The first time I realised my digestive system worked differently to others I was probably in my teens. I had grown up expecting that every so often things would either stop or go into overdrive, to me this was just normal.
Fast forward to my early 20s, expecting my first child – and suddenly it feels like everyone is asking are you regular? (Oh! The realisation that all the things you think are private are suddenly public!)
It really wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I began to try to understand why my guts were different, and what I could do about it; and then, not really until I found that the sudden onset of gripping pain and spasms would overtake me at the most inopportune moments. Moderating a Session meeting; at dinner with colleagues; driving along at high speed from meeting to meeting. It became so I couldn’t predict what or where or how I would feel on any day.
I visited my doctor, and was prescribed Anti-spasmodic medication – to be taken EVERY TIME I WANTED TO EAT. EVERY. TIME!!!
This became intolerable – I knew I didn’t need it every meal, I also knew I didn’t know which meals would be problematic. So, I visited a food analyst dietician. I needed to know what was causing this IBS.
A couple of hours and a great number of questions later I was stunned!
I am double jointed. Technically this is a syndrome called Hyper-mobile Joint Syndrome. HJS is most obvious in joints: hips, knees, elbows, fingers… but, this excess of elastane is also in the gut! and very often HJS goes hand in hand with IBS. Ha! who knew?!
Now I knew. It was like an epiphany, I could remember particular instances and how they’d come on. The dietician was a wonderful woman, first a two week food diary, try to go without the anti-spasmodic so you can see what each meal is doing, and then we can work out the component parts; then clean eating!!
No wheat; no caffeine; no milk products; no alcohol; no red meat. Once the system is clean, each food group is reintroduced one by one, and symptoms noted. (Is it bad that I prayed for it to not be meat or alcohol?!) It soon became very apparent that the main triggers were dairy products and wheat. And a subsidiary trigger was caffeine. Suddenly a whole new vista was opening up before me. I could manage it! I could feel healthy again, and I could have a ‘normal’ life.
But the changes were radical.
And the repercussions were tricky.
Suddenly I couldn’t just accept a cake, a coffee, or any sort of snack when visiting.
I would have to explain.
How much to tell?
How much private information need I share?
People really don’t want to know their minister’s personal information (well, at least they don’t need to know about bowel movements!) I could manage the condition, but the lifestyle changes would have a considerable impact.
Fast forward. Since the diagnosis and the beginnings of managing dietary needs many things have changed. Eight years on, I’m in a new call, and here everyone knows because it was an existing condition when I arrived. Also, awareness of gluten and dairy intolerance is much more understood and accepted where I live.
People are so kind. And the kindness of others is wonderful. In the beginning my prayers were self oriented, asking why? Asking for a different diagnosis, or a sudden turn around. I didn’t want to have to change.
Then, gently, over the weeks and months that followed, the Spirit nudged, and moved me. Living with anything that has limits gives insight. Living with something that is different put me in a privileged position. I can identify with those in my pastoral care whose lives are limited. We can talk about the deep questions, “where is God in this.”
I have never been one to blame God when bad things happen, I identify with the Teacher in Ecclesiastes, bad things happen, the sun shines on those who are evil and those who are righteous. When it comes down to it, living brings its own set of challenges, it is what we do with it that matters. I can’t eat dairy produce, I shouldn’t eat wheat or drink coffee. With God’s help, I have come to the point now, where it’s just part of my life. It rarely limits, and for the most part, it can create opportunities for conversation, for interaction, and most of all, time to share holy Love with all God’s people. And that’s a blessing!
Julie Rennick was born in England but made Scotland her home in the late 1980s. Raised a Roman Catholic, she settled her restless spirit by moving to the Church of Scotland; she ministers to a village in the Scottish Borders. She loves to write, to explore the power of words, and to let the hand of the Creator inspire through the amazing countryside she lives in. She blogs at A Country Girl, and she is among the contributors to the RevGals book, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit (SkyLight Paths).
This is the fourth essay in our series on Faith and Illness. Click here to read Passing Through the Waters, by Rachael Keefe, about living with POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome) and symptomatic bradycardia; click here to read Sabbath, being still, and chronic illness, by Amy Hanson; click here to read Living with Celiac, by Beth Birkholz. Look for the next essay on the first Wednesday in February. If you are a clergywoman with a story to tell about faith and living with illness, email firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about writing for the series.
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