I swore I would be completely honest about this SIBO journey, but damn it was a lot easier to be honest when things were going well. Things are not going well at the present time.
I haven’t really been sleeping well for the last couple of months, and if you know me then you know that sleep is probably the most important thing I do to look after myself. If I’m not rested I can’t function. And in the last couple of weeks my sleep has been getting sooooo much worse. The last few nights have been maybe an hour or two of shut eye – and not very good rests even during those puny amounts.
I’m a disaster.
I’ve talked with my naturopath and we agreed it was likely that some of my anxiety was seeking attention – because I also had started feeling more and more anxious – something that always happens when I’m not getting enough sleep. However, in the last few days I noticed some of the body aches were back, my head is throbbing, and I basically just felt really unwell.
It’s the SIBO. Something I’ve been eating has to be aggravating it. Which in turn aggravates me because my diet has been SO restricted. So, while I was lying in bed last night at 3am cursing up a storm about how I was never going to sleep again I decided to go back to the basics. For me that means my “hamburger soup” which is essentially ground beef, tomato paste, beef bone broth, and kale made in the instant pot. Yum. But when get discouraged I tell myself that there are literally millions (maybe billions) of people who would love to eat what I’m eating so I shut my mouth and remember to be grateful.
Another thing I am super grateful for is our local butcher shop in Cochrane “The Butchery Block” because that is the place where I have been sourcing all of my beef. I’ve found most grocery store meat makes me feel nauseous, but their stuff is fantastic – it’s like how I remember beef tasting when I was a kid. They know where they get it from (a ranch in southern Alberta) and their prices are pretty decent. I’m really grateful for that little shop.
Further, this time I’m grateful I didn’t just chalk all these symptoms down to mental health issues. SIBO makes me anxious, it bring up trauma like feelings, and leaves me exhausted. But it doesn’t mean that I’m failing at caring for my mental health, it means that there are some physical issues that need to be addressed. I mean, Im always working at my mental health – but sometimes there are physical issues that can be the source of mental health like symptoms, and I think it’s very important that we remember that.
Fingers crossed that things start to get better over the next couple of days while I enjoy my hamburger soup!
I love this legend. This was the reason why I started bringing in the flower books to the hospital when Dad was so sick. I was trying to remember the story but was falling (very) short. I felt so badly for dad who had gone to so much work to put together all of these treasures so that we could remember what he taught us forever. So now this story to me is more than just a beautiful legend, but a treasured memory of time with my dad.
Blackfoot legend retold by Annora Brown, photos by John Ramsay.
When I was a little girl, Dad used to take me and my sister out looking at the plethora of wildflowers that surrounded us here on the ranch. I never would have imagined that most of them would have disappeared in recent years, and this makes me appreciate the beauty and the bounty we enjoyed back in the day. Dad knew all of the names of all of the flowers, and he usually knew a little story to go along with them too. It wasn’t until I was much older that I appreciated how much work he put into his wildflower knowledge. Even if he’d known all of the flowers that surrounded him growing up in northern Ontario (and i think he did know most of them), he still had to learn all of Alberta’s wildflowers. This kind of became his thing, and after years of showing the flowers to me and my sister, he took friends on walks in Kananaskis, learned to photograph the flowers with an amazing talent, and later on took his grandkids on flower walks – each kid with the same wildflower book we had as kids, with spots in the book to write where each flower was spotted.
Dad put together a wildflower book for us, complete with his own photographs and the stories that he wanted us to know that go along with them. I remember when Dad was in the hospital, near the end, and I’d either take in old photo albums, or these flower books and go through them with him, sharing memories or often him just listening to me read. I had to put them away after he died because it was so painful – but I rediscovered them and thought it would be fun to share!
I have always been an anxious sort. I was a kid in the ‘70s and anxiety wasn’t really a thing back then – or if it was I certainly didn’t know about it. I just felt like I was always afraid of doing things – and then pushed myself as hard as I possibly could to prove to myself and the world that I wasn’t a total chicken.
But while I struggled, I didn’t really encounter debilitating anxiety until the beginning of 2007 when I discovered that my husband had been cheating (I found his online dating profile – actually I found the bill while going through our visa and then found the profile). I didn’t handle it well. If I could go back in time that’s the moment I would have walked out of the marriage. It would have saved me and the kids years of trauma and pain. But I didn’t – maybe I didn’t know how to. He dismissed it as nothing and blamed me for overreacting, and we were getting ready to move from Quebec to the States. So I put my feelings on the back burner and carried on.
SIBO can be caused by many things: antibiotics, low stomach acid, food poisoning – but also stress, anxiety and trauma. So being someone who has a history of pushing my feelings waaaay down deep really came back to kick me in the butt (or the small intestine in this case).
I went through the last years of my marriage often barely able to function because of the anxiety I was struggling with (which was also PTSD and trauma – it all kind of got mixed in together). Some days were better, some were terrible. I was not living an authentic life at all, in fact I had become completely disconnected from myself. I used to say that my superpower was my ability to disassociate completely from my body and my life as it was the only way I could handle my marriage. Unfortunately it’s a pretty shitty superpower to have and one that is taking me a long time to retrain myself from.
