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.