Monday, March 27, 2017

Grief, Bloating And Narcotics

"The death of a loved one can trigger fears about your own mortality." Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross

Just when I thought I had dealt with almost every unexpected thing a person could. Why would I ever think that?

Naaahhh not me, said I until last Fall. Thought I had escaped this symptom of grief, thought I would skate on by it actually. Little did I know what the next 6 months (and it's not over), would bring the moment I had realized I had gained 15 pounds since moving to the Bay and noticed that my belly looked 5 months pregnant. Little did I know that I would be captivated, and eventually paralyzed by fear for months to come, with my own death. Not only that, but convinced I was dying of the disease my best friend had when she died, Gastroperisis. I was engulfed in this symptom, and it knocked me out.

I haven't written, or read for that matter, in 6 months. I'm not in the thick of what I went through anymore so I decided it was time to write, and share openly about my experience.
Late last summer, I noticed my weight gain since Feb. of 2015. I figured no big deal, I can handle it, afterall I knew it was because I ate anything and everything the first year and a half that we lived here, and it was fun. Croissants and Fried Chicken?! Yes please! But there was something else that was different, my belly was different. I had never experienced bloating,except for during my time of the month. This could not be that I knew. And it was more than bloating, it was straight up distention! I emailed my doctor and of course her response was, "It's really common for women over 40 to have bloating from time to time." I knew this, wasn't that! I just knew. I eat a pretty decent diet already, and I knew the foods I was eating wouldn't be doing this.

That led me frantically to a series of natural doctors, puzzle piecing, and my own research. I was in a downward spiral believing I was going to die, and riddled with chronic worry and fear. But first let me back up a bit.

I have been on a narcotic, a strong one for about a decade. It feels like a dirty little secret, but some close friends and family know. And now you do.
I started the med after my hysterectomy in 2007 on a regular basis and because I've had chronic pain for 20 years due to severe endometriosis, and especially after a slew of surgeries from 2006-2010, it was prescribed to me. Fast forward in 2013, I was at a women's retreat, and I had ran out of my pain meds. Not having them made me emotionally and physically miserable. I remember getting up to use the bathroom at 2am, and I was disoriented, but I was also stressed because I wanted to take a pain med so desperately. I literally saw a flash of light (I know this sounds weird), and I loud and clear heard God say, "3 more months my child, 3 more months....." it was God telling me and trying to guide me in the direction to get OFF the pain medication. DISCLAIMER: My body was dependent on the pain medication but I was not and am not an addict.

I ignored Him. Not for 3 months, but for 3 years.

God has already given us everything we need to do what needs to be done. We just need to find the courage to do it. Whatever IT is.

Back to last September when my bloating began. I started researching all these natural doctors--I had already been going to someone who practiced Chi Nei Tsang (visceral manipulation), weekly for chronic pain from adhesions and lots of scar tissue. But I researched other natural options because I wanted answers about why I was having such severe distention (it's awful and extremely uncomfortable). I saw a couple naturopaths, and I saw and still see a chiropractor that specializes in gut health. She is amazing BTW.
I also saw and still see a Chinese doctor and he performs acupuncture.
I decided from what I was learning from these docs to go off over 80% of sugar, I stopped drinking La Croix (I literally thought that was what was causing the bloating but I'm drinking it again since I now know that isn't why), I ate and still eat a mostly fruit and veggie diet with cheating often, limited and still limit dairy and wheat. Started Chinese medicine herbs, lots of enzyme supplements, probiotics, and other natural remedies like essential oils targeted for digestion etc. and nothing has really made a difference. Some of that has helped and continues to help on a daily basis, but I was still experiencing the symptoms.

Here is what most of the doctors, western and eastern medicine said:
Wait, what? What did you say???
"Go off your narcotics, those harsh drugs can cause gut issues..."
What??? Come again??? That's not happening.
They were convinced if I went off of them, I'd get better.

And so the fear kicks in. I know Amy, my best friend that died, was on narcotics on and off due to a car accident years ago, and then especially the last few years due to her illness. So instantly in my mind I think I have what she had...Gastroperisis, because our symptoms were very similar. (It was not confirmed that her ever being on narcotics is what caused her disease BTW). But the irony is written on the wall.
Gastroparisis is when the stomach becomes paralyzed and you're unable to digest food basically, and food sits in the stomach for more than 6 hours. I remember when she first called me years ago and told me when her symptoms started, so naturally when similar symptoms started for me I thought, "OH my gosh, I am going to die."

