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How I Got Through College with IBS and Gerd

Tips and Experiences

By Ace MeleePublished 2 months ago 16 min read
Top Story - January 2024
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Art AI-Generated by Dream Wombo, edited by Ace Melee via Picsart

*There are moments that might be considered too much information (TMI) for some readers. There was a backstory about an eating disorder (which I do not encourage).* I’m not a doctor or a professional. If you are experiencing symptoms, please see a medical professional. I'm not here to promote anything. I’m sharing my experiences and some tips that may help others get through college.

I’m also still recovering from having my wisdom teeth removed, so the quality might be turned down more than usual because I can’t speak while proofreading.

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In a semi-humorous tone– this is how I describe my GERD and IBS-M (Mixed).

GERD: It’s like my food hates its acid bath, so it wants to come back up. Thanks to emetophobia, the fear of vomiting, I won’t allow it.

IBS-M: A speedrun or a slow-run regarding excrement in the most painful way possible.

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In high school, GERD and IBS were developing, but in college, they progressed, making it more challenging to get through the days, but I found ways to persevere. I was an English: Writing Arts major, aiming for my Bachelor of Arts. Luckily, I made it out alive and learned ways to adapt.

1. Leave Early For School.

I can’t drive due to schizoaffective disorder and dizziness (from a recent car crash). My mom dropped me off at school about two to three hours early every time. It gave me time to do my homework, go to the bathroom, and walk. By the time classes began, I was okay. I still ate before leaving for school. You don’t have to be in your classroom if your class doesn't start until hours later. You can be anywhere-- you can be in the hall (what they call the buildings) or a student community center where you can chill on a couch, do homework, write, or go to the bathroom, so you will be alright when going to class.

2. Keep In Mind What You Eat The Night Before.

It’s best to know the times when you flare up and what foods trigger you. Any food can trigger me, but spicy and fatty foods hurt the most. If I was menstruating and ovulating, flare-ups were inevitable. My earliest was within five minutes of eating. My trigger span mostly kicks within a day because it takes around that time to digest food. I haven’t checked my motility to see if I had a fast or slow digestion. A gastrocolic reflex might cause flare-ups that kick within minutes after eating. Even though I flared up or had indigestion from the night before (most of the time, IBS follows), it doesn’t mean I’m spared the next day.

3. Time and Pick What You’re Eating.

If I was leaving for afternoon classes, I had to be careful about what I ate because GERD likes to try to throw things back up, making it hard to pay attention during class. Therefore, I had to eat Lunchables at 11:00 a.m.– save the real food for supper. I never consumed breakfast because I slept until ten, and morning flare-ups were severe. Lunchables for me decreased the digestive discomfort for my afternoon classes. The meals were small (and not balanced), but it helped and was better than nothing.

When multiple classes required me to bring lunch or dinner, I always got a turkey sub with only meat, cheese, and bread. No condiments! I also got a juice box because drinking water could be depressing… I ate when only one class left, which started a few hours later. No nasty flare-ups, just discomfort.

4. Find the Bathrooms.

During the walks before class, I searched for the bathrooms. Honestly, I do this everywhere. The more bathrooms there were, the better. I had been in college buildings where the women’s restroom was on the third floor, but the distance wasn't that bad, so I could make it. There was only one women’s bathroom on the first floor in another building, but it took longer because of the distance and felt like my hair in the morning. Luckily, I didn’t flare up when I had a lecture in that hall; otherwise, I would’ve never made it.

Before class begins, try to find the bathrooms to map your way to it. You don’t need to ask the professors to go to the restroom– just get up and go. In high school, I was in pain all day because getting permission to use the crapper was terrible. Some teachers don’t let you go, trying to make you focus on your education instead. Jokes on them, the pain made it hard to concentrate, and I had to leave school early sometimes. The time between classes didn’t help– three minutes was not enough. I should’ve grabbed a doctor’s note (Sadly, my issues were dismissed, so I couldn’t get one) that said I could get up without asking.

