’s where I’ve been for six months or so now: no sugar, no starchy vegetables, no raw vegetables, only berries and bananas for fruit, no dairy, no wheat, no processed foods. And yes, that’s hard to stick to. When I ate any of those foods, or gave myself a day to eat what I wanted: ice cream, chips, cookies, flourless chocolate cake and white wine, for example, I lost all control of more than my diet.

Wine doesn’t seem to adversely affect my bowels, for which I am grateful. Although I note that when I have wine, I don’t sleep well. Yes, getting old is quite the ride. It takes a long time to learn things and as I age, my body creates new problems to deal with. I’d say that’s true for most of us. As I take this new medicine as directed (a generic of IBGard and also a good probiotic) I have been doing well. It’s a challenge to take two pills thirty minutes before each meal, but I’m managing with the help of a food journal. If I eat dairy, I still take Lactaid, too.

Oh and age is not always to blame! Miller started having problems in her early 20s. But she has Crohn’s and that’s similar but different from my food sensitivities, many of which I do think happen as we get older, especially lactose intolerance. Her book is for everyone who has struggled with gut health. She’s so young and knows so much. While me, I’m a slow learner.

Healthy Aging

My husband is a model of healthy aging. He stays active, is physically fit, eats and drinks mostly healthy foods in moderation. He has a calm, even demeanor…most of the time. Since he’s been retired, he has kept candy and other things not healthy for me around the house. I believe he should be able to do this, and I should be able to handle it.

As for me, I admire him and try to emulate him, but chronic digestion problems, since I first discovered I had GERD in my early 40s (I’m 65 now) have just gotten worse. I read and research everything about my condition and keep up with my doctors. I have a gastroenterologist, same guy for 20 years, who put me on a double dose of PPIs (protein pump inhibitors) when he discovered I had Barrett’s Esophagus, which is a precursor to esophageal cancer.

The immediate problem was my stomach was producing too much acid, which sat in my esophagus all night. Acid doesn’t just sit, though, it eats away. And that’s how the cancer starts. Lucky for me, after a few years on these PPIs, the Barretts had healed. I was lucky. But while they have benefits, PPIs do take their toll on the body. For example, they kill the bad bacteria in your gut but while doing so wipe out the good bacteria that enables nutrients from food to be absorbed into the body.

I told my doc that (he already knew) and he said, “So your choice. Die of cancer or hope you can get along without PPIs.” He did say, a few years later, that I could try reducing my dose from 20 mg to 10 mg. I got horrible reflux the day after I tried that. My primary care physician is working with me on this and the other unhealthy side effects of PPIs, specifically IBSD and pre-diabetes. I’m tapering but slower.

I have tried natural remedies and many diets (vegetarian, vegan, Mediterranean, Starch Solution, South Beach) with little lasting success. Gradually my IBSD symptoms got worse. I can no longer tolerate wheat, sugar or dairy. Some vegetables that are highly acidic and most fruits are also off the table. No alcohol, coffee or tea. No caffeine at all. I stick to this diet most of the time. You think I’d have lost weight, but no. I have read and researched and this inability to lose weight is a sign of negative gut health.

I’m 65 and I do not want to be diabetic. Nor do I want to continue to grapple with the horrors of IBSD. People who have not gone through this will say “Take a probiotic.” Yes, I tried that. My body doesn’t tolerate them well. My doc gave me a referral to a dietician and also some pills that are fiber and peppermint oil. That’s where I’m at. I’m writing this in hopes that if you have anything going on like this, you’ll recognize that heartburn is the start of a long painful road.

I wish I would have known more about the medicine I was prescribed. I wish I had known what foods I was consuming were contributing to heartburn, and that it would lead to acid reflux, then on to IBSD. But I didn’t know and so I’m coping. I just keep researching and trying things to make my gut healthy again. Meanwhile my husband eats and drinks whatever he wants, in moderation. He’s always been moderate in all areas of life and I have been…the opposite. But I’m learning. It’s never too late.

And after 35 years, I’m still in awe of his ability to not eat an entire box of chocolates in two days. One thing I have discovered is that if I cut all sugar, I won’t crave it or any carbs that turn immediately to sugar in the body. It takes me three days of “no sugar” white knuckling and I’m back to better health. I can do anything for three days. Some things I’ve learned along the way really have helped. And who knows, maybe peppermint oil pills are the cure I’ve been looking for for so long.