Let me take you back to last May...
I was just finishing the school year of my first year teaching fitness classes and I was on an all-time high. I had the best job in the entire world, and I was so fortunate to have a group of people (or "regulars") that consistently showed up every week. I was excited about fitness, they were excited about fitness, and I didn't want to lose that excitement over our four month summer.
I wanted to make sure that when I got back in September, we could hit the ground running and I wouldn't have to start building my group all over again. I was thinking about what actions I could take to keep these "followers" engaged and excited about fitness over the summer, which was why I turned to Instagram.
I was already running a "fitness account" for my class participants, although I wasn't taking it very seriously. I decided I would get more consistent with sharing workouts, meals, and what I was doing to stay healthy and active everyday.
A few weeks in, I got this gut feeling that I needed to share about IBS. This was the post that changed everything.
"Okay so I’m gonna be real here for a little bit. This post is something I’ve considered sharing for quite some time, but I have “never gotten around to it” - aka I never felt comfortable sharing something I thought was so personal. This is going to be a long one, so here we go… ••• A few nights ago I was reading an awesome book, Girl, Wash Your Face, by @msrachelhollis and something she said really resonated with me, “When things are allowed to sit in the darkness, when we’re afraid to speak them aloud, we give them power. The darkness lets those fears fester and grow until they become stronger over time. If you never allow your fears out, then how in the world can you disseminate them? ”
••• I have decided I will no longer sit in the dark. I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) about 4.5 years ago. It was during high school, which is already a time filled with many insecurities. Now, I am a lot more open about my IBS, but at the time, I was super embarrassed to talk about it, and hid it as much as I could.
••• In scientific terms, IBS is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that affects the large intestine. Basically I have a lot of *stomach problems*. I have a relatively long list of food intolerances - or “trigger foods” - and have to be mindful of my exercise habits, sleep, stress management, and health in general. Otherwise, I can get extreme stomach aches, bloating, gas, and other symptoms that are definitely TMI….
••• Anyways, you’re probably wondering what the heck the picture above is. That was me clothes shopping last weekend. The first picture is me sucking my stomach in as far as it will go, and the second is me breathing normally and relaxing my stomach (I’m not pushing it out, I promise). When I say I get super bloated, I mean it.
••• As I mentioned, I have become extremely good at hiding my bloating - so good, in fact, that you probably had no idea unless I’ve told you. For example, I (obviously) didn’t buy that dress because, despite loving it, I knew it would never look the way I wanted it to when I’m bloated (which is everyday).
Here’s the thing: my stomach is not normal. I am constantly bloated and there are foods that don’t sit well with me. So what! I am doing my best to find the cause, and learning new things everyday.
••• Even though this is not easy to post, I know I am not alone. Many of us let IBS sit in the dark. We hide it with what we wear, what we eat, or any variety of excuses. We suffer in silence.
••• I am sharing my story because I want to open up the conversation around IBS. I want to use my voice online for good and I don’t want anyone, no matter their age, to go through the embarrassment and shame I went through when I was initially having stomach problems.
••• I am committed to talking more openly about my experiences with IBS and what I have learned along the way. If you or someone you know has been affected by IBS, please feel free to reach out anytime. Regardless, this is a reminder to support the people around you. Whether their struggles are physical, mental, or otherwise, the world could always use a little more love ❤️ "
Posting something so personal was really hard. I just shared a secret I had been hiding for 4.5 years.... 4.5 YEARS! I felt vulnerable and exposed.
But, I was shocked at the response. I was met with so much love and support from friends, family, and complete strangers. I received so many messages and comments from others saying they could relate, or that they thought they were the only one. I am forever grateful to every person that commented, shared, liked, and messaged me. You gave me the courage to keep going.
As the summer went on, I continued sharing about fitness, food, and other fun things. More and more people told me how much they loved my account, how it was inspiring them to make healthier choices, and how they looked forward to my posts. These comments, whether online, in-person, or casual off-handed ones, inspired ME and motivated me to continue making my account bigger and better (and still do).
I dove into books about digital marketing, personal branding, and the world of influence. I figured if I was going to spent a few hours on the app every day anyways (like I have been doing for years), I might as well make it productive. I figured I wouldn't have to feel guilty about spending so much time on Instagram if I was creating content, instead of just consuming it. Quite frankly, I became obsessed.
As summer turned to fall, I continued reading, watching, and learning. I took a digital marketing class, which is why I started website and this blog. Sharing gave me clarity and helped me realize that I didn't want to work in finance or accounting or data analytics like many of my classmates. More importantly, it gave me the courage to work on something I am deeply passionate about instead.
As fall turned to winter, I knew there was no chance I would ever work in the same career paths as many of my classmates. They might love it, but working in a traditional field would be a disservice to myself, a future employer, and pretty much everyone in my life. My heart isn't in a fancy corporate job; it's in helping people feel better, get stronger, and be more confident in themselves.
