Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Young Adult Tales 6--Challenges

This is the last in my series of posts recounting my Young Adult Years, hosted by Ginny Marie (thanks Ginny!) over at Mommy's Piggy Tales. Inspired by this post by Tree Root and Twig, I've decided to write about my "challenges" that began in law school with the onset of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, followed by Depression and Agoraphobia--and how I deal with them today. Irritable Bowel Syndrome

I talked a little bit the history of my IBS in this post. Symptoms began my second semester of law school (although I can look back at a few weird incidents prior to that, but they were few and far between). We had a class called Torts that was immediately after lunch twice a week. A few minutes into class (like clockwork), I had to poop. Urgently. I couldn't hold it in. I had to leave class, use the bathroom, and return. {So embarrassing!} Weird, but it was only those 2 days a week and life went on. I don't remember the exact progression but over time these urgent episodes got more frequent and less predictable. By the end of law school, I was taking a lot of Pepto Bismol for diarrhea and Rolaids/Tums for gas.

During Bar review was when I started having episodes in cars--we would often have to stop at a gas station on the way from our apartment to class (about 20 minutes).

We flew from LA to Chicago and back around Easter of '99 (this was a couple months after Bar review). Sitting on the plane waiting to take off in Chicago, seatbelt sign on, I really really really needed to poop. I'm sure I took a ton of Pepto but still, this was really bad and I had this thought of I'm going to poop right here in this seat and make a big mess and it will smell and the stewardesses will know. It was awful. By the grace of God, I held it till the seatbelt sign turned off--but it was a long time before I was willing to fly again.

A couple months after that, we drove to my sister's college graduation. The drive was miserable, we had to stop a lot. Then the actual graduation ceremony was a disaster. The first time I had to use the bathroom, I discovered there was a long line for the ladies room. I managed to hold it, but there was no way I could stay in this situation where I couldn't get to a bathroom when I needed to. Anyway, the whole weekend was horrible and humiliating and everyone kept asking what was wrong with me, assumed I had a UTI or was pregnant (I was, after all, a newlywed)--just awful!

Back in LA, I finally saw a doctor. She diagnosed IBS and I think she prescribed Levsin. She also tried to figure out if it was tied to stress (no, the symptoms were always around whether high-stress (Bar review) or low-stress (being a couch potato)) or depression or what food I was eating (I did a diary, eliminated caffeine, nothing mattered). In the days following this conversation, I had a lightbulb moment--maybe I'm depressed. I talked with my doctor and she confirmed it, put me on Zoloft, and I started therapy. {More on the depression in a minute.}

Okay, so once I was diagnosed with IBS and Depression, things were better for a while. But symptoms went up and down, I tried different medications, this and that. I finally had a colonoscopy in 2001, it only confirmed that there was nothing wrong other than IBS.

Sorry, this isn't making any sense. I've had IBS for 13 years now, so I have to pick and choose what is worth telling. Here's the gist, by 1999 my symptoms were so bad I hated to leave my home. Once I was diagnosed and medicated, things got better, but I was still disabled by it, unable to work, to drive etc. But I learned to cope and gradually added more things I could do, like go to church. I could go places if Hubby drove. Etc.

Where I Am Now

If you've read my blog, you know I get around all the time, I'm constantly taking my kids to school, speech, doctor's appointments. I am not currently on prescription meds. I take Metamucil and Acidophilis daily and Imodium as needed. I take Imodium a lot, several times a week in the course of driving around, two pills per dose, and hopefully I can make it to a gas station in time.

Strategies: I give myself extra time to get anywhere I'm going. If a drive takes 30 minutes, I leave 45 minutes before I need to be there--because I might need to make a stop. If a drive takes more than 5 minutes, I may have to stop. L's preschool is 10 minutes from here, and sometimes I can't make it without stopping for a bathroom. I routinely (2 times out of 3) stop on the way to speech, about a 20 minute drive if the stoplights cooperate. It sucks. Especially with both kids in the car--I have to unbuckle and rebuckle two car seats--but this is how I get around. I know where all the bathrooms are--in all the stores I shop at, in all the gas stations and fast food places I might need to stop at on my routes.


I was diagnosed with Depression in the middle of 1999, but I can see, in hindsight, the onset of symptoms following my summer in South Dakota, fall of 1997. My first symptom was I didn't want to drive anymore. I put thousands of miles on my car in SD and I didn't want to drive from my apartment to school. WTF?! Ah, but there was a "reasonable" explanation--on my way out of Eagle Butte, I almost ran over a kid on a bicycle. (I saw him on one side of the road and slowed down and I thought he was letting me by, but then he darted across the street anyway. I was going slow enough that I stopped in plenty of time, but it still shook me up.)

I also lost interest in attending classes and doing homework. But again, this seemed reasonable. I'd worked superhard my first year and everyone around me was burnt out too.

