On Being Chronically Sick
On the first day of eleventh grade, I went to school, smoked some pot, and ate about a pound of trail mix with my friends. Shortly after, I got the most intense stomach ache I had ever had. It wasn’t an uncomfortable ache, it was horrible pain that felt like my stomach was ripping itself apart.
I missed the second day of school. I continued to miss at least two days a week until I finally gave up on going after a month. My days were spent in bed, unable to eat anything but bites of crackers, sips of ginger ale, and tums. The only thing that gave me relief was sleep, but I couldn’t get more than a few hours here and there because of the pain. I was in and out of doctors, having different tests and tubes of blood drawn every week, a mystery as to what was making a barely sixteen year old so sick. They told me I was anxious and depressed and put me on zoloft. They told me I had a virus on my thyroid that would last six months. They told me the acid reflux that I’d had for years had just gotten worse.
After about six months, I had a stomach emptying test that required me to eat an egg sandwich, drink a glass of orange juice, and be strapped down for 90 minutes. You would think they would be able to come up with a better test for someone who can barely eat and drink, especially something acidic like orange juice, but I digress. They finally discovered the problem: gastroparesis. Translation: paralyzed stomach. They don’t know why I got it, there isn’t a cure, and I was told to be thankful that I didn’t have to have a feeding tube. At sixteen, that isn’t the most reassuring thing to hear
I have a laundry list of health problems. Gastroparesis, severe acid reflux, and IBS rule my stomach. Several car accidents over the years has given me neck pain that I can only describe as a neck migraine, where it hurts to the point that I can’t sit up/see light/get nauseous/etc. I have vertigo, which causes random dizzy spells that sometimes last for days, sometimes so bad I can’t even turn over while sleeping without my entire world literally spiraling out of control, and I periodically black out when I get overheated or don’t feel well. My body hurts constantly.
Sometimes I have months where I’m only sick two or three days a week, but other months I’m sick just about every day, which makes it incredibly hard to continue existing. It is almost impossible to feel like a normal young adult, trying to explain it to bosses or friends who think you are just a flake, or that you are exaggerating. I have drifted from so many friends over the years because of it, not wanting to always explain the situation, or even if I do, knowing that a lot of people think I’m just making excuses.
What is even more frustrating is the amount of negative comments I get regarding my behavior in regards to my health. There are certain foods I cannot eat because I know they will make me sick, so when I choose to still hang out and be social but eat only side dishes or dessert, I don’t need to hear comments on my eating habits. No one should have to explain why they are or aren’t eating a specific way, because frankly it isn’t anyone else’s business. I especially don’t need to hear comments on my weight. Guess what? My body isn’t up for debate when it comes to anyone’s speculation on why I’m thin (or for any other reason, but that goes without saying). Being told you look sick in a judgmental tone by friends or family when they are aware that you actually are sick is frustrating and hurtful, and hearing that someone would rather have my problems and be thin than not be thin makes me want to slam my head into a wall.
I try not to complain or talk about it too much to anyone aside from the people closest to me, and I debated if I should even write about it for fear of sounding complain-y and whiny, but sometimes you just need to talk about it. Sometimes all you want is another young person who can relate, even though I wouldn’t wish chronic pain or illness on anyone. Sometimes you just want to scream I can’t live like this anymore. Some days you think if this is going to be the rest of your life, it just isn’t worth it. But every day I hope that it is, and every day I hope that this will be the last bad day, that I will find a miracle pill, or a new treatment will change my life, or I will find a way to heal myself. Something. Anything.
Written by Sarah Pires
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