How I Learned That My Brain Affects My Gut
When I was in my 40’s, I was repeatedly having episodes of extreme nausea and vomiting, not being able to hold any food.
The episodes lasted between one and three days.
I had an episode when I found out that my father died.
I had no idea that would bother me for he never talked to me, and we had never had any sort of relationship.
The story goes like this:
When I became an adult, my father remarried and got in touch with me.
I stayed in communication with his new wife, Ethel, and loved talking to her because it was a form or talking to my father, who never talked to me.
Earlier, I had often imagined that when he dies it won’t bother me.
And I thought it didn’t.
Ethel had called me to tell me that my father had a massive heart attack and was dying.
I called Rabbi Michael Taubes, Shlita, who was my first rebbe, to ask what Jewish Law required me to do.
He told me that it is a commandment to visit the sick and to honor one’s father.
He strongly told me I had to go.
The last-minute flight to Florida was very expensive.
Rabbi Taubes told me to visit my father, even though he had treated me so awfully as a child, and even though the flight was so expensive.
During the visit, I asked my father if he had been hurt by his parents.
This was an effort on my part to understand why he did that to me.
Instead of answering my question, he told me a story of how he helped his cousins.
I listened and realized I will never know the why, other than it was the will of the Almighty, that I was in that family.
Ethel told me that my father had been near death until I arrived.
He managed to stay up talking for an hour with me, with full energy.
I imagine, now, that he really, in his own way, loved me, that he was not in control of his anger and his temper, and likely did not want to hurt and damage me the way he did.
I took a flight back right after our visit and felt good about it.
On the flight, it dawned on me that I did love my father.
I never before thought that.
When I got home, I got a call that he died soon after I left.
After the call, I found myself not able to hold down any food.
I was not able to stop vomiting.
I couldn’t even walk around.
But I wanted to attend the funeral.
My husband at the time brought me to the airport.
The airline personnel looked at me and told me they would not let me on the plane.
I looked too sick.
I had to go home and sit shiva without attending the funeral.
I was so sick.
I didn’t even think of calling anyone to tell them I am home sitting shiva, so no one came to comfort me.
My mother in law came and sat with me and did everything for me the whole day. She won my heart forever, may her soul have an Aliya.
Years later, I visited her in her nursing home when she was ill, and later attended her funeral, even though I was divorced from her son.
Back to the emotions and gut connection.
I remained not able to hold food for a few days.
I realized after some time that I did care about my father.
I imagine I must have loved him, even though he was so cruel to me when I was a child.
The grief, I did not realize I was feeling, must have expressed itself in my gut.
My brain and my emotions were all in my gut.
That had been the very first realization of the connection.
I continued to have more and more episodes of not being able to hold any food.
It felt like I had something wrong physically with my stomach or some other organ.
Maybe I need surgery or some medical treatment?
I called my family doctor to ask for a cure, a physical cure.
He told me it is emotional.
I thought he was crazy.
I am physically sick.
How could this be emotional?
I was sure he was wrong.
I found another doctor on the avenue near my house.
He examined me and told me I need an antidepressant.
I thought he was crazy also.
Plus, I already knew, at that time, that I cannot tolerate medication.
As time passed, the episodes of extreme nausea were occurring more and more often.
My marriage had become a place of fear for me.
People told me that when I was home, my phone voice sounded like a little girl.
The more the situation continued, the more frequently were the episodes.
Once I got divorced, the frequency of the gut episodes diminished greatly.
Only a few times of extreme upset over something big did I get any other episodes over the years.
But when I did get the symptoms, the cause was always clear.
It was definitely emotional and not something physical in my gut that needs medical attention.
It amazed me that strong emotions could cause such extreme nausea, such that I could not drink even a sip of water without throwing up.
This is my first realization of how connected are the mind and the gut.