After grad school, I moved to Maryland for my first “real” job. I married my soulmate, Blake, and we welcomed two sweet Birman boys, Berlioz and Toulouse, into our family. I also welcomed some pretty bad habits, like eating takeout pizza on a weekly basis, adding Starbucks runs to my daily commute and eating dessert almost every night.

I still struggled with stomach pain, but during this time, it got much worse. I found myself waking up in the middle of the night with crushing pain and running to the bathroom. It would keep me up for an hour or two, but I still felt okay when I woke up the next day. I thought it was normal - no one really talked about it, so everyone probably experienced something like this, right?

A few years later, I was tapped to join a new organization, and we moved again. To be completely honest, I took the job for the money because I didn’t love the hospital. My values were totally out of alignment, and I always felt like an outsider. I was the youngest person on the leadership team and one of the only women. My ideals of gender equality, diversity and women’s empowerment were constantly challenged by my boss (a woman), and I knew she didn’t believe in me.

Aside from that, Blake and I had long, terrible commutes around Baltimore and DC, which left little time for social lives or cooking at home. Those were two huge missing pieces that we had in abundance before I took this job. I had friends at work that I spent time with outside of work, we cooked dinner together several nights each week, and we had time for exercise and hobbies. Around this time, I also started meeting with a breast surgeon to talk about undergoing a prophylactic double mastectomy. Talk about sucking the last bit of joy from my life.

Having little joy in my life left a gaping hole. Which I promptly filled with wine. I no longer drank wine because it paired well with the meal I made. I drank it to cope with (and escape from) my life. I drank it to help me get to sleep, even though I still woke up several times a week with stomach pain. I sunk into a deep depression and felt like a shell of the woman I used to be.

It all came to a head when I found myself in the emergency room with stabbing abdominal pain. At first, I thought it was my appendix, but a colonoscopy confirmed my diagnosis: irritable bowel syndrome. Finally, I had the answer to the stomach pain I dealt with my whole life.

My doctor suggested I try a low-FODMAP elimination diet, which I did (an entire YEAR later). It was the best thing I could have done for my health. The diet involves eliminating different categories of foods, then slowly reintroducing different foods to figure out what caused pain and discomfort. My triggers were wheat, garlic, onions, and other foods in the fructan category. The diet taught me to pay attention to my body. To be mindful of what I put into my mouth and how it made me feel.

I also learned how stress impacts gut health. I finally realized that the stress from a job I wasn’t aligned with was exacerbating my IBS symptoms and wreaking havoc on my mental and emotional health.

I started seeing a therapist to help manage some of the stress and prepare for a surgery I didn’t want to have. My lightbulb moment came in one of those sessions. I mentioned that I was actually looking forward to having the surgery because it would mean being away from work for 12 weeks. And I knew if I had that much time away, it would be torture to go back. (I guess having my breasts chopped off wasn’t torture enough?)

That night, I made the decision to look for another job, and I asked the Universe for help. Eventually, the Universe led me to align my values, ideals and strengths with a job I loved: working in my coaching business full time. Without the heaviness of my last job, I had the space to truly heal my gut. I had time to prepare foods that felt good in my body. I enrolled in an integrative nutrition program and found a lifestyle that works best for me: clean eating.

Now, I’m sleeping through the night and feeling better than ever. I know what foods give me energy and feel good in my body and what foods I should avoid if I want to feel my best. I know who I am and what I stand for. I’m in a career and job I love that allows me to have balance and fulfillment every day. I’m taking steps to reduce my risk of cancer. I embrace failure and mistakes and use them as growth experiments - because I know it’s about progress, not perfection.