Anyway, none of this was too bad or interfered much with life (other than Hubby (my fiance at the time) did all the driving and my grades dropped) until I was a full-time couch potato in '99. My doctor put me on Zoloft and within a few weeks I was feeling much better. She recommended I stay on the drug for at least 9 months to prevent a recurrence, so I went off Zoloft when 9 months were up. Oh and the therapy was nice too. I did that once a week or 2 until we left LA at the end of '99.

In 2005, after having my son, my Hubby and I were "on the lookout" for post-partum depression symptoms because of my history, yet we still missed them. My symptoms that time around were irritability and wishing to turn the clock back to pre-baby days. Anyway, I figured it out right before L turned 6 months (right before he got sick and our lives turned upside down). I went on the Zoloft again, because I'd had good history with it and it was safe for breastfeeding. Unfortunately, it increased my anxiety (previously, my anxiety had been all about the IBS and being away from bathrooms, now I was anxious even doing routine things that previously had not been a problem). In the fall of '06 I chose a new primary care physician--I showed up and said, "I have IBS, I'm Depressed, help me" and she's been great. First off, she switched me from Zoloft to Lexapro and that helped the anxiety. I was on that for a year or two and she helped me get off of it so I could conceive T.

When I was pregnant with T, I didn't want to hit bottom again with PPD. So I asked my primary doctor if she'd prescribe Lexapro as soon as I delivered. She said no, no meds unless/until I need it. So I asked my OBGYN what she thought. She said I could go on Lexapro immediately after T was born so I said great, let's do it. {Lexapro is not considered safe for breastfeeding but for EE-related reasons, I knew I wouldn't be breastfeeding anyway.} I definitely did develop PPD again--I started off on 10 mg of Lex at birth and a few weeks later had to up it to 20mg, I still have days I wonder if I should be more medicated. But I also know that self-care goes a long way to keeping up my mental health, as my doctor likes to remind me--I need alone time and exercise. I struggle with the exercise, but I've seen first hand that if I don't get out by myself once per weekend, I'm have a shorter fuse all week.


Okay, I know this post is super long already, but I have to tell this part of the story. So I was a full-time couch potato starting in '99, I rarely drove after fall of '97 (and pretty much never from 2000-06). When my fall '06 doctor put me on Lexapro, she made me get counseling. I love therapy but it was really tough without childcare, not to mention expensive. Anyway, so I started seeing this therapist and he basically called me agoraphobic and I was like "I go out all the time, just with someone else driving" (in addition to Hubby taking me places, I also had met a friend who would come pick up L and me to hang out and shop and do playdates, bless you, Catherine). Anyway, I learned that agoraphobia includes any avoidance behavior, so that would include me and my driving avoidance.

The avoiding driving of course overlapped with the IBS getting worse and I hit a point where I thought "I can't drive, I have to concentrate on holding in the poop." And I have had one incident in particular where I was driving and needing a bathroom and I ran a red light (it turned yellow and I couldn't stand the thought of waiting at a long light when I needed a bathroom so I floored it, but didn't quite make it through when it turned red). That was a huge wake up call because the kids were in the car and I can't put our safety at risk like that. Worst case scenario, I poop my pants, but I will stop on yellow!

Then my husband was in a car accident. Well, first, my therapist had me practice leaving my house. I did a little driving-- once to Target, and once around the block several times, going home and leaving again each time--what was this called? Exposure therapy maybe. Anyway, so Hubby is in a car accident. The car was totalled and Hubby hurt his back. And it was almost Christmas. So one day I had to finish shopping in time to get a gift in the mail and I took L with me to Target and shopped and whatever. And I told my therapist about this and I was like "Why can I do this for someone else {meaning helping Hubby by not leaving the errand up to him} but not myself? Am I just lazy?" And he said "possibly." To this day, I don't know if he was serious, or this was reverse psychology, or sarcasm. Either way, it was eye-opening. So using his techniques and exposure or whatever, I gradually drove more and more. I still avoid freeways (which I've never liked, even when I was "normal") but otherwise I get around to quite a big radius these days. :-)

If you made it through this book-length post, I thank you! I thank Tree Root and Twig for spurring me to write this post, I hope it might help someone who is struggling with any of these issues. Feel free to leave me a question in the comments if something didn't make sense or I left something out. For more (hopefully happier) Young Adult Tales, go here. Thanks again!


Ginny Marie said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story! My sisters and my dad all have depression, and it has sometimes been a struggle to have the right medications and the right dosage. My baby sis has also been diagnosed with IBS. I had no idea how severe it can be! It's wonderful that you are so open about yourself. You will definitely help someone else out there feel less alone!

Thanks for participating in My Young Adult Years. I've really enjoyed reading your posts!

Aspiring Mom2three said...

I'm so glad you shared your story. Like Ginny, I had no idea it could be so severe. A young mom at church has IBS, but I never really knew what it was about. Our son has suffered from constipation since he was a toddler and he is now 12. It is still a constant struggle. Thank you for being transparent and real.

Thank you so much for each time you've stopped by and left a comment of encouragement.