I Got Punched in the Gut and Here’s What I Learned

I’m currently writing from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I flew here two and a half weeks ago to treat my Ulcerative Colitis with fecal microbiota transplants (FMTs) at the Newbery Clinic in Buenos Aires, one of the world leading FMT treatment centers. I’m 2.5 weeks into treatment now with 1.5 more weeks to go.

Three months ago I was at the darkest point I’ve ever had living with UC, and doctors were considering surgically removing my colon. That gave me a wake-up call to put my life on pause and focus solely on getting back to health. Since then, I’ve had steady positive progress. Until last week. When things are going well, life is good, and the positivity breeds more positivity. But when things don’t go as well, negativity can spiral into more negativity very quickly, and this can be very tough to deal with. That happened to me last week, so today I want to talk about what I learned in dealing with setbacks on this journey.

When I arrived in Buenos Aires, my gut was already in a good state. I’d say I was about 75% healthy, which is much much better than I have been in years. I had changed my diet to a whole-foods, mostly plant based diet (blog post on the scientific reasoning for this coming soon); started focusing on mental health and meditating daily; was getting a good amount of weekly exercise; and started a supplement regime that had taken me from the sickest I’ve ever been to almost full remission in less than a month. But I knew I still needed to treat a major part of the root cause of the disease itself: the severe microbiome imbalance that I have (due to intense childhood antibiotic usage). So, now I’m in Buenos Aires, getting fecal transplants to reset my microbiome with the microbiomes of healthy Argentine donors.

A week into the transplants, things were going as well as I could have possibly hoped. I could feel the treatment working, I was feeling great, and after that first weekend I took the first fully solid poop I’ve had in over 3 years (pardon getting graphic here, but for anyone with UC, this is a big fucking deal!). I was stoked. So happy. I felt on top of the world. I got myself into remission when doctors couldn’t, and the FMTs were pushing me the final stretch. It was working! I was going to be fully healthy again for the first time in almost 10 years!

But then things went sideways fast. After going out to dinner one night, I woke up in the middle of the night with food poisoning. And over the course of the next two days it got worse and worse. For someone with a gut disease like me, food poisoning can be a big issue. For normal healthy people, food poisoning might clear up in a few days or a week. For me, it might take up to a month and the subsequent inflammation can cause issues for months, even years after that. I felt hopeless. All of the progress I had made in the past 3 months evaporated in an instant.

In hindsight, I realize I also became depressed very quickly (there is an extremely powerful gut-brain connection). I felt terrible and I was furious with myself. I hated myself for having made such a stupid mistake. That such a menial thing, a single meal out, could make such a big difference. I didn’t understand how my luck could be so bad. Of all times for this to happen, it had to be now. I wanted to break everything in my apartment. I berated myself. I cried. I became homesick and missed my friends, my girlfriend, my family. But at the same time I hated everyone and just wanted to retreat to a cave of self-loathing and self-pity.

Even though I knew that it wasn’t really my fault and that I had to let it go and keep pushing forward with a positive attitude, I couldn’t help but still feel that nagging anger and frustration at myself. I meditated on it, tried to focus positive energy, and tried to convince myself that this was only a minor setback. Things would get better quickly. But it was difficult. It still is. I had made such amazing progress, almost made it to the peak of the mountain I was climbing, and then an avalanche punched me in the gut and swept me back to the bottom of the mountain again.

Reflecting on it now though, I realize that this is going to be a long and tough journey, and I’m going to have other setbacks along the way. This isn’t just one mountain I’m climbing, it’s a whole mountain range I’m crossing, and there will be ups and downs, beautiful sunny days and shitty stormy days full of blizzards and avalanches.

It’s so important to maintain a positive attitude. When I spoke with the doctors at the clinic, they reinforced this even more. They have seen very powerful examples of the connection between mental health and intestinal healing, and they helped provide some really good perspective for me. Just as healing the gut can help alleviate mental/neurological issues (things as diverse as mood and depression to autism), healing the mind and staying positive can help fix the gut.

Today, one week after the food poisoning set in, I’m starting to feel better. The biggest change I’ve noticed in the past 2 days is that the mental fog has lifted. My gut is still pretty gnarly, but mentally I feel back to my normal self again. While it’s still difficult to fully let go of the frustration with the situation that I’m now in, my positivity is back and I’m still confident that I’m going to get fully cured soon. And since the mental symptoms were some of the first to kick in when I got the food poisoning, I’m taking the departure of those symptoms as a good sign that my gut will be back in shape soon.

So to distill this down — what I learned from all this is:

  • Focus on “I have,” not “I am.” I have food poisoning. I have Ulcerative Colitis. I am so many things, but I am not the issue that I currently have. I have an issue I have to deal with it, but it will pass with time and effort.
  • There will always be ups and downs on any journey — whether it’s getting healthy from an autoimmune disease, starting a new business, or any other personal journey you might be on. And if you’ve had a stretch of ups, chances are there’s gonna be a down sometime soon. So get ready for it. This is a lesson I’ve probably already learned 100 different ways in the past, so now make it 101.
  • Understand the situation you’re in, accept it, and then move forward. When things go south, trying to just block out the negative emotions won’t work. Let them come and try to understand and really feel the emotions you’re having. Accept and appreciate those negative emotions, and then let them go. It’s time to move forward.
  • And after that, stay positive. There is more and more scientific evidence on the impact of mental health on physical health, and I can say from personal experience how true this is. Staying positive can be easier said than done, but even just focusing on the small things is a great start. One thing that really helped me was meditating on gratitude and appreciation. It didn’t matter what popped into my mind that I was grateful for — it could have been something as small as appreciating the cup of tea that I had that morning or something as big as feeling fortunate that I have the resources and support to take two months off work and go on this healing journey. What was important was to find that feeling of gratitude, however big or small it was, reflect on it, and appreciate the feeling it gave me.

I don’t know exactly what the next few weeks or months will have in store for me or how long it will take me to get back to full health. But I’m back to feeling hopeful and confident that I’ll be fully cured soon. I also hope that sharing this story helps some others who are on their own rollercoaster ride out there. As always, please comment or reach out to me at thecureforcolitis@gmail.com if you have any questions, comments, or feedback.

Peace and love.

Scott


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