Lifestyle

I Thought I Had Some Horrible Disease, But It Turns Out I Was Just Constipated

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Last week, I was convinced I was dying of some horrible disease. I had right-side, concentrated abdominal pain, nausea, and exhaustion. Naturally, the best course of action was to stay up until midnight researching appendicitis, intestinal parasites, gall bladder attacks, and liver cancer.

I decided to be a responsible adult. I went to my doctor two days later and explained my symptoms. An exam didn’t render a diagnosis, so she ordered a CT scan and basic labs. I spent the next six days relentlessly worrying and obsessing over my health.

No matter how much coffee I sipped, I couldn’t muster up any energy. It didn’t help that my kids went back to school in the midst of my illness. The entire family was cranky from the early morning alarms, after school homework sessions, and bedtime battles. I walked around like a zombie.

Much to my relief, my lab report was stellar. Based on those results, I was as healthy as a horse, or something like that. But the downside was that I still didn’t have an answer. Next up was to wait 48 hours for my CT results.

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My doctor called on a Monday morning with those results. I definitely had something wrong with me, and it was downright shitty.

The radiologist had determined I had “a lot of bowel.” A lot of bowel? Yep. Also known as constipation. Yes, I spent a shit ton (pun totally intended) of time and money on appointments and tests to find out I’m full of shit—literally.

I’m completely mortified that I expended so much brain power and hard-earned cash on a medical condition—if I can even call it that—that is preventable.

My doctor called on a Monday morning with those results. I definitely had something wrong with me, and it was downright shitty.

I turned back to the internet, as any good patient does, to do more digging. What I came up with is that I’m not alone. Apparently, 4,000,000 people suffer from constipation–more of whom are women.

According to the Mayo Clinic, occasional constipation is normal. But then there’s chronic constipation. And that’s a problem. Symptoms include hard or lumpy stools, feeling like there’s a blockage, straining, and having less than three bowel movements a week. If two or more of the symptoms last three months or longer, you need to see your doc–because you very well may have chronic constipation.

I honestly don’t know if my inability to poop was chronic or not, only because I have been totally consumed with summer and then settling my kids back into the school routine. I’m definitely blaming my mom responsibilities for my constipation, though.

Most women I know are like me, moms running around—as the old saying goes—like chickens with our heads cut off. We work, we cart the kids all over town, and we collapse in bed at night only to worry about our kids and our jobs. Thoughts give way to more thoughts. Am I tending to my marriage enough? Did I sign my son’s field trip permission slip? I didn’t schedule my daughter’s dental appointment—again!

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It’s not shocking that we haven’t quite figured out how to work in making sure our gut flora is blooming–or whatever it does—perfectly well. Where does whipping up a fresh, organic kale-celery morning smoothie fit into real life? If you’re like me, each morning you grab a power bar and your thermos of coffee, dashing out the door with kids tumbling behind you.

I don’t give my gut health that much thought. I mean, I know going number two is supposedly important, but I’m much too busy tracking my toddler’s toilet time—complete with bottom-wiping assistance and reading Everyone Poops. Plus cheering. So much cheering.

I thought I was doing OK until I got the shitty news. After all, I exercise four times a week—which is a great way to help my body do what it’s supposed to be doing. I’m a vegetarian, so I guessed I was eating enough fiber from fresh fruits and veggies. And yes, I do take a probiotic, so I assumed I was covered.

If you’re like me, each morning you grab a power bar and your thermos of coffee, dashing out the door with kids tumbling behind you.

But I discovered from Harvard Health Publishing that there are a number of reasons why someone can be constipated. A low fiber diet is one of the main culprits, but certain medications can be constipating. Underlying diseases can also manifest as constipation and other symptoms. But after visiting my functional medicine doctor, we figured out why my colon was being so stubborn.

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I was absolutely not drinking enough water. I’m a coffee-sipper. I love carbonated, fruity, canned water, because it’s convenient and flavorful. I’ll have a glass of my favorite blackberry wine a few nights a week. But water? I deem it plain, boring, and unintriguing.

However, I was determined to no longer feel like shit–because of all the shit. So I found a formula that tells a person how many ounces of water they should consume in a day. I was scared to hit the “calculate” button, certain I’d be told to drink forty-seven gallons of water every twenty-four hours.

Lo and behold, I need approximately seventy ounces of water a day, which is about nine cups. This was daunting, but not unreasonable. To make the feat more manageable, I filled a glass pitcher with filtered water after marking the eighty-ounce point on the pitcher with painter’s tape. I keep the pitcher on the kitchen counter, pouring from it all day long until it’s gone. So far, so good.

I had a few dear friends ask me if I was OK and what the doctor said. I hesitantly admitted that I’d gotten to the bottom–wink, wink–of my pain, nausea, and fatigue. I was constipated, and the remedy was to drink more water so I could take a dump on the regular. I received a lot of laughing face emojis in response. That’s what friends are for, right?

Truly, the situation is funny, not funny. I had no idea being backed up could make me feel so ill.

After the week-long drama, a lemon-flavored bottle of magnesium citrate, and drinking seventy ounces of water a day, I can proudly say I’ve loosed the caboose and plan to keep doing so. I’m also upping my fresh fruits and veggies intake and setting a reminder on my phone to take my probiotics.

Now I’m just waiting for someone to stand beside me and cheer.

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