During this time, I shared a little bit about IBS, but not nearly as much as I would've liked. You see, I was struggling. I was struggling big time. I was bloated everyday. I was exhausted after meals. I had a mile-long list of trigger foods. I would occasionally share posts about how bloated I would get, and saying I could relate. I actually thought I was doing well, especially compared to the agonizing stomach aches and super irregular ~bathroom habits~ I had when I was first diagnosed.
I avoided sharing about the details of things that weren't going so well because, in my mind, sharing symptoms without a solution to offer would have just been complaining. I had accepted feeling "good enough" and didn't realize I had hit a plateau in my IBS journey. My progress had stagnated. I didn't realize how NOT normal I still was. I was so used to not feeling great that I had honestly forgotten what "normal" felt like.
It wasn't until I left for exchange that something changed. If you've been following along, you know that a few weeks in, my IBS got bad, like, really bad. It was worse than it had been in years, and the terrible symptoms from a few years ago were coming back. I finally started to accept that although lifestyle factors like diet and exercise help, I was largely uneducated about the root cause: my gut.
It seems so obvious in retrospect, but then again, you know what they say about 20/20 hindsight. I started reading, listening to podcasts, and searching for answers on Instagram. I had a new fire lit inside me to get to the bottom of my IBS, once and for all.
Anyways, as I was struggling with agonizing stomachaches, sleepless nights, constant fatigue, feeling like the wind was knocked out of me after meals, and bloating SO bad I couldn't wear any shorts but exercise shorts, the opportunity presented itself to try (yet another) product that could help my gut. This company seemed different and they really cared about fixing the root of the problem (aka your gut) through a combination of products called Triplex. Although I was not 100% convinced, I decided to take a chance and try it.
Within a few days, I noticed a huge difference. My symptoms weren't (and still aren't) completely cured, but for the first time, I have hope. As I shared on Instagram,
Sidenote: check out the difference in bloating from just one week of taking these products compared to the pic above!
"I don’t know if it’s fluke, placebo, or if these products will actually be the solution I prayed for... What I do know is that for the first time in YEARS, I have HOPE. ⠀
Hope that I will find a permanent solution. ⠀
Hope that trusting my gut and ignoring my doctors repeated advice to take prescription meds to control the symptoms was the right call.⠀
Hope that I will one day be able to wear whatever I want, including jean shorts (not because of self-confidence, but because of the extreme discomfort from bloating). ⠀
Hope that I can go clothes shopping and not worry about how an outfit will look or feel when I’m bloated. ⠀
Hope that I will be able to enjoy ice cream and chicken nuggies without fearing how bad the symptoms will be this time. ⠀
Hope that I can feel energized after eating instead of depleted. ⠀
Hope that I can share more openly and offer you a solution instead of just support. ⠀ ⠀ If these products give me nothing else but hope, they have already been worth it."
So, here I am, hoping that I am in the middle of my IBS transformation story. I am hoping these products continue to work magic on my gut, and that I can share a success story with you. I hope that one day I can share symptoms I used to have, and have a solution I can offer you so I'm not just complaining. The good news? I think I am on the way there...
As I continue in the current season of my life, I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to be on exchange. I am loving pretty much every part of my life (especially the warm weather), and I am pushing forward in this IBS journey.
One of the most impactful parts has been all of the free time to continue reflecting, learning, and creating. In a month and a half, I have written a ton (stay tuned for exciting things), decided to start a podcast (which launched yesterday), and continued sharing on Instagram.
For the first time in my life, my schedule is not full of doing things for other people. I have no extra-curricular responsibilities, and I am legally forbidden by my Student Visa to get a part-time job. (Sidenote: otherwise I probably would, because these whole budgeting-my-money and spending-responsibly-things aren't going so well...).
I show up for classes, and that's about it. I have so much freedom to CHOOSE where, when, and how I spend my time. All the freedom also means lots of uncertainty. I don't know what my career will look like, I don't know what my stomach will look like (literally and figuratively), and heck, sometimes I don't even know what country I'll be in the next week! I guess that's what being young is all about... :)
At least for now, I don't really mind the uncertainty. I have realized that I would way rather start on a career path that allows me to work on things that I really care about, where and when I want, even if the tradeoff is certainty. It's equally exciting and scary, and for now, I'm just enjoying the ride!
Despite the many different things happening, but there is one thing that is the exact same as when I started sharing last May:
I (still) want to use my voice online for good and I don’t want anyone, no matter their age, to go through the embarrassment and shame I went through when I was initially having stomach problems.
If I can offer more than just relatability and support - if I can offer a solution - you bet I will take the opportunity. You bet I will do everything I can to help others know that it's not just them struggling, and that IBS is not something to be embarrassed about. You bet I will continue working towards my mission of helping others feel good, strong, and confident every day, despite all of the uncertainty. So, stay tuned for a lot more posts about IBS, and hopefully ones with a solution :)
Okay, that's all for now. As always, I'm sending you lots of love and positive vibes <3