On Being Sick
One morning I woke up and decided I wanted to be sick for a while.
That’s not even remotely true, but it sounds nicer than realizing I have no idea how long I’ve been sick for. Months or semesters or years, maybe, I’m not sure. Some days I wake up nauseated and and fatigued, other days it won’t hit until evening. Sometimes it comes all at once and sometimes I can see it off in the distance, just waiting for me notice. Regardless, not a day goes by where I don’t feel sick. That much I do know.
It’s nausea, it’s fatigue, it’s dizziness and fainting, it’s an inability to regulate my internal temperature, it’s loss of appetite, it’s rapid heart rate, it’s uncontrollable muscle spasms and shivers. Sounds like the adventure of a lifetime, I know, you’re telling me.
This is the part of the story where I would love to tell you my diagnosis for you to come to your conclusions about. I wouldn’t mind at all if you sent me messages about how your cousin shared my illness and drank a gallon of honey to be cured. I would covet your advice about how one time you thought you had whatever this is and cut out all gluten and processed carbs, only to be healed. I wouldn’t even care if you left me a comment that I was being over-dramatic; your four- year- old had handled my same malady with ease. But I can’t do any of those things. I can’t even tell you a list of options it could be.
No doctor, no health and wellness chiropractor, no specialist, no one, has a definitive answer. My doctor told me it would take a month of taking anti anxiety meds to get in to see a GI specialist. (I declined.) The endocrinologist looked over my blood work and said everything was nearly in the normal ranges, good for me. I’ve spent months eliminating different foods from my diet at the direction of a nutritionist and more months taking fistfuls of supplements day and night. The natural response testing therapist told me my colon was maybe dying from the abuse I put it through as a young(er) person. She wasn’t sure how to best go about fixing it.
Nearly everyone I talk to about it narrows their eyes and leans in to me to ask the personal question you might be thinking. “Are you sure you’re not pregnant?” Yes. I’m sure. It’s been six, eight, 12, I don’t even know how many months I’ve been sick. Trust me, it’s not that, I think I would know.
I’ve come to terms (mostly) with not knowing why I feel the way I do. Some days are easier than others to feel like I’m fighting an invisible enemy, I’ll admit that. Mostly I’m spending my energy learning how to cope. I’m learning how to sit in the back of my classes in case I need to run out in a hurry. I’m learning not to feel embarrassed when I take Zofran in the middle of an event or conversation. I plan exit strategies everywhere I go and map out how long it’ll take me to get to a bathroom or private corner or outside. I sit at the bus stop, waiting for the little kids I nanny, eating ginger candy like it’s well, candy. I answer questions about no, I’m not contagious, no, it’s not anxiety, no, I’m not better yet. It’s an ebb and flow of panic and fatigue- too much adrenaline and simply not enough energy to get me through the day.
The worst part isn’t the nausea or the exhaustion or even the heaving over the pavement in the parking lot at school for all the world to see. The worst part is the toll it takes on every other part of your life.
“I can’t go out tonight, I’m not feeling well.” “You said that last time!” “Yeah, well, count me out forever basically.”
I have other things that require my attention. My life isn’t without busyness to think about- work, school, relationships, etc. I’m 20. Nothing slows down because I want or need it too. You don’t realize how many facets there are to your life until an undiagnosed illness takes over all of them.
There’s no time for me to take a breath.
I’m managing heartbreak from the floor of my shower, wrapped in a towel. My Friday nights are ginger ale and canceled plans. Date night is take out because I can’t handle the stress of being in a restaurant.
There’s my silver lining. I’ve learned the patience of the people I love while they endure my constant appointments and last minute pleas to forgive me, I’m stuck home sick again. They adjust plans and don’t forget about me even though it’s been months since I’ve enjoyed a social life. They don’t scold me for my nervous habits.
And so I’ll always be grateful for the moments that remind me I’m not alone in my little fight. There are people who stand by my side even though I think I can officially label myself (more) high maintenance (than usual). So many people care about me- so many more than have chosen I’m not worth the energy. As silly as it sounds, it’s worth it.
My stupid stomach monster that demands I isolate myself is teaching me a lesson in community.
There’s a whole community of people with chronic, invasive, undiagnosed illnesses. Some to a much, much, much greater degree than I. Maybe some of this even sounds familiar to you in a way. Maybe no one ‘gets it’ that you’re sick because you don’t look sick. I get it. I don’t look sick either. That does not, and never will, invalidate you. You could be battling any number of things I can’t even imagine. Even so, you’re not alone.
Every monster needs a community and hey, we’re all a little sick anyways. (Promised myself I wouldn’t end on a cheesy note. Failed. Oh well.)