I am going to share some pretty personal information. Not a big deal to some of you, I am sure, but to me, it is huge. I am not the kind of person who does this – or at least I didn’t used to be. But things have changed for me recently. In early February of 2014, I spent a week in the hospital and was eventually diagnosed with gastroparesis. I am guessing most people have never heard of this; I know I had not, prior to be diagnosed. In any case, I have been thinking about how to help those of us who struggle daily with GP. And although I see the value in promoting awareness month, selling shirts for awareness, etc., I think maybe people who know very little about this disease need to hear a personal story. So here goes…
My life changed in ways I could not have imagined – overnight. One day, I was able to eat at buffets, if I so desired, and the next day, I was unable to tolerate all foods and liquids. I was hospitalized with severe pain and vomiting, put through a battery of tests (including one particularly terrible one where they forced a tube down my nose and pumped my stomach), diagnosed, given only a brief explanation of my illness and its treatment, and sent home. For the next few weeks, I was on a liquids-only diet, and I was told that I had to gradually work my way up to soft foods and (eventually) solids. Unfortunately, nothing like that has occurred. I am able to eat some soft foods, in tiny amounts, but it is becoming clear to me that I will never again be able to eat “normal” foods in “normal” amounts.
At first, I told myself that I would not let this stupid disease define or control me – it simply WOULD NOT be the center of my life. But as time passed, I began to see how foolish that was. Every single day, every second of every day, I think about food. I see it; I smell it; I cook it and feed it to the other members of my household; but I cannot have it myself. I look in the mirror, and I see a skeleton. I try to eat even small amounts of food, and I am in agony. I am weak and fatigued to levels I didn’t think were possible. Some mornings, I don’t think I have enough energy to get out of bed. I can barely concentrate and function enough to do everyday tasks. And almost every single night, my husband has to help me up the stairs to bed because he is afraid that if he doesn’t, I might fall down those stairs. My 11-year-old daughter has seen me vomiting, screaming in pain, lying on the floor crying, and on the verge of passing out. At times, it has frightened her so much that she has asked my husband to get me “Life-Alert” for the times when she cannot be home with me.
I grieve over the fact that I can no longer travel or get out of the house for much of anything. I grieve over missing family events and not being able to attend my daughter’s activities. I grieve over not being able to go out to eat, or on a picnic, or to another concert, or any of the other things I know are not possible anymore. I worry that I will not get to see my daughter graduate, or get married, or have children. I am not on the verge of death today (at least, I don’t think I am), but when I look in the mirror and think about how tired I am, I realize that people like this do not have long life spans – and it bothers me.
I get frustrated because people do not understand how my life is affected by all of this. If you were to see me on the street, you would likely not realize I am this sick. I don’t look that sick. And because most people are unaware of the effects of GP, they ask me all of the time if I am okay now. I can’t seem to convince them that I am never going to be okay again – not in the way they mean it. I am told that I “just need to eat,” or that if I would only try “Activia,” I would be okay. My own doctor (PCP) accused me of being an anorexic and told my husband to “watch me.” And though I know people mean well and are trying their best to help, it still makes me so frustrated.
I am angry because I am a control freak, and I don’t like having to be a slave to this disease. I don’t like not being able to do things myself – always having to rely on others to do them or get help doing them. I have screamed at, smacked, and pushed my husband away for simply trying to help me more times than I can count. I have thrown things (including food) across the room in fits of anger. I have intentionally gone without eating – even though I know I shouldn’t – just to “show” this disease who is in control. Crazy, I know! I am angry because I do everything that I am supposed to do – eat the right things, exercise, and ingest the known medications – and I am still sick.
I think about the others who have this disease who are so much worse than I am. There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of posts in my Facebook feed every day from people who have had to go to the ER or back in the hospital for dehydration, pain, or other such conditions. I know so many people now who have feeding tubes or ports for nutrition. I know many who have developed other serious conditions because of the GP. I sometimes look at them and think that this will surely be my future, too, and it scares me.
There are times when I am in such agony that I can do nothing but cry – lie on the floor and beg God to just let me die. He doesn’t – and I am so thankful that He ignores those moments. I mostly have a good attitude about my situation and try to make the best of it. I am a Christian, and I believe there is much ahead after we leave this world. I also feel blessed that I have been given so many years with the best husband and daughter anyone could imagine. I am truly thankful for each day I get to spend with them. I do not understand why I have to have this disease, but God does, and I trust Him.
What I do understand is that it is somehow important to me to let people know what I go through – what all GP sufferers likely go through. I am sharing these personal details in such a public forum because I think it is important for people to see this disease. But I think it is equally important to share how much I have been blessed BECAUSE OF this disease and to let others know how much they matter and how much of a difference they can make.
I first joined a Facebook support group because I wanted to know what treatments and medications others like me had found helpful – but I hated the idea of support groups. I was there for information only; I just knew I didn’t need anything like support. Not for me! So foolish! You cannot imagine the blessing these online groups have been. I have learned much, for sure, but I have received so much more than information. I have received more support, understanding, and kindness than I ever could have dreamed. I have made friends that I feel I have known for a lifetime. I tell people all of the time that I hate this disease, but I dearly love all the people I have met because of it.
I have received help from family members, friends, and acquaintances beyond measure. My neighbors have cooked meals for my husband and daughter; they have watched my child and my pets; they have offered to transport me to and from appointments; and they have done everything they can to suggest ideas (and foods!) that might be tolerable for me. My family has come to visit me, even though I know it is horribly inconvenient for them – and they have also stayed away when I have asked them to, even though I know they wanted to be here. I tell you, honestly, every single person on here has helped me in some way. Some have visited, some have called, some have done chores and tasks, and some have cheered me up with their stories. Some have played online games with me (and have taken my mind off my situation for a time), and some have posted pictures, quotes, or videos that have made me laugh – or cry. All of this has been more of a blessing than I could have known. You are ALL a blessing to me – and I want you to know.
Don’t ever be convinced that you can do nothing to help or that you don’t matter. To those who are struggling, your efforts to understand, cheerful words, helpful attitude, and other contributions really can make a difference.