I will preface that this is a late night rant fueled largely by hunger and frustration, so bear with me.
It’s been almost one year since I was diagnosed (ish) with a variety of stomach-related disorders:
IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) aka diarrhea all day, erry day
Acid Reflux aka can’t tolerate spicy, dairy, or pretty much anything tasty
Gastroperisis aka when it’s not diarrhea it’s almost a week of stomach cramps and no relief
Small Intestine Abnormality…this one, not sure what it means but I did a test where I swallowed a “smart pill” and it tracked how long each organ in my body took to process it…my small intestine took almost five times the length of time as a normal person aka it doesn’t work that well
These are the main ones…there have been others like Multiple Sclerosis, a nervous disorder, a variety of auto immune disorders and the like…but because my symptoms vary in severity (and I’m not really a fan of scheduling daily doctor visits to document my changes), it’s hard to pinpoint or give a name to what I’ve got.
All I know is that stress affects the severity…which is true for 99.9% of health issues (from what I’ve heard). So when I’m on vacation with my boyfriend in Hawaii, magically, I can eat things I usually can’t at home. But when I’m at home, sometimes I have good times like this…but inevitably, always, the good days are short-lived and the bad symptoms, like I’ve struggled with tonight, take over.
I guess my frustration tonight stems from literally spending the entire night throwing up in some variety or another. My boyfriend and I were on a way to a nice dinner, and as we were going to the car, I literally threw up in the driveway…like some fish in a fountain. Out it came, and thank goodness I tilted my head, otherwise it would’ve been all over my dress. Impromptu. Disgusting. Unpleasant.
Fast-forward to dinner and in between courses I get up to use the restroom, lean over to flush the toilet, and goodbye salad.
Hours later, back at home, again, bouts of spittle and worse continued to happen. Which brings me to why I’m writing this post. I’ve been told I could fix all of this with stress reduction…or that it’s all in my head…or worse, I have an eating disorder I’m not willing to admit.
So, let’s make a list of five reasons why chronic illnesses aren’t the bees knees and actually suck:
1. I do try stress reduction, but you can only do so much…and when you go to the wrong restaurant, but don’t realize that until the valet’s driven off with your car, you could be all the zen in the world and still feel a little stressed. Yes, that happened to us tonight.
Chronic illnesses aren’t something that are planned. They’re inconvenient buggers that pop up when you’re stressed or not, and accepting that as a reality is step one to living with this disability and maintaining your sanity.
2. It’s not all in my head. Case and point, the spitting up like a fish instance. Not planned. Definitely not appetizing for my boyfriend to witness…and not something I spent time on actualizing into reality. Whether it’s faulty wiring in my organs, a reaction to food, overcompensation for stress, or some combination of the above and other factors, it’s certainly not all in my head.
Sure, there are individuals that make up or over dramaticize invisible illnesses, but let me tell you, you don’t know how physically and mentally taxing it is until you have simultaneous diarrhea and vomit. Unfortunately, this combo is all too familiar in my rotation of symptoms. I get people want handicap placards, sympathy, or whatever else comes with being “disabled,” but invisible illnesses deserve all the respect and compassion as a physical disability. Just because I don’t have an amputation that you can see doesn’t mean I’m any less sick. I may not need the help of a prosthetic, but I take a handful of pills each morning to make sure the majority of my bodily fluids don’t escape me each day.
3. Eating disorders are serious business. I realize this factor doesn’t apply to all chronic illnesses, but I’ve seen all kinds of improper associations with disabilities. For me, this is the easiest association for many people because I throw up often…but again, if you saw my Finding Nemo impersonation tonight, you’d know there were no fingers or toothbrushes triggering said display.
4. It’s hard to not let what’s going on inside reflect on the outside. Makeup did wonders for me when I first got sick because it hid how sickly pale I’d become from throwing up six times a day. Now, I’d prefer to go without it, because throwing up with mascara is ugly and leaves raccoon circles for days. Sometimes it’s easy to rally after getting sick and pretend like it didn’t happen, but other times I’d literally rather hide under my covers in bed and never leave.
It’s a daily battle to stay positive, which is a huge reason why I started this blog. I hope somewhere, someone with a struggle is reading this and realizing you’re not alone. Sometimes life can be really shitty (lower GI (gastrointestinal) joke)…but it’s only a temporary struggle. Initially when I got really sick I was super depressed, because invisible illnesses are isolating and intimidating.
Once I realized I was the best advocate for myself, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and sought out to find things that make me happy. Writing this blog. Reading new books. Trying on new makeup. Getting back to school. The list goes on and on (now), but initially it was just this blog as a small outlet to air my frustrations, celebrations, and tribulations.
5. Invisible illnesses do not define a person, but they are characteristics that must be embraced. When I first got my handicap placard from the DMV, I was beyond embarrassed to use it. Imagine, seemingly perfectly healthy girl stepping out of a car with one of those. The looks. The stares. The snide remarks from people thinking I was using someone else’s placard. Well, the sooner I sucked up my pride and realized I had the placard for a reason (hello, needing to run to a bathroom and not shit myself running across a parking lot…among other reasons), the sooner I embraced this aspect of myself.
As I get older, self-acceptance seems to be a really valuable thing. Take a step back from the incessant notifications of social media and spend time with the people that matter most. Beyond that, spending time with myself and listening to my body. It’s an amazing piece of work when you think about it-you can run marathons, create human beings, overcome (most) illnesses, and so many more things.
Tonight, despite all of my frustrations, I think my invisible illnesses have shaped me to become a stronger person capable of helping others to overcome his/her own challenges. Reading over my list, it doesn’t look that cohesive or terrible…but more like a stream of consciousness reflection on what I go through and deal with every day. It’s stressful, at times very embarrassing, and more often than not, something whose presence I wish I could not acknowledge at all. But the reality is having a stomach disorder is part of who I am and what I deal with…and there is nothing wrong with that.
Now to sleep and hopefully recover from some of the major acid damage currently percolating in my throat as a result of tonight’s, well, unexpected upbursts. (Get it, outbursts, but up because they came “up”).