5. Bathroom-Shy? Get Headphones! Adapt a Mindset!

I am also bathroom-shy. Due to past trauma and hallucinations invading my privacy, the chance of relieving myself was low. When my IBS started and before my traumatic event, I just went without thinking. Private bathrooms were the best (and still are)! I had to wait if I wasn’t the only one in the bathroom. Even after they left, I had a hard time going. I plugged in my headphones to listen to something else and not be self-conscious of what was happening around me. I even do it at home because my family likes to pound on the door and be loud. I have to keep my eyes occupied on my phone or a book because hallucinations of people watching me in my tiny bathroom were not fun.

Everyone poops or outgo the person next to you to insert dominance. I tried the latter mindset, but my body shook its head and said, "Try again, Ace." I remind myself that everyone needs to go; therefore, I can ease up a little. College students rarely say anything while in the bathroom. Maybe ask if you’re okay. If they laugh, they laugh. You can laugh too, depending on how you feel. They are not as harsh as middle schoolers making fun of you for tooting in the bathroom. I nearly cried when that happened to me. College students are adults, and they know everyone needs to go to the bathroom. Ignore them if they are making fun of you for using the toilet or pestering you on why you are taking so long. You might also meet someone with IBS who is also struggling.

6. Keep Moving!

You don’t need to run, do push-ups, or crunches, but having a moving body helps a lot. I walk like two to three times per day, exceeding thirty minutes every time. I listen to music and let my imagination go. What?! An adult having a fantasy? So childish! It keeps my creative mind alive, along with a coping mechanism, so I can poof you away and pretend you don’t exist. It doesn’t prevent my GERD or IBS, but it feels great. I never stopped walking while not feeling the best because I ate something an hour before leaving for school. This also helps my nerves and anxiety, which my IBS likes to leech off of. Mine developed from stress, but now, I don’t have to be anxious to trigger an episode. An episode can trigger an anxiety attack, which makes it worse. Furthermore, it helps when you have trap gas or need to get things moving.

7. Inform Your Professors.

Don’t be afraid of informing your professors about your stomach issues despite not having a doctor’s note (This will be helpful. If you have a doctor’s note or a disability, they can get in trouble for not following it). You don't need to go into detail, just say you have digestive issues that cause you to run to the bathroom a lot or miss class. They can be understanding. During the first few semesters, I didn’t say anything and had to pretend everything was fine. Welp, nope. I had to speak up. My professors were understanding. They’re like, “Just go” or “You can leave if you need to.” Since most of them know me, they know I still do my work and try to make it to class.

If you have professors who don’t give a dang, are dismissive, or are very strict, still don’t be afraid of leaving to the bathroom or need a break from class. You can pass the class if you do your work, turn in work on time, and give it your best. A strict professor doesn't mean they are not approachable! They could be tight around deadlines, following directions, essay grading, or feedback! If they are abusive, that's a different story. If they are the professors who try to fail everyone, it’s them, not you.

8. Don’t Starve Yourself.

I know it’s hard to eat when you have IBS, GERD, or any digestive problem, but you still need to eat. I remember starving myself in second grade because I didn’t want my stomach to be so plumped. This was before I knew about eating disorders. I wasn’t even overweight– I was actually average. Being skinny didn’t make me feel better about myself! The disorder first comes as a mental struggle, and then it becomes physical. Once you start, you have to fight every day. This evolved into a nasty urge that tells me to starve myself when I’m in agony after eating. It made me miss the days when I could eat whatever I wanted. I gave into it in eleventh grade and went back to underweight, and since then, I’ve struggled more. IBS didn’t stop flaring up-- constipation joined the game, but diarrhea was the dominant player. GERD made acid bounce back into my throat whenever I didn’t eat. I developed more indigestion. This is where I started to feel upper right abdominal pain that can last for hours and made my IBS go crazy. Later on, the urge became an annoying voice in my head. Out of the voices in my head, this one was persistent. I'm still fighting it day by day.

IBS is uncomfortable, but starving yourself isn’t healthy. It creates more problems. When my parents noticed I lost weight again in my junior year, I was fed more often despite being in pain. They knew something was wrong, but it was brushed off, such as, "You don't know what diarrhea is" or paranoia made them assume the worst-- "You may have something wrong with your gallbladder." I always thought it was IBS. It took years for a gastroenterologist to confirm after years of testing to rule out everything else. I got scolded when I had a panic attack at restaurants. My parents would point to some girls at the store with thin limbs, warning me not to go that far. I had been called anorexic, which made me lash out. I only eat when I feel comfortable and on my terms, which causes fewer flare-ups.

