This may not be an appetizing post, but I don't feel much like talking about food at the moment.
You see, I've spent the better part of the evening hunched over with the cramps that are part and parcel of "irritable bowel syndrome," that nebulous disorder that can't seem to be pinned down. Yes, I know that I am under stress (but stress doesn't cause this disorder, the Mayo Clinic says -- it merely aggravates it); I know that I had coffee this morning for the first time in a week; I know that I slept poorly last night and have been working much too hard in every area of my life. But why must my innards always suffer?
The gut knows, the gut knows...
I spent almost every evening of the summer of 2005 in much the same position, clenching a hot water bottle to my stomach in the hopes of staving off the cramping and shaking, to little use. Over the course of that summer, after I had spent the previous three years ignoring my belly's signals, I was forced to pay close, painful attention to every motion that my gut made. I became intensely aware -- almost too aware -- of its whimsies and downfalls, and over time noticed that some things made it better, other worse. On the winning side: hot water bottles, herbal tea, and yoga. On the losing side: wheat, oats, raw vegetables, peanuts and almonds.
I understand how chronic illness can play with your brain, how the possibility that "just this one thing" will bring about a miraculous cure. If only I avoid wheat, I thought, I'll never have a stomachache again. This was more or less the case, but the problems still came back from time to time, and I could never be entirely certain that it was the absence of wheat and peanuts, and not some external factor, that was behind the disappearance of my symptoms.
As a scientist, it is frustrating to belong to a sample size of 1. We live our lives as case studies, as exercises in uniqueness. If there were a thousand other people with the same history of an eating disorder, all presenting with the same nightly battle in their bellies, then we might be able to draw some conclusions about it. But here I am the scientist and the subject, and I'm witnessing my own body give way to distress even as I plot new "studies" of my own. A course of acupuncture, an herbal tonic, a return to the no-wheat diet, an elimination of caffeine, an extra hour of sleep, a deep back massage -- what other methods do I have but trial and error? I can use these, one by one, and hope that I'll see a return to normal functioning over time. But I will probably have little idea of why things have gotten any better or any worse, just as right now I don't have a clear explanation for why these cramps have struck me now, when any other week this school year has been just as stressful.
At this point, the scientist in me becomes frustrated, and the mystic wants to take over. Symptoms are signs, she whispers. Listen to what the gut is telling you. Easy to say, hard to follow. My gut rarely speak -- it rumbles and roars! It makes be pay attention after so many years of neglect. Even as I turn my attention towards books and intellectual pursuits, it demands an audience, and won't take no for an answer.
So, for now, I am going to attend to these needs, and go change the hot water bottle.
One last question: has anything similar happened to you? What connection do you see between your digestion and your eating disorder?