So, December 3, 2016 is the day I took my last pain pill. It's been almost 4 months! It was and has been a living hell. It's one of the hardest things I've ever done! It's not like I decided to go off it because I no longer had pain. It's not easy to admit any of this. It's embarrassing for me to know that others know.

The withdrawals were terrible, but what's been more awful and unbearable has been the detox symptoms. My liver is not detoxing (it's slowly starting to now), and my spleen has been compromised because of that. The liver is what filters drugs and alcohol and other substances, and mine is overloaded and backed up from all the narcotic use. That is what also has prohibited me from losing weight because the liver dysfunction creates a "holding on" reaction, so the body can't release well. It forces the body to hold onto food or fluids, so yes I'm sure the weight gain was from overeating when moving here, but not being ABLE to lose it has made me gain more. My enzyme levels are low too because my pancreas is affected because my spleen is affected. Because my digestion is so slow, food sits in my tummy longer but also my small intestine isn't able to do a proper job of breaking food down. Did you follow all of that??

For months I lay in fear in my bed as I sailed through Gilmore Girls and Gilmore Girls 2016. Intermittently asking God where He was and why He wasn't giving me clear answers as to what was really wrong with me! I barely left the apartment from Oct-Feb. I was convinced I had a blood clot in my leg, hypothyroidism, stomach cancer, cysts in my liver and kidney, kidney name it. I was overcome with fear. With my own mortality, right at my feet. Convinced this was it...I was creating a story in my head, and I figured it had to be correct!

Thing is is my symptoms are not the same as Amy's were, but similar. Thing is is I am not Amy. Meaning I don't have her body, I don't have her story. I have my own story. But I drowned in my loneliness and isolation because I was going through this alone. I didn't have a buddy I could go off of my narcotic with like one might have a "gym buddy".
Friends and family were supportive, (one of my friends texted every other day checking in on my detox symptoms). I walked this alone, and it was hard for people to relate. It was all so real (thinking I was dying),  and so scary for me.

I have also felt like God has just left me here to go through this alone, and that's also been confusing. But I've learned He doesn't always have to be teaching, showing and speaking. Sometimes I just have to go through something, and I can know and trust He's there, and I'm not alone. God tends to know when we need a word from Him, and if He's quiet, He must know, "We've got this." Meaning, we've got all we need right now.

I have had no motivation, the detox symptoms can be severe, I'm tired, I get bad headaches and the brain fog can be awful. I seem to be improving weekly but some days, even weeks are harder than others. Especially because my doctor said the reason I can't read or write right now is because all my brain energy has to go into getting well! My body has gotten use to the narcotic chemicals in my organs and system for so long, it takes quite a while for the body to resume as it should be without the drug.

Now that I've been off the pain med for almost 4 months, I am still having belly distention and digestive issues. It is beyond frustrating. But what I've learned and have to believe is that because I was on them for so long, it can take up to a YEAR for symptoms to subside. What happens is the narcotic slows down your entire digestive system. I was constipated (TMI, sorry) for years, so it's not like it happened over night! I just didn't realize what was happening. My system started slowing down years ago, and the emotional pain and trauma from grief, the move to the Bay, our house flood, the divorces of both my siblings, my daughter's motorcycle accident and other stressors, created a complete digestive monster! Digestive issues is the number one physical symptom of grief! And we are all learning in the news that the gut is the second brain! The flora in our gut causes Alzheimer's! That is why when you are studying for a test, or you are anxious or nervous about public speaking etc... we get a "nervous stomach", meaning we get cramps and well you know how the rest plays out.

I am hoping and praying that my symptoms will improve and that by 6 months they will even be a bit better. I need to trust and believe that there is nothing else wrong...some mysterious disease happening that I don't know about. I have to believe that it has been the narcotic use and emotional trauma over the last two years that has caused these digestive issues.
What's the most frustrating and maddening is that I went off the narcotic thinking I would solve the issue, and that's not how it's gone down. I keep thinking A+B=C, but it isn't happening that smoothly. What, do I want a gold star or something? An award for going off my narcotic?? Maybe...yes.

I thought I had been given enough examples and traumas in life to learn endurance and patience, but I guess new circumstances can bring that as a challenge regardless.