I suggest eating smaller meals instead or larger meals. If I had a large meal, my back would hurt, and it would take a long time to keep it down. Try to add some balance to your gut flora because eating mainly unhealthy foods will cause you to have a hard time digesting healthier ones. When my younger sibling ate something their body wasn’t used to, they had abdominal pain and diarrhea. I understand that IBS is different from others. I recommend going to your doctor or a dietician to keep your nutrition met. It’s also best to test if you have allergies, a food intolerance, or a bacterial imbalance, such as SIBO because they are similar to IBS symptoms. Sicknesses (COVID, a cold, stomach bug, food poisoning, etc) can also start or increase IBS symptoms, so be mindful and take care of yourself.

9. Remember to take a Break When Needed.

Sometimes, there were days when my stomach was not having it. I would be flaring up, in a lot of pain, legs giving out, or blacking out. It was exhausting. I pushed it sometimes, but if one of the family members could pick me up or let me stay home, I would do that. I emailed my professors that I would be out and recover at home. Most of the time, they posted their assignments online, and I could do them. If you are in a lot of pain, depleted, and still running to the bathroom with no end in sight, take a day off, but keep in mind on how many absences you have in your classes.

10. Bring a Water Bottle With You.

Dehydration is a B-word. IBS and dehydration can make things complicated, causing you to go to the hospital to get an IV. My medication also dehydrates me. A trip to the drinking fountain wasn’t enough. Bring a water bottle with you. I used one of the water bottles in my home and washed it when I cleaned the dishes. It saved me time and kept me in the game. If I was very dehydrated, I got a Gatorade to restore the electrolytes lost.

11. Read the Syllabus.

Seriously, Ace Melee? How do IBS and GERD relate to the syllabus? Every professor is different when it comes to the number of absences. I have seen professors allow five absences before dropping a grade while others only allow one or two. After COVID, some professors increased the number of absences. You may have informed them about your stomach troubles, but you must put in the effort. They might suggest you drop the class if you miss so many classes. I also read the schedule to know when assignments were due or when classes were canceled. That’s because if I had no classes that day, especially on a Friday (some professors cancel classes near breaks or holidays), I could relax and eat with a bit of freedom. I also knew which classes I could take a day off if I did not feel the best and still passed.

12. Sort Your Schedule.

The advisors suggest what to add to your schedule, so you can get credit for your degree-works and graduate. I only took four or five classes per semester, which required an extra semester to graduate, but there was no shame. I graduated with high honors. Pick courses that are best for you while knowing your flare-up timer. I usually picked four in-person classes and one online class, so I didn’t have to worry about skipping the online one; however, things didn’t go as planned with department staff decreasing, so there were not enough online courses. That’s when I aimed for four classes. Since my flare-ups were much more tame in the afternoon, I attended the afternoon classes. For morning classes, I had to arrive early enough and remember what I consumed very carefully, so I didn’t have to be late for classes or run to the bathroom during class. It was not always 100% pain-free.

13. Emergency Kit-- Depends, Wet Wipes, New Underwear, Pants, Pads, Portable Stool.

You don't need to buy everything in the emergency kit. You only have to bring what pertains to you.

IBS can lead to hemorrhoids, which can cause irritation, itchiness, pain, blood and extra mucus in stool– not even a nurse’s ice pack will help. Toilet paper will be uncomfortable after flaring up so many times. There’s nothing wrong with bringing wet wipes in your backpack. Just make sure to follow the instructions. Got fecal (or urinal) incontinence or fear you won’t make it to the bathroom in time? I suggest wearing a Depend or pad that helps with that. Being a woman, I used pads (and period underwear) to prevent leaks and mild incontinence. Still, it also helped when my hemorrhoids hadn't stopped bleeding yet. I don't use them every day to minimize waste. I admit that I had embarrassing moments when I didn’t make it to the bathroom in time. It's better to have an emergency kit with you. You can always wash (or throw out) your soiled clothes at home. I suggest placing them in another bag or a section in your book bag, where you can seal it off away from your stuff.

