I recall many times thinking a particular challenge was intimidating – moving away from home to be out on my own for the first time, starting college in an unfamiliar city, my first day of teaching, and countless more, but none hold a candle to everything I have encountered since developing gastroparesis. The trials I once thought were daunting, pale in comparison to the difficulties I have faced every day now since my initial diagnosis. All are challenges I have thus far managed to conquer, but each day presents them anew.
The first test I face every day is to find the energy to get out of bed. Sleep is often scarce, and lack of nutrition from my inability to take in adequate calories makes this a monumental task most days. And once I am up, the trials do not get any easier. I begin the day by making my bed and completing my exercise routine. This further depletes my already miniscule supply of energy. By the end of the day, when I have performed all the necessary household chores, helped my daughter with her homework and other projects, and completed all of the administrative and advocacy-related duties required from my support groups, there is no reserve of energy left to tap. Sheer willpower makes it possible to get through the evening.
In addition to this, I must face the overwhelmingly difficult challenge of resisting foods (pretty much all food, actually) that I know will cause me pain. I am hungry, starving, and like all other human beings, I need food, but it punishes me with pain if I consume more than tiny amounts of it. There is never a day – never a moment of a day – where I do not have to face this. There are no breaks from the hunger or the temptation to satisfy it. It is truly agonizing. The best I can hope for is to try to go about my day and keep my mind occupied with work.
By far, though, the most daunting daily challenge I face is maintaining the will and spirit to go on despite the difficulties of this life. On a “big picture” level, my faith in God and my love of family make this possible. On a daily basis, however, I must rely on practical coping mechanisms. Largely, I try to focus on the positive aspects of my life to keep my spirits up. I throw myself into working with my gastroparesis support and advocacy groups as a form of distraction as well. All of this is beneficial. It leaves me with little time to contemplate the dreadfulness that surrounds me. Furthermore, helping others in a similar situation makes me feel as if I am accomplishing something worthwhile and serving a purpose. It helps to know that perhaps I am making a difference in the lives of others.
Life with a chronic illness is indescribably challenging. Each day is a struggle to endure and maintain some semblance of normalcy and optimism. Each day comes with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Yet, I have survived and overcome these hardships every day for more than a year now. That gives me hope and the will to continue fighting.