I'll keep eating my greens, drinking lots of lemon water (and apple cider vinegar), castor oil packs, Epsom salt baths, taking milk thistle for my liver and using essential oils, it all gets so boring LOL. My tummy doesn't even gurgle anymore and I don't fart much :(
I am finally at a place where I joined a gym, the Y, so I can slowly start exercising. I completed my first Yoga class! After 43 surgeries, 6 years of physical therapy, and finally getting off my narcotic, that is a huge accomplishment! I want to keep at getting well.

I'm so thankful for the friends and family that were so supportive of me through these last several months. And like my doctors are saying, "Something new is on the horizon for you Gina, your life is turning a new leaf, and the narcotics were holding you is the limit now!"

I'm definitely doing it all to be well so I can live life. I grab hold life of now, and I know Amy is smiling form ear to ear in complete and utter pride of her best friend.


Pat Riley said...

Gina, you have a long road ahead but you're on the way. You're a lucky lady in that you have a long list of people who will love and support you through this journey. I have great pride in knowing such a wonderful young lady.

Stephanie said...

Hello! Thank you for sharing your story!!! You are brave and so strong! I have had PTSD and trauma and have had a fear/panic disorder that was finally diagnosed after some traumatic health situations- I'm saying all this because I have worked so long to try and heal and all the things you listed I have gone and they have helped but this last year I started doing EMDR ( google it!) with a certified therapist and I truly believe it has helped me process and release the trauma and chronic pain my body is and has been holding onto. So I just wanted to mention it to you in case you can look into a certified therapist in your area that you could check into. Many blessings and hope and peace and grace for your journey! Much love!

henning love said...

wow Gina what a post, thank you for sharing all of this with us. xoxo

BARBIE said...

I'm so sorry you've been going through all of this. I am praying for you my friend!

Chrissy said...

Gina, I am so sorry you had had to go through all of this. But you are on the right road!
I missed you and I am glad to "read" you again!
Just know you are not alone!
Hugs xxx

Emily Shane said...

wow Gina what a post, thank you for sharing all of this with us.

dawn burnside said...

Greetings from Virginia Gina,
I am sitting here in awe of your post. What a journey you are on & I sincerely applaude you for being so honest& sharing it. I have always thought I am doomed & a prisoner to my stomach issues & chronic pain. I have been on a narcotic (pain mngmt)for 26 years. I, like you have had many surgeries & the last one has really changed my entire lifestyle. In my relationship with God, I am feeling convicted. I feel like my "secret" is such a heavy burden. But I cannot ignore what I believe He is saying to me. If I may please take a bit of your time & tell you that in 1991 I was assaulted by a stalker who hit me in the forehead with a hammer that penetrated my brain. He then proceeded to stab me over 20 times.I have injuries that I "feel" to this day.I also have doctors telling me that I should go off of my pain meds, that I have been on them to long. I know a lot of my stomach issues are due to the medicine as it is common for me to go to the restroom once a week, sometimes a little longer.(so sorry for tmi) I am active at my church, just started voluteering & I love it. I live 2 blocks from the ocean so I walk daily, reflect there, rejuvinate there, & look for many seashells there. I "have" to walk daily as I have a failed total knee replacement that directly resulted in my breaking my femur in the same leg. Every step is painful but since I am on medication it is tollerable. BUT the more I get closer to Jesus, the more I feel this "feeling of shame" & I am paralyzed at the thought of going off of them. I know exactly what withdrawl entails & how it can go on & on but I am also terrified at the thought of not being able to move any closer to God or grow with every season. It's as if I am not repenting of something & the price for that is unfathomable.You seem to have done what I have always thought was un~doable.You take care of yourself physically & mentally & spiritually as well. I don't mean to know your many attributes I'm just guessing there are many. And you write so beautifully, so honest & real. I just can't believe I came across your blog by chance. I am terrified inside, I have recently gone on medication for depression which I have suffered from since my early teens.The kind of darkness that dirupts every part of my being. I do try not to let this all define me, I do love "art" & journalling & gardening & having neices & mephews in my life daily BUT I just feel like something is wrong, wrong with me. I have not shared this with anyone, my Dr's or my women's group from church who are great friends. Every day that goes by I am aware of my struggle & do I have the backbone to be as real & honest as you are. I am running out of precious time. I am "truly Thankful" to have found your blog & am grateful to be able to express some of my pain & fear here. You have no idea how your bravery has helped me today. Bless you & Thank you so much.
A friend in Christ,

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