Keeping Me All Together: Highlights From Rae Lewis-Thornton's Struggle With Diarrhea and IBS

Associate Editor
Rae Lewis-Thornton
Rae Lewis-Thornton

For Rae Lewis-Thornton, diarrhea and gastrointestinal (GI) issues are nothing new. Her history with GI symptoms has even been immortalized by the famous actress and HIV/AIDS activist Sheryl Lee Ralph in the one-woman show Sometimes I Cry: The Lives of Women Infected and Affected by HIV! In the show, the elegant character Ms. Chanel soils herself in a restaurant, has a meltdown, cleans herself with toilet paper and toilet water and then emerges from the bathroom to finish her dinner like a true diva.

In August of 2013, Lewis-Thornton shared a four-part story with readers about her experience with recurring diarrhea. Her story starts in line at a Walgreens, where she was purchasing laxatives after having not pooped for days. As she was making a dash for the Starbucks across the street, it happened.

Lewis-Thornton recounts how:

Right in the middle of the street between Walgreens and Starbucks, my ass exploded and poop splashed out of my ass like a water hydrant on a hot summer day in the hood. I flexed my ass muscles inward but that was futile, the poop kept coming and coming and coming. I could feel it trickle down my thigh and I knew that the light tan shorts that I was wearing would not be my savior.

-- From "And Here Comes the Shit, Part 1"

Thankfully, Lewis-Thornton made it to the Starbucks. The women's restroom was full, so she went to the men's room, locked the door and cleaned up with toilet water and toilet paper. She cleaned off her shorts, then put them on, half-wet, half-dry. She gathered up her stuff, opened the door to a man waiting to use the restroom and went back to Walgreens to make her purchase.

She shares that:

I went straight for the counter and thank God no one was in line. As I walked home, I was grateful for the floppy shirt I had on with the long tail in the back. At least people couldn't see the biggest soiled water spot. As soon as I made it in the house my stomach was at it again. "Thank God for home," I sighed as I sat on the toilet. "I'm calling the GI doctor," I reiterated out loud.

-- From "And Here Comes the Shit, Part 2"

After a shower and a cup of tea, Lewis-Thornton lay down with her dog, Sophie, and a book. The calm wouldn't last.

Rae didn't sleep that night. By Sunday morning, her stomach seemed to settle down, and on Monday morning she begged for an appointment with her GI doctor. She did get one, eventually, in a week at his office, which was a 45-minute drive away.

After asking that she not be put on magnesium citrate due to its harsh side effects, Lewis-Thornton was prescribed Miralax, which the doctor assured her was much less harsh.

She writes:

The week was manageable. I had a few near misses but for the most part I got through it with a breeze. By the end of that week, I could even tell when my tummy was sending me a message, "Get the hell up and head to the bathroom!"

The weekend was mild and then it occurred to me Sunday night that I hadn't gone to the bathroom all day.

"Oh well," I shrugged it off, "maybe my body is tired."

I know that I was and I dozed off to sleep. By mid-afternoon on Monday I still had not pooped. By now I started to think that the Miralax was no longer working. One day not using the bathroom was one thing, but two days, was another.

This was becoming way too much and a tad overwhelming. One moment I can't poop and the next moment I'm pooping all over the place. Fear started to raise in my spirit.

-- From "And Here Comes the Shit, Part 3"

When she finally got to see her doctor again after a week on Miralax, the doctor suggested she have a colonoscopy. However, because she had not pooped for two days, Lewis-Thornton would need something much stronger than the Miralax. She'd need to go back on magnesium citrate. A bottle a day.

On being on magnesium citrate again, Lewis-Thornton explains:

Each day became harder than the next. Each morning I would take Sophie for her walk then start my day. If I had to do anything that required me to be out of the house, I drank the magnesium citrate once I returned and carried extra bottoms. But again, I wasn't taking many chances because it was very unpredictable.

-- From "And Here Comes the Shit, Part 3"

Lewis-Thornton struggled with depression. The diarrhea she experienced at that time was the worst she's ever had in 25 years of consistently taking medication. She tried to make it from one bowel movement to the next without losing her mind. She was able to make it to the colonoscopy with a completely empty system.

Lewis-Thornton found out that her colon was beautiful. The doctor could only come up with one explanation: Her battle with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) had started a new chapter.

I've been so focused on the constipation, laxatives and pooping everywhere, that I haven't mentioned the other issues I've been having along with the constipation. Let me explain. I'm also having extreme food sensitivity to the point that some foods make me sick to even smell. I'm extremely bloated with whatever I eat, no matter the amount. Three slices of bacon and 1 slice of toast feels like an omelet, hash browns and toast. All of these are symptoms of classic IBS.

-- From "And Here Comes the Shit, Part 4"

With diarrhea and food sensitivity and her IBS flaring up, Lewis-Thornton embarked on a journey with her doctor to get back to being regular. Of course, she points out, all of this affected her emotionally, which could be causing a cycle: Her physical distress causes emotional distress, which causes more physical distress. Lewis-Thornton leaves with these words:

For sure managing chronic health is a full time job. That's why I tell people that having HIV is more than popping a pill, T-cell count (CD4) and viral load. It's a wonder that I keep me all together.

For sure, I'm never going to quit, no matter how much I feel like I want to. My perseverance is simple, when I wake in the morning, this means that I'm still a part of God's earthly plan. This means that there is something I'm supposed to do with my life, so I keep pressin'. I press because the sum total of my life is greater than the sum total of my pain.

-- From "And Here Comes the Shit, Part 4"

Mathew Rodriguez is the community editor for and You can follow him on Twitter at @mathewrodriguez, like his Facebook page or visit him on his personal website.