This afternoon, as one of my students led a lovely discussion of an essay called “What is Southern,” a very serious, very alarming, very persistent feeling came over me: my stomach was attacking me from within. The room was suddenly 125 degrees, my sweater was getting tighter by the second, my stomach was pulling taut like a drum, and no matter how I switched positions in my chair, I knew I was in a bad way.
I told myself to breathe, to get my teacher adrenaline going. Shake it off.
My face flushed and I could feel sweat on my upper lip as I played a “This I Believe” essay about a girl who believes in lunch breaks. I led my students to discuss the form of her essay, the highlights, the scenes that were played out to really show her belief rather than tell it. And in the back of my mind, as they responded to my questions, all I could think was, holy crap, I’m going to fart in front of my students.
I had made it almost halfway through the class. I scanned my notes quickly. I had a free write left to do with them. It would take 15, maybe 20, minutes. Could I do it? Could I keep it together?
My stomach answered for me in a deep, stabbing pain that I’m surprised my students couldn’t hear.
I teach a food-based writing class. I have held forth about the power of Alka Seltzer with them before. But today, I reached a new height of food over-sharing. I calmly told them that I had a free write next on deck for them, but I ate soup from the back of my fridge for lunch and at that moment, felt like I was going to be sick, so we would have to dismiss early. They should check Blackboard for assignments. I was (and am still) sorry.
Some of them laughed nervously. Some of them said “aww,” as they packed their things. I heard one boy mutter to another something about me needing to shit. (Obviously, kiddos, but I wasn’t going to be so indelicate as to tell it that bluntly.)
I fanned myself and gathered my things. (Seriously, it was a furnace in there.) I showed up in my office looking white as a sheet, worrying my office mates. I took the revered Alka Seltzer. And I’ve been doubled over in bed ever since I got home (which took longer than I thought since I ran over a 4×4 piece of wood on Hwy 164, flattening my tire and bending two rims – awesome).
I have what I call “stress stomach.” When life events, relationships, school, work, etc. begin to pile up and really start stressing me out, even unconsciously, my stomach rebels. I’m struck with pain, nausea, heartburn, and serious indigestion (sounds like the Pepto commercial).
Life doesn’t punch me in the face. It goes for my gut. Every. Single. Time.
I’ve suffered this affliction for years – my first bout was in college while I was applying for graduate schools. I’ve landed in the emergency room because of it. I’ve become intimately acquainted with a variety of stomach medicines.
And though I’m used to this, I can’t help but feel that perhaps a lifestyle change is necessary. It’s embarrassing, having to tell a group of eighteen year-olds that you have to dismiss their class early because you’re going to be sick to your stomach. I hate relying on Alka Seltzer and ginger ale and Tums as my mixed-drink of stomach aids, just to help me make it through stress.
Which makes me think that maybe I need to look into a change – a new way to manage my stress. I don’t have many low-stakes outlets. I love writing, but I don’t consider it a hobby; it’s a profession. I love cooking, but I don’t consider it a hobby; it’s a skill I’m learning and one that feeds my profession. I don’t take immense joy in working out, though I enjoy yoga and walking well enough. I need ways – even small ones – to manage my stress reaction before all that stress burns a hole in my stomach and gives me some real problems.
It’s six hours later, and my stomach still burns. My back hurts. I feel like I could breathe fire. This is not sustainable. Letting the world make me sick is not a viable option. My stomach needs a new plan. So I’m calling tonight a wash, watching TV in bed, and promising myself that I will find a way to protect my stomach from this stressful, crazy, ultimately wonderful world.
And maybe I’ll be more careful about eating soup from the back of my fridge.
This post was about gastrointestinal issues. And if you want to read a really funny blog post about it, read “The Fart That (Almost) Altered My Destiny.”
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