I also had difficulty using the restroom if I didn’t have a stool. I had a stool at home but not in college (back problems); therefore, I used the small, gray trash can available in the stall to use as leverage while going. I placed my feet on the rims, not inside. I didn't even flip them over. It was wobbly, but it still worked. I got a good chuckle about it the first time, but I was afraid of breaking it. I could also raise my knees above my hips if the trash can seemed like a courtyard away in the stall. It hurt my thighs, yet it got me through flare-ups at school. If your back can handle carrying a portable (foldable) potty stool and it's one of those days, bring it with you.

14. Wear Comforting Clothes

Thanks to IBS and GERD, I stopped wearing jeans, bras, or anything tight. They can make the symptoms worse. I replaced bras with undershirts, which are less restrictive and don’t add pressure to my stomach (it may be less sorting than a bra). I still looked decent. I have seen college students go to class with pajamas on, including me at times (around holidays). As long you have clothes on, professors won’t say anything. Only dress elegantly when you have to, like an interview, presentation, or a special occasion. There’s a chance you can still wear something comfortable on those days and still look presentable.

15. Non-Caffeinated Tea

Around my final semester, I decided to add tea to my diet. I picked Ginger Tea. I used it around the evening or on days when I was flaring up. Whenever I drank tea, the severity of my flare-ups, along with my anxiety decreased, giving me some breathing period. When I had taken it regularly (once per day), it turned my episodes into more gas than stool. It was weird. Tea also seemed to increase urine output, which is nothing new nowadays. It's better than drinking soda and coffee-- common triggers. Anxious? Flaring-up? Want to settle down before class? I suggest drinking a non-caffeinated tea.

Conclusion

College may require adapting to schedule and life, but I found it much more fun than I was in high school or middle school. It was good as long as I kept my digestive problems in check. I met other classmates with IBS too, making it easier to share troubles and not feel alone. You’re not alone if you have IBS, GERD, both, or other digestive conditions. College and writing are good ways to share your experiences without feeling like an outcast.

If you are a college student with IBS or someone in IBS in general, what do you want to share with others, so they can get by? There are other IBS categories, such as IBS-C (Constipation), IBS-D (Diarrhea), IBS-M (Mixed), and PI- IBS (Post-Infectious). It's best to help as much as possible.

supporteatingcopingCONTENT WARNING
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About the Creator

Ace Melee

Hello, everyone! Creative writing is an essential asset for me since it frees my imagination from getting hit by the barrier of the skull. It hurts when it's locked in and roars when oppressed- it was destined to soar.

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Comments (7)

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  • Joe Mellenabout a month ago

    This is a great piece. I too struggled with digestive issues connected to mental health. I have been lucky to get past them recently, but I forgot how hard it was and I forgot how hard others have it. Thank you for sharing and reminding me to be compassionate. And thank you for writing. This would have been helpful for me when I was younger, I am sure you are helping a lot of people by sharing.

  • ROCK 2 months ago

    I found your personal approach to addressing this sensitive topic lended to it's overall quality, which is excellent in my opinion. I developed this cranky condition during nursing exams and my professor told me to not think about it and it "will go away". It did not go away. I wish I could remember her name so I could pay her a visit and use her powder room, 😂.

  • Celia in Underland2 months ago

    A brilliantly written informative piece. And I loved the injection of humour throughout 🤍

  • River Joy2 months ago

    Boy did I need this advice in college. Really well written and informative!

  • Naveed 2 months ago

    Terrific work! Keep it going—congratulations!

  • Stephanie Hoogstad2 months ago

    This was a very informative and useful piece, both for people with these conditions and for people looking for insight into the struggles of people with these conditions. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experiences with us.

  • Thanks for sharing this, Ace. I've long heard of IBS (my younger brother suffered with it when we were kids), but never really understood the challenges it presents. You have proven yourself twice my hero: first, simply for having endured & figured out how to cope with it (especially when others including medical personnel were dismissive); second, for having the courage to share your story with us & what helped you to cope. Prayers & blessings. I hope you are well.

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