When Your Body Has Abandoned You: How Crohn’s Disease and Chronic Illnesses Can Affect You Psychologically — Part 1, Acceptance
When my ex broke up with me as soon as we got home after my last MRI, I hit bottom. I felt abandoned. I felt lost and confused. I had fasted all day for the MRI, so I was incredibly weak. I was nauseous from the solution they made me drink to color my bowels. I was scared of the MRI results. And then I got hit with this. I had been in continuous pain for the past 6 months, I was hopped up on all sorts of different drugs that affected me physically, emotionally, and psychologically, and I had no idea what the results of the MRI would be. For me, the break up came suddenly, out of nowhere, and he decided to do it at one of my weakest moments. (I’ll discuss the importance of being surrounded by truly empathetic, compassionate, loving friends, partners, and family, in a future post. I’ve learned how much of an impact all of those factors can have on your recovery, remission, and general health.)
In the next few weeks after that night, as I searched for how to heal both my body and my heart, I picked up the book, The Journey From Abandonment to Healing by Susan Anderson. What I realized upon reading it was that everything I had been going through in the past several months all equated to a different feeling of abandonment than what happened that night.
Even before the break up, I had started to notice a change in my outlook. I noticed I was becoming progressively more depressed and self-hating much more than was common for me. Anderson’s book helped me finally understood what I was going through for months. Now I learned that the emotions I had been processing were completely normal for any person who had been hit with a life altering chronic illness diagnosis and who was experiencing nonstop pain, nausea, cramping, bloating, etc. continuously for half a year. I finally felt normal. More importantly, the break up didn’t matter. He didn’t matter. What mattered was my healing.
It finally dawned on me that for the past 6 months I felt like my body had abandoned me. With this book, I was finally able to accept that feeling. As Susan Anderson says, “Every day there are people who feel as if life itself has left them on a doorstep or thrown them away…Abandonment means different things to different people. It is an extremely personal and individual experience. It can take the form of self-sabotage. We get caught up in patterns of abandonment.” That resounded deep within my gut. Life had changed so much from the first time I went to the ER, to the four months of tests before the diagnosis, to adjusting to different medications to try to combat the flare up, to now. I really felt like life had thrown me away.
Throughout my family and personal life, I’ve already had the “pleasure” of experiencing abandonment several times over. I wasn’t new to the process of abandonment. But when my healthy, resilient body abandoned me, this was a whole new level of abandonment that I now had to learn to get used to grieving over. I used to rely on my health to get through tough emotional times. I would run, practice yoga, hike, camp, meditate. Before the illness, I was vegetarian for two years and prior to that, I was a health nut about eating. No soda. No fast food. Low carbs. Desserts on occasion.
Then the 180 hit. Everything changed. When I got sick, vegetables exacerbated the pain, forcing me to eat meat. My stomach was so bloated and inflamed that I looked like a malnourished person because my stomach stuck out inches beyond my normal waistline. I could only wear loose fitting dresses. Pants, leggings, skirts, were all out of the question. They were too tight and restrictive, causing more pain on my abdomen than I was already enduring. Because my stomach was so inflamed, I couldn’t even walk more than a block. My routine at work used to be to walk on my lunch breaks, but one day after walking a block, I was in such immense pain, every step felt like it was piercing a hole into my stomach. It felt as if I had a migraine in my stomach that kept throbbing and radiating pain with every step. Those walks stopped. I attempted my morning vinyasa routine a few times only to feel my stomach throbbing with every flow, thus I couldn’t do yoga. A few times when I thought I was feeling better, I’d attempt a gentle jog. Not a good move. I would walk back home in tears, cringing from the pain in my gut with each slow step home. I couldn’t even sleep. Sleeping on my side and my belly were out of the question because the inflammation in my stomach caused so much pain. I attempted to sleep on my back but the queasy noises emanating from my gut kept me up all night even with several doses of melatonin.
I had to face the fact that I couldn’t do anything physical. I have always relied on working out to boost my serotonin, relieve stress, ground myself, and meditate, and then I lost all of that in one fell swoop. My serotonin levels dropped from not being able to work out, and also as my psychiatrist later told me, your body’s serotonin levels decrease when you’re diseased because everything is depleted since your body is effectively under attack and using all of its resources to respond. It took me a long time to accept this and an even longer time to accept that I had lost my body as I knew it.
Anderson describes how “the effects of abandonment apply to all types of loss and disconnection, whether it’s loss of a job, a dream, or a friend. It may be a loss of one’s home, health, or sense of purpose. Abandonment is a psychobiological process.” No one prepares you for this experience. GI doctors don’t tell you how a Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis diagnosis will make you feel psychologically. They don’t give you a list of what to expect will run through your mind. Nobody explains how the loss of all of the joy and comfort you normally found through food could lead you to a pit of despair. Not being able to eat a bit of cake on my birthday was devastating for me. Not being able to meditate for even a minute because my stomach would be so queasy and loud as it wretched in pain was exhausting. It’s these simple things that add up and lead to a labyrinth of dead ends. I can’t eat this, ok I’ll try this, I can’t eat that, ok I’ll try this, on and on in this unending pattern of dead ends and mazes.
However, once I found Anderson’s book, I was finally able to accept what was happening inside of me. It was a huge step towards healing for me — I had to accept what was happening to me physically before I could accept what was occurring within me psychologically and emotionally. After that, I could actually embark upon my path to healing.