February 14, Valentine’s Day, the day for lovers, marks my second anniversary with gastroparesis. But this has been no great love affair, and there will be no celebration of fond emotions. Gastroparesis is a jealous and demanding paramour. It aspires to rule my life and desires my complete time, attention, and devotion. It relentlessly pursues me and seeks to control my every thought, emotion, and action. It wants to own me, and it cares nothing for my wants, needs, plans, dreams, and goals. It is heartless, merciless, and cold. It knows nothing but pain and misery, and it will overtake me in an instant if I allow it.
I did not always know this about my constant companion. It can be deceptive. At times, it whispers to me, and I scarcely know it is there. I convince myself for a moment that it might release me – and I believe its lies when it says we can coexist in peace. But it tricks me. It offers only short reprieves from the hunger and pain. It taunts me with the promise of a normal life only to snatch it away when I least expect it. It keeps me guessing, off guard, unsure of myself and my abilities. It laughs at my plans and mocks me when I speak of my dreams of a beautiful, serene future.
It imprisons me in my own home and separates me from the ones I truly love. I do my best to appease it, to do its bidding. I obey its harsh demands. But it is never enough to soothe the beast. It will not let go of its death grip, and it refuses to let me be. It tells me no one else could ever love me, that I am not worthy of others in my weakened and humbled state. It hints that, indeed, my former loves have already left me. “Are they here with you?” it mocks. “Do they still seek your company?” And I must pause – and contemplate.
It hurls insults about my appearance and reminds me that I am grotesque, persuades me that I belong in the shadows. And then, in a soft voice, it beckons me to those shadows. It welcomes me to remain in its world, where there is no judgment and no expectation of greatness. It caresses me with its offer of acceptance. It beseeches me to look no further and admonishes me to spurn all other suitors. It embraces me, and for brief moments, I want to remain. I want to cease the fight within my soul and give in to the dark promises it offers. It tempts me.
But deep in my heart, in my barest soul, I know the illusive nature of this monster that resides with me, in me. In truth, it endeavors only to harm, isolate, create doubt, fear, and hopelessness. It seeks to devour me – heart, mind, body, and soul. It hides its true nature and disguises its malevolent intentions. And if I allow it, it will crush me, break my spirit, and enslave me forever. Gastroparesis, and the world it offers me, is not my true and intended lover, not my future, not my destiny. I share with it this anniversary, but it is not my eternal fate. I am physically bound to the beast, but it cannot possess me without my consent. Something better awaits, and I must never forget that my truest passion, my genuine love still calls for me, longs for me.