My Stomach Needs a New Plan

Stressful things: work, life, relationships, and aggressive cranes.

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.”

This post is part of NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. It’s also a part of the Open Grid at yeah write, where you can read my blog and other great blogs and vote for the ones you like. Like, maybe mine? And others? Vote all you want by clicking the Open Grid icon below!

30 thoughts on “My Stomach Needs a New Plan

  1. I have stress stomach too. Crohn’s actually. So sorry to hear life is stressing you right now. This too, shall pass. (Pun intended)

  2. Oh, yes. It happens. I have ulcerative colitis, and have often had to miss work due to this illness. Some days I have made it in and then had to run out of the class though; it’s not good — not good at all. It does always seem to get worse when I’m under stress, so I feel for you. I did once fart in front of my high school sophomores, but just joked it off by blaming it on one of the kids in the front row. The kids thought it was hilarious. As much as I feel for you, you also had alot of humor and heart in this post, and made it enjoyable to read.

    1. Honestly, Angela, I’m glad it’s not just me. They were pretty good-natured about it. I’m just Southern; Southern ladies don’t acknowledge their bodily functions. We don’t sneeze, blow our noses loudly, or fart. Definitely not fart. Except for me. 🙂

  3. Ugh, I so understand how you are feeling. I also have “stress stomach” exactly as you described, combined with IBS, so I spend pretty much my entire life dealing with stomach issues in some form or another. Hope you feel better soon! Even a wonderful world can cause some stress from time to time…

  4. I have a stress tummy, too. It always runs in fast-forward. I’m the one woman who actually looks forward to the slow-down your bowels take when pregnant — it was the only time I was regular for days, no, months on end. Mine is triggered by — get this — exhaustion and caffeine. So if I’m too tired, I have issues. If I drink caffeine because I’m too tired, I have issues. Safe to say, I just have issues…

  5. Reading the other comments, I almost feel like it’s a stomach support group.

    “Hi, I’m Kenja and I have IBS.”

    I understand exactly how you feel. I used to teach day, and I would wonder if I was going to make it till the end of class too.

    Somebody hates me, because beside stress, alcohol makes it flare. I’m stressed, and I can’t even get drunk. Sucks to be me.

    But in addition to reducing stress, have you tried Aloe Vera juice? I get mine from Walmart, and it seems to help.

    Good luck (and digestion) to you!

    1. Haha, I know what you mean, Kenja! I was worried everyone would think I was gross and weird and over-sharing, so I’m sort of relieved I have so many kindred spirits! I’ve not tried aloe vera juice – does it taste good? Not that taste is a deterrent; just good to know.

  6. Oh man, that sucks! I was laughing through the first part, but felt bad when you described how this is a regular occurrence. In university I used to get such intense stabbing pains in my stomach that it felt like I was dying. It was an anxiety symptom, but because it only happened when I was relaxed, it took me awhile to realize it was stress-related. You do need some more low-pressure hobbies!

    1. Thanks, Michelle! If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this post, it’s that I’m so not alone, all our bellies hurt, and everybody farts sometimes. Here’s to getting some peace in the abdomen. 🙂

  7. I’m definitely in the minority here in the comments. I almost never have stomach issues…I never even had morning sickness when I was pregnant! Even when I eat old soup from the back of the fridge. 😉

  8. My stomach hates me often. I always try to avoid antibiotics because I know they’ll make me feel worse than anything I need meds for. I have learned that there is “nothing wrong” with me after many trips to the ER in my 20s, and a host of tests in the last few years. Reducing dairy and taking lactase enzymes when I do, and drastically cutting down on gluten seems to have reduced the amount of ‘attacks’ I get, even stress-induced, but it’s all just been figuring things out as I go along. Hope you’re feeling better by morning!

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