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When your gut doesn’t know how not to be Southern

October 4, 2021

Growing up Southern is an integral part of my identity.  Early in my adult life, I didn’t realize just how deeply engrained the customs, mannerisms, traditions, and the foods (definitely the foods) were in my life.  Perhaps, I have taken my Southern-ness for granted having lived so many years closer to Canada than the Gulf of Mexico, but I think I just grew comfortable in my own skin and habits over the years. 

As I have grown more seasoned (which I much prefer to growing older), I have had to make some adjustments to my Southern habits. Believe me, not because I wanted to, but I once realized that my daily habit of drinking sweet tea sun-up to sun-down was having a huge impact on my asthma.  That realization was not without pain. 

Would I have to give up my Southern card if switched to unsweet tea? (If you didn’t read that sentence emphasizing unsweet tea with your most sinister voice, you probably didn’t read it correctly.)  Oh, I am definitely aware of the memes which highlight that only unsweet tea is left in the coolers during hurricane preparation shopping. 

We may be scared but we are not
"drink unsweet tea" scared yet
Image Credit White_Goodman on Original Tweet: Dustin Miles

But in an effort to help to get my asthma under control, I had to limit the sugar I was taking in to control rampant inflammation in my body, specifically my lungs.  As much as I thought it might kill me, I did not perish switching to drinking the unsweetened version of perhaps the South’s most beloved and perfect beverage. 

That experience is probably what has given me the courage to deal with my current health issue which I truly debated about sharing in such a public way.  In the end, I decided that much like my grief journey, my wellness journey could possibly help someone else, and thus, I erred on the side of being transparent. 

In the last few years, I have been experiencing some really uncomfortable gut symptoms which have led to feeling yucky and tired overall.  Part of me chalked this up to becoming more seasoned.  Another part of me thought perhaps the four years in which I chased the jaunty chapeau (aka earning my doctorate) while working full-time and raising a family that maybe I just plain wore myself out.  But some recent tests revealed that I have SIBO – Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth.  There’s a lot more to that diagnosis, but the short version is that we all have bacteria in our digestive system and somehow the bad ones have exploded in mine. 

Based on the information I received before the testing, I wasn’t really shocked by the diagnosis.  Nor was I shocked by the treatment plan which will require some lifestyle changes, some supplements, and some dietary changes. What shocked me was the pages and pages of items that I could and could not eat.  The doctor was giving the play-by-play, when I insisted on seeing the beverages.  He assured me that I would be taking the lists home, but I needed some immediate reassurance that I would be able to still drink – yes – you guessed it – iced tea! Once confirmed that I was cleared to drink tea, I could focus in, concentrating on the new dietary restrictions.  Even though the information was overwhelming, I eventually noticed a pattern.

Teasingly, I said – So essentially, you are asking me to not be Southern for a while.  My doctor, who has been my friend for a quarter of a century, looked perplexed.  I highlighted the list of no’s: no potatoes, no corn, no sweet potatoes, no okra, no butterbeans, no turnips.  You get the picture. He giggled and retorted to not even think about fried chicken.  I didn’t ask about biscuits because frankly, that would be blasphemy (even though I know they are off limits too for a while). 

So much like my mantra to get through doctoral school, I will face every day with a “I can survive anything for 16 weeks” attitude. I am confident that my body can and will repair these “out of proportion” issues, and I will cheer Southern self on with a few good y’all’s, yes ma’ams, SEC football games, and definitely some iced tea!

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