After I left my marriage, I still battled my anxiety (and trauma) demons on a constant basis. But I didn’t just dance away from an abusive relationship. I returned home to help care for both of my parents as they were dying, I almost lost both of my children to their own traumas, and I found myself in a very nasty divorce situation. So I continued to have reason to feel anxious to say the least.
Then I started studying psychology and slowly I felt my understand of myself beginning to change. I learned that there were ways to train my brain to think differently, and that I could change my perception of who I was. I began working diligently on my mental health and really saw some huge changes.
But that damn anxiety would just pop up out of nowhere. I would work and work, see massive improvements, and then BAM out of nowhere I would literally become debilitated by my anxiety. And for no reason. Nothing had to trigger me, I could be sitting at home happily watching a show on tv, out with friends laughing, or driving down the road singing along with some music. It left me feeling really frustrated. What was the point in working so hard on myself if this anxiety was just going to keep popping up and interfering in my ability to function?
Last summer (2021), I noticed that my joints became much more painful when I ate anything with gluten in it. At that time I had no idea that pretty much everything I liked had gluten in it. I cut out the obvious; bread, pasta, that kind of thing. Then I had sushi and got sick – so the discovery was made that of course gluten is in soy sauce. I slowly learned how to better avoid gluten and started feeling a bit better. I was still anxious, but the joint pain lessening made life a lot easier.
Then around Christmas time (2021) I discovered that certain foods I was eating gave me anxiety. Dairy was a big one (sob), but also weird things like mustard or anything with garlic in it. So I started cutting all of that out too. Essentially I was living on oatmeal, rice, chicken, ghee, and zucchini. Bleh. Still random bouts of anxiety, but not as bad.
So when I went to the naturopath and explained to him how I was feeling after eating certain foods he tested and diagnosed me with SIBO. Holy crap. What a revelation! So my constant battle with anxiety wasn’t just shitty mental health, it was a physical reaction to a physical issue (plus my regular anxiety).
It has been an up and down journey these last 5 months. But in general my anxiety is decreasing all the time. I’m still on a super restricted diet – but nothing like the one I was on before I started with my naturopath. Hardly any carbs, no grains, no dairy, no sugar. Lots of meat and certain vegetables, and egg yolks. Along with all my supplements. Not the most exciting diet, but I’m seeing so much improvement that it’s absolutely worth any sacrifice. Plus the hope is that it’s short term and eventually I’ll be able to enjoy a larger variety of foods.
I went to see my naturopath about a month ago in tears. After a few weeks of much lessened anxiety I was really struggling again. I was really mad at my SIBO, and then even madder at my naturopath when he suggested that we needed to address my trauma so that we could help my body heal. Who wants to hear that? I didn’t want to go there at all. But he was right (he’s been right about everything so far). I’d described to him how when these feelings of intense anxiety bubble up in me from nowhere it reminds me of how afraid I was those last few years in my marriage – where the kids and I lived in constant fear that he’d make good on his threats. And how that would just push me right out of myself. I was really mad at the SIBO for making me feel that way and that’s when the naturopath gently suggested we address some of the trauma. And he was so right.
I’m still on some SIBO stuff. I’m taking iberogast (which some days I swear is nastier than the Tincture of Death, but it’s effective, Allimax, bio-break nasal spray, ashwagandha, and turmeric. But I’m also taking mimulus and oak flower remedy, and gaba-t sap. I noticed a huge change with the gaba I can feel the stress seeping out of my brain after I take it.
It’s funny. I have spent so long really resenting this SIBO condition – even before I knew I had it and could put a name to it I resented it. But in some really weird way it’s a gift. It has forced me to stop and address some really big issues. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life walking around anxious, scared, traumatized and angry. And I now realize that unless I seriously follow this new way of being that I will not only be all of those things but also so freaking sick with SIBO: all the brain fog, upset stomach, bloating, depression, anxiety, joint pain, and whatever else it brings. So I am grateful that I have the opportunity to really dig deep and change some fundamental things about myself and how I see the world.
After getting a positive diagnosis for SIBO using the breath test provided by my naturopath it was time to begin treatment. This was a slow but interesting process.
Phase one was preparing my body for the eradication phase and included lots of liver support. I was prescribed several herbs to help my liver, was drinking lemon infused water (yum), taking Iberia’s, and digestive enzymes. I also began following a SIBO specific diet which was very limited. Mostly I was eating egg yolks and steak for breakfast, and for lunch and supper eating a soup made of ground beef, tomato paste, carrots, and kale. While not cured I certainly noticed I was feeling better. Less head fog, less anxiety – but still at uncomfortable levels for both and still lots of body aches.
I finally got to phase two and started the Tincture of Death. I was so excited because with a name like that it had to be powerful right? Turns out that while it’s a pretty amazing little tincture and does lot of good things, it got its name not because of how it would kill all my wayward bacteria (which it does help do), but because it tastes like death. Or perhaps makes you wish for death while you’re drinking it. I’m pretty used to it now – but damn it took me a minute.
This was combined with some other herbal combinations to help eliminate the bacteria in my small intestine.
