Original blog title:
Dealing/Living with Food Anxiety and a long diagnosis… (the blog post I wish i’d read a year ago…)
Note: I have had this blog title saved in my drafts since January 17th 2018. I have been putting off publishing this because I hoped I could add more information to it when I was given a diagnosis. However here I am, in August of 2018, no closer to finding out what is wrong with me. I don’t feel like I can call this a blog post I wish I had read a year ago anymore, as it’s not really going to shed light on what the problem is exactly (I am still trying to figure that out myself). However, I do hope I can bring light to the subject of food anxiety, hence the new blog title ‘Food.’
I am unsure of a place to start. I sit here in my living room at 2:00am on a Saturday morning (oh how I wish it was because i’d been out drinking!) and I have shooting pains in my chest. Ok, that sounds really dramatic. I am sitting on the sofa sipping hot water because I feel like I have got a house-brick sitting just underneath my boobs. Ok that sounds even more dramatic! Have you ever swallowed a piece of food that was maybe slightly too big, for example a piece of pizza crust, and for that moment of it passing down your oesophagus it HURTS? It feels like that! I have recently realised that I had been told from a young age (maybe 12/13) that this feeling was indigestion. However, I have never once had heartburn… Now, as the two sometimes fall hand in hand and my ‘indigestion’ got more severe, I began to think it wasn’t indigestion at all.
I guess this is the point where a hell of a lot of context is needed, so i’m going to have to rewind all the way back to January 2017.
At the beginning of January 2017, I was working a seriously crappy bar job in which breaks were not a thing. I must have signed a contract to be a 24-hour fully functioning robot that ran off of Pepsi. I will be the first to admit that my eating habits had gotten bad. I don’t specifically recall getting this ‘indigestion’ feeling around this time, however I had been so used to getting it at this point, it wouldn’t have really been a shock.
One day, after finishing a ridiculous 9:30-4:30 with no break, I was walking home when I started to feel nauseous. By the time I had arrived home, I had been sick 3 times. I almost felt ‘hangover groggy’, as if I had been on a three day sesh.
Before I had started this bar job, you could have called me a ‘foodie’. Put a 16″ pepperoni pizza in front of me and I could have polished the lot. Want to go for food? Lets go. Greasy kebab after a night out? You’ll find me in Pit Stop. During this time, let me just say, I was also in my 2nd year of University. Lets be honest, we all know student diets are not the best, so this was just a contributing factor. Like all others students, I was a drinker! After a night out in the middle of January 2017, I woke up in the morning with what felt like the most horrendous hangover in the world. So off I went, like I had countless times before, to throw up! (Attractive I know, if you can’t bear the thought of vomit I suggest you click off this post now haha…) A few times that morning I was sick, not being able to keep anything down which was completely normal for a hangover. By 4pm that day, I had still not been able to keep anything down & was throwing up any liquid I had drank every 20 mins or so. This was the point where one of my housemates said, “Are you sure this is a hangover? Maybe you had a dodgy kebab?”
Lets fast forward a week from this point. I had gone back to my moms (moms fix everything) and had continued to be sick for a week straight. I went to the doctors and was given liquid stomach settlers. My sickness eventually passed but in all honesty the trauma of throwing up for a week constantly had took its toll & my insides felt bruised. University doesn’t wait for anyone, so off I went back to my student house and bad eating habits, but quit my job as I needed to get a regular eating pattern back. My appetite had completely disappeared and I remember always saying to my housemates “I wish I could get everything I needed in liquid form and never have to eat again”. Coming from a gal who was a huge foodie just a few months earlier was concerning. So, I stuck to bland plain food such as noodles, pasta, cheese sandwiches and crackers. Obviously the weight started to drop off and THIS was when I started to feel sick in the mornings. Some weeks I was sick every single morning (nothing but bright yellow bile), some weeks I was sick only once. You can only imagine how this would eventually start effecting my University lectures. I would dread my 9ams the night before, for the fact I would have to get up at 7am to take into consideration ‘being sick time’, even though I only lived a 5 minute walk away from campus. It was the beginning of March and I had a physical theatre performance in a couple of weeks. By this point, I was casually walking out of rehearsals to vomit. It was like I had become a pro, sort of accustomed to it. Enough was enough. I went back to my doctor and at this point I was far more concerned about my University performance rather than my health, so they prescribed me anti-sickness tablets to get me through the final rehearsals and performance. I actually kept them in my pocket during the performance and was taking them side-stage.
Lets fast forward again to a-few weeks down the line, which takes us to around April/May 2017. The sickness in the morning wasn’t happening anymore, and this was when the severe ‘indigestion’ feeling started. It would be random, sometimes straight after I ate; sometimes waking me up in the middle of the night with shooting pains across my chest. I would sit in my living room at stupid hours in the night rocking back and forth hugging a hot water bottle, sipping hot water and gobbling packs and packs of Gaviscon tables.
Back to the doctors I go, this time to what I thought was a ‘specialist’ in this sort of thing. (I would later find out that he was a doctor of medicine and only knew how to ‘fix me’ with drugs anyway). I was prescribed Lansoprazole which is part of the PPI family of drugs (Proton Pump Inhibitors). This was because this specific doctor thought it had a lot to do with the acid levels in my stomach, however he would still like to do various tests.
