Once the initial infection had subsided, I was incredibly relieved, thinking I was finally in the clear. As an athlete, I couldn't bear the thought of being "off my game" for more than a day or two. Little did I suspect that my game was going to be significantly "off" for quite some time...
After leaving the infirmary, I was eager to get my body back on track again, but my digestive system was seemingly shot. My efforts to regain some of the muscle mass I had lost during my convalescence went nowhere. And though I felt ravenously hungry all the time, the only dining hall option that looked even remotely appetizing to me was soft-serve vanilla frozen yogurt with Rice Krispies mixed in. Food just didn't appeal to me like it had before.
Regardless, I continued to eat, though nothing satisfied my hunger—and everything seemed to throw my stomach into a frenzy. Each meal left me bloated and gassy, with sharp, explosive pains in my abdomen. No matter what I ate, I would soon be doubled over with cramps, awful indigestion, diarrhea—or all of the above simultaneously. I soon became all too familiar with the location of any and all bathrooms. Half an hour later, I would be too lethargic to move.
What on earth was happening to me? I had always been filled with energy before, and now I wanted to crawl back into bed five times a day. I was always in pain, always uncomfortable—especially around mealtimes.
Food, for the first time to this pasta-loving girl, had become the enemy. I was at war with my own body, and it soon became obvious that I was losing each and every battle.
Early on, I (and everyone around me) attributed my difficulties to stress, combined with a lingering infection in my gut. But as time went on and I made my first career move out of school—working as a footwear designer for PUMA—my health only worsened. I was barely able to get through the day without being sideswiped by extreme pain and overwhelming fatigue. I would retreat to the bathroom every ten minutes or so, locking myself in a stall and pressing on my belly in an effort to get control of the spastic bouts in my intestinal region. To keep my colleagues from suspecting that I was under the weather all the time, I would strategically walk a different way to the ladies' room each time, to avoid passing the same person twice in a row.
My commute to and from the office was even more distressing. I was constantly pulling over to the side of the road: Intense pain in my lower abdomen made it nearly impossible for me to sit up straight and focus on driving. The pain typically worsened throughout the day. I would get home from work and try different strategies to "move" whatever was causing the pain. After numerous trips to the bathroom, I could only get relief by lying on my side in bed.
"Stress" was just not cutting it as the explanation for my pain. I was twenty-three and supposedly healthy, but I wasn't. Was I simply doomed to spend the rest of my life in digestive agony? Such a bleak conclusion was not acceptable. My gut instinct (pun intended) told me there was more to learn.
I began to search for answers in earnest, but all my doctors' appointments stuck to the same script. An identical examination, followed by an identical diagnosis:
"Irritable bowel syndrome."
"IBS...It's becoming quite common."