I’m now kind of in phase three (the biofilm buster phase) and finishing phase two. It seems there are still some of those buggers persisting.
One thing I’ve discovered about SIBO is that it’s different for everyone. The symptoms can be different, and the recovery as well – some people heal quickly, some struggle for years. I’m hopeful I’ll recover on the quicker side – I’ve got a great naturopath who really understands this issue (and who has experienced and healed from it), and I’m following all the recommendations with precision. But life and stress certainly play a role in this disorder.
I’m discovering how much SIBO has affected my mental health and my ability to function. Next time I’ll delve more into that, but for now I’ll say that when the symptoms are quieted down I feel like I can take on the world. I feel connected to the Divine, and my anxiety is basically gone. I have more energy, sleep better, and feel joyful in ways that I haven’t felt in years. When the SIBO takes over almost immediately I get head fog, body aches, disconnect spiritually and emotionally, and struggle with my anxiety to the point that I can barely handle the day. It sounds so dramatic, but it is so fascinating to me how much my gut health affects my whole way of life.
This year I decided to make a commitment to my physical health. I’ve been dedicated to improving both my mental and spiritual health for a good 10 years now, and had been feeling pretty disappointed because I hadn’t been seeing the improvements I’d been hoping for. Don’t get me wrong, I am a much better version of the person I was 10 years ago. I’ve learned a lot about myself and how my brains works. I’ve been studying for my masters degree in counselling psychology and have had the opportunity to understand my brain, my personality, and my traumas in a completely different way. I’ve been studying spirituality and developing a completely new relationship – a healthier and more secure one – with the Divine. And yet I still felt like shit almost all of the time.
By feeling like shit I mean that no matter how hard I worked through therapy, or on my own, my anxiety was still out of control. My depression would come creeping in for no particular reason except to let itself be known. The bloating, omg the bloating. My whole body ached, I had a fuzzy head to the point where it was difficult to think some days. I was exhausted but not sleeping. I felt like a failure because I was working so hard and not seeing any improvements. Worst of all, when the anxiety would come rushing out of nowhere it gave me all of the same trauma type feelings that I felt from my marriage and that made it pretty much impossible to move beyond the feelings of being stuck in an abusive relationship.
So early this year I went to see my family doctor to see if she could refer me to an allergist. In the previous 6 months or so, I had discovered that certain foods were triggering my moods and my joint pain – particularly gluten (giving up gluten was quite the learning process- that shit is in everything). I told her that while giving up gluten had helped me I still wasn’t feeling good.
I am blessed to have an absolutely fantastic doctor who has taken the time to get to know both me and my children, she listens and doesn’t fix problems with medication alone. She told me that she also had been having some food issues and her recommendation was to go see a naturopath. That recommendation changed everything for me.
I booked myself in with a naturopath in town and really had no idea what to expect. I went in with my list of symptoms expecting to be told that I was making horrible diet choices and that would be about it. Instead he listened to me describe how I was feeling and then asked me if I’d ever heard of SIBO.
No, I had not heard of SIBO – Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth – what in the world is that? So apparently bacteria is not supposed to grow in our small intestines, but sometimes it can creep up in there and cause problems. It can be caused by many things, including antibiotics, unresolved trauma and long term stress. (Hellooooo stress and trauma my old friends). He said that food wise it was particularly triggered by onion and garlic – two of my favourite things to put in my mouth – but that there were many other foods that feed this bacteria.
He gave me a SIBO breath test to take home and use. You have to follow a very restricted diet for a couple of days to prepare, then you drink a nasty lactulose drink and breathe into vials at 20 minute intervals over the next couple of hours. I tested positive for both types of SIBO and my numbers were quite high.
I’m about 3 months into my treatment now. I’ve got a long ways to go, but already I feel better than I have in decades. My physical health has improved – I’m slowly getting more energy, I’m sleeping better. My mental health has improved – my anxiety and depression have decreased to mostly manageable levels. My spiritual connection has completely changed and I am developing a much closer connection to Source.
I’ve decided to chronicle my progress – both the challenges and successes – because it seems that SIBO is a new addition to the IBS game and one that there is very little known about and is often misdiagnosed.
A few years ago a dear old friend of mine (in years not age haha) gifted me a picture she’d found of the “old house” here. The “old house” is the one by the barn that my great grandparents built, and the house that we moved into when we returned home.
It’s cool because not only does this picture look exactly like the “old house”, it actually IS the old house.
I wasn’t sure where to hang it and have tried a few different spots in different rooms. Then today I was looking at the Braeside house where my Grandpa Ramsay lived (you may remember the story my Grandpa Ramsay told, you can find it Here) and realized that these two pictures belong together.
The house where my great-grandparents Copithorne lived, where my grandpa was raised, and the house where my grandpa, and great grandma Ramsay lived with my great-great grandparents in Ontario. And they should be hanging here in the house my grandparents built – our home.
I feel so much gratitude towards this friend who found this picture for me, made a special trip to meet me to give it to me, and who generally has just been a great person to have in my life. We met 21 years ago when we were expecting our now adult sons and have stayed in touch throughout the years.