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Confessions of an 'Anxious Pooper'

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Anxiety presents itself in many forms for me — nail biting, unhealthy eating patterns, canceling plans, excessively reassuring others to make up for my self-doubt.

But what I don’t talk about enough is how much anxiety affects my gastrointestinal tract. More specifically, my anxiety’s ability to make me constipated or give me diarrhea in an instant.

I like to call this “anxiety poops.”

I remember being 12 years old and traveling to St. Louis from New York for an event my 13-year-old brother was attending. My parents were busy that week, so they sent my 18-year-old and 14-year-old cousins to accompany us as our “guardians.”

I was both nervous and excited to travel “alone,” but I had my brother and cousins with me, so I wasn’t really alone. Needless to say, everything that could go wrong did. Our first night in the hotel we were going to swim at the hotel pool and heard sirens going off. We asked someone what the sirens meant, to which they replied, “A tornado is headed our way.” Casual.

They had everyone take shelter in the main lobby as we waited for the tornado to pass. My 18-year-old cousin, our “guardian,” was on the phone with her dad (my uncle) who was tracking the tornado in real-time (before the age of smart phones). She was panicking — and rightfully so — as we watched the sky turn deep red.

I stood there, white-knuckled, holding onto my brother’s hand. My cousin’s panic was making me panic. I looked up at my 14-year-old cousin and said, “Max, you need to make Alex stop freaking out because I’m going to poop my pants.”

It’s a funny story in our family now, but more importantly, it’s one of the first memories where I can pinpoint anxiety giving me gastrointestinal issues.

Anxiety poops followed me throughout my teens. They were there every time I slept over at friend’s houses. They were there before every swim meet, to the point where I thought I might poop my pants two seconds before my race started. They were there every time I was hanging around the guy I liked. And they were always something I felt incredibly insecure about, both because I didn’t know it was anxiety and who likes to talk about poop as a teenager?

I’m now in my mid-20s and living in Los Angeles. I still actively deal with anxious poop issues — both constipation and diarrhea (but mostly the latter). Now I’m the girl who is overly concerned about where the closest public restroom is and whether or not that restroom will have a lock code or if I’ll have to buy a water to get the code and will I make it to the bathroom in time?

So if you, too, deal with “anxiety poops,” you’re not alone. If you feel ashamed by how anxiety affects your gastro-tract, please know I’m right there with you. As a child and young adult who dealt with this issue, it was utterly mortifying. Don’t get me wrong, it still really sucks. But I’m also learning that it’s OK to not be OK sometimes, anxiety poops and all.

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Getty image via ivan101

Originally published: June 26, 2018
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