Do you know why I’m thankful for IBS?

Let me set the scene: it was my early twenties – maybe 22 or 23. I was living in Chicago, working at my first full-time professional job. The job seemed wonderful – program coordinator for cross-cultural training programs. Ah yes, this was the type of job that made up for all of the “stay-in-school” jobs that got me through college. This was it!

A small dynamic company, located in a skyscraper in downtown Chicago. Going to work in my tennis shoes and switching into my heels when I got there just like the other professional women. A salary with a regular paycheck. 35 of us all working toward the same purpose, passionate about travel and culture and helping people not be “ugly Americans” when they go overseas. I felt so lucky to be working there.

However, mix that with a dose of perfectionism, overachievement, weekly unpaid overtime, and saying yes to every request.

I felt like crap. Literally.

I didn’t feel good and all of my symptoms revolved around my digestive system. That’s when I started down what felt like the rabbit hole of doctor’s appointments and testing. Primary care, then a specialist, then trial medication, then a colonoscopy, then a different medication, and so on.

Discouraged by the diagnosis. IBS. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Oh I felt so frustrated. All it meant to me at the time is that it wasn’t a diagnosis – it was like an un-diagnosis. “Well, you don’t have A, B, or C, so we’re going to call it IBS.”

Then there was the day when my doctor looked at me exasperated, “Well, Laurie, I don’t know what else to tell you. This is all I can do.” I went home and cried. Frustration, helplessness, still feeling symptomatic.

Bemoaning to a good friend about it, she ever so gently suggested “Why don’t you go see this acupuncturist I know?”

At that point, I figured it couldn’t hurt and I already liked some forms of alternative healthcare. Although I didn’t much care for the thought of needles – I’m the type of person who turns the other direction when they draw blood for labwork. But might as well give it a try.

Went to my first appointment.

Oh. My. Goodness. I had never felt so relaxed in all my life. I walked out of there like I was floating on air.

All of my symptoms weren’t gone magically overnight, but I finally felt like I was on the right track.

Through a series of treatments, besides the benefits of the treatments themselves, my acupuncturist helped me try to get to the bottom (hahaha, very punny!) of things. For me the root cause was stress and then exacerbated by certain foods. Yes, you probably could have guessed that from earlier in my story, but I didn’t put two and two together at the time.

Like many other people, I had a blind spot about my stress. Of course I knew I was stressed out, I talked about it all the time to whoever would listen, but until then, I hadn’t connected the dots that stress was really and truly wreaking havoc on me.

While I have had occasional flares over the last two decades, I have been primarily IBS symptom-free. I have two blessings that came out of this whole adventure…

One is that I can now appreciate my body’s “early warning system” – if I start getting symptomatic, I know that’s my sign to start reducing my stress level and checking my foods.

What was even more life-changing is that experience was the single most important influence on my diving into the field of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine – a profession I love. I am so thankful.

I now feel a certain kindredship with my IBS patients. Our stories may be different, our symptoms may be different, but I understand the frustration and I know that there is hope.


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