April of 2017 I had a camera down which revealed I had what they called a ‘hiatus hernia’ where part of my stomach bulges up into my oesophagus, explaining why I got this uncomfortable feeling. The doctor told me that the part of my stomach which bulged up went into spasm & could sometimes mimic the feeling of a heart attack. I FINALLY KNEW WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME. I was told that as my hernia was only small (2cm), most people are able to control this with diet and medication with no need for surgery. The Lansoprazole didn’t seem to be helping me, so he swapped me to Ranitadine and then again to Esomeprazole.
I was on these drugs for months which takes us into this year. 2018. I’d actually say this year has been the worst year for me health wise, and I’m beginning to realise only now that it was physically AND mentally. When I started University I was nearly 13 stone. By February 2018 I was down to 10 stone. I wasn’t eating like I should, for the pure fact that it was EASIER to not eat. After almost every meal I was getting stomach ache. One day, I was getting so frustrating with this feeling of food lodged in my chest I decided to go and make myself sick.
This was the best and worse thing I did.
It was instant relief from this lodged food/indigestion pain but it escalated to making myself sick every single time I got the slight feeling of the pain coming along. I wouldn’t let it get as far as the shooting pains across my chest anymore, as I had already stuck my fingers down my throat and used this as my coping mechanism. This was NOT a solution. So off I go again for more tests, this time a tube with a sensor to check my stomach acid levels and another to check my oesophagus muscles.
Luckily for me, between February 2018 when I had these tests and May 2018, University acted as a huge distraction for me and I completely threw myself into it. (GAL GOT A FIRST! Still not entirely sure how I did it.)
Anyway, I was coping through my mom making me regular meals and sending them to my uni house (I love her so damn much omg) which made it easier to at least eat something. Cooking food for yourself or even thinking about what you fancy was a hell of a task when you knew you did not want to eat. At least this way I could pick at something ready made. I still had no appetite and at this point food actually scared me. Looking back now, I definitely had food anxiety. I was taking a combination of all medications I had been given and just hoping for the best, with a hot water acting as my best friend. The weight was still dropping, and by May 2018 I was down to 9 stone. The worse thing about all of this was the comments I received about exactly that. “Jo you’re so thin, you look ill.” Yep that’s because I am. “Get some food down you” Oh I wish I could. “Wow Jo, how have you lost all that weight?” I have a hernia. “Omg I need one of those then!” You really don’t. “Having a hernia must be marvellous! You look great!” All true comments from people I know.
Of course, i’m not blaming those people for what they said; don’t get me wrong I was a little happy with the weight loss to begin with but all I wanted was to be able to eat like a normal person. I am also very aware that I hid this extremely well and no one apart from my family and housemates could have known just how bad it was at times.
So now we are at June 2018. I finished University and moved back to my moms. I think this was when I realised just how bad my relationship with food had got since leaving home 3 years ago. I was jealous of my family looking forward to meal times, hearing my brother ask “What’s for tea?” when my stomach would turn at the thought of food. I still had no appetite and I knew something needed to change again.
- The pressure.
The pressure of having to eat food at specific times was one of my biggest issues, so I would make sure I was eating snacks throughout the day and ‘grazing’ rather than sitting down and having 3 set meals. This helped enormously.
- Have what you fancy. Sometimes your body knows exactly what it needs.
I decided to do exactly what I had said nearly a year ago when I mentioned ‘wanting to get everything I needed from a liquid form’ and brought a blender. Breakfast was my biggest struggle, but drinking a smoothie felt easy, so this was how I built up my appetite again. It really is true what they say, breakfast is the most important meal and sets your stomach up for the day ahead. I was blending my favourite fruit (cherries, strawberries, blackberries) with natural yogurt and milk. After just a few days of having smoothies every morning, I found myself more likely to be hungry around lunch time. I was still having indigestion sometimes, but no where near as often. I felt like progress was being made and I am actually enjoying food again.
I needed to work on my mindset towards food. Being scared of food was becoming a huge issue and I genuinely think I (luckily) tackled this before it got too late and uncontrollable. I had to keep telling myself that I controlled my food and food did not control me.
Huge push back.
Remember those tests I had back in February? I waited 6 months for those results, which brings me to the present day. I was referred to a gastro specialist as my ‘doctor of medicine’ didn’t know what to do with me anymore. This new doctor said nothing abnormal showed on the tests, including my hernia. HA. Ha. HAaHAha. Ahhhhh. Ah. Ok?
I felt so deflated. He said he thought my problems were due to ‘lifestyle changes, stress and University’…
Does that explain why I was only at my best friend house the night before chucking up at 4am because i’d woke up with shooting pains in my chest?
So this is where I am at so far. I can only be thankful that I have managed to get myself (MYSELF) into a better place with food & I am actually relatively ‘ok’ at the moment. I think this news would have broke me if I had been as bad as I was in February.
If anyone is interested, here is my official ‘feedback’ as such from my most recent appointment.
So back to square one I am.
I don’t really know what the point of this post is anymore, I think I just needed to get most of this off my chest. (Ironic). It feels good to talk about it.
If you’ve made it this far into the post then thank you.
Maybe this will help one person dealing with/recognising food anxiety. You really don’t realise how much the world revolves around food until you have a problem with it.
Feel free to message me on twitter @jojobrookesx if you have had any similar symptoms, I’d love to rant with you.