You never know how strong you are until you review your journey thus far. I generally keep quiet about my medical affairs, but sometimes I feel that by hiding it and pretending that everything is fine hurts me and doesn’t help others who are struggling too. I want to share this with you all so that maybe those battling chronic illness won’t feel alone. Maybe we could even share information to ease each other’s suffering.
My story starts in my first semester of medical school. I contracted mono after drinking the communal cup of wine at church (not so holy, now is it?). Little did I know that this solemn religious act would be the biggest moment in my life thus far. It would lead me down a dark path that, although at the time seemed to be the worst moment of my life, would ultimately bring me to being the happiest and joyful person I could ever be. There was a before mono chapter in my life and the chapter after…which I would actually label as a second book. I was never the same again. The mono infection may have cleared, but I have never fully recovered. I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a label that makes me cringe. With that came eventually severe debilitating fatigue that would remit and relapse during my medical school career. I remember the moment I broke down and decided to quit medicine because I felt like was never going to be healthy enough.
As a child, I was diagnosed with gastroparesis, which means my stomach is partially paralyzed and it takes me about 8-10 hours to empty my stomach after a meal which has lead to pretty devastating failure to thrive. Because of it, I primarily live on a liquid diet. I find myself embarrassed most days when I have to eat in front of people because I eat baby food, protein shakes, and smoothes most days. People think something is wrong with me if I attend dinner and barely eat anything. I feel rude when I get invited to dinner with friends just to order soup. I would give anything to be able to work out and look like I used to before I got sick, but we are told that eating healthy is eating fresh veggies/fruits, meat, and salads. However, my body literally can’t tolerate that without vomiting because it is too hard to digest. I want to work out and not look like a stick, but I can’t tolerate exercise >15 minutes at a time due to my low caloric intake. When I read this back, it is easy for me to feel that this isn’t fair. I work so hard to make my dreams come true and I am constantly struggling to keep afloat. But I think this says it best;
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths.
Because I am a work in progress, I have to keep pushing on, taking it one day at a time. It would be easy for me to hate my body and curse my parents for faulty genes, but how productive would that be. On my blog post about self love, I reveal how I decided to begin to love myself, even my achy joints. This past week has been rough. I ended up in the ER for fluids, missed a party I was looking forward to, missed seeing my best friend on her birthday, and missed cardiology clinic (which I love cardiology). I mourn the loss of these days, but my love for my body means more. Where most people shop and go out to eat, I take that money and spend it on massages, bath bombs (Lush it up!), and nutritional shakes– no matter the cost. I put my body as a priority. Saying no and taking the time off to rest will save you time in the future. I learned that the hard way when I burned myself out and ended up in the hospital earlier this year and was out for 35 days. If I just take care of myself on a daily basis, attending to my needs, not overworking, taking rest when my body needs it, I will be fine. A lot of my anxiety comes from hoping people don’t think less of me when I can’t be as involved as I want to be. Each day is a struggle with battling working too hard and taking care of myself. Some days I won’t be able to participate and thats okay. I’ll be there next time.
I eventually was diagnosed with depression, diabetes, fibromyalgia, TMJ, interstitial cystitis, Mollaret’s meningitis (a rare recurring meningitis-woohoo!), migraine headaches, hypothyroidism… you name it. My body pretty much hates me. I tried everything under the stars to overcome by fatigue…here is just a small list.
Diets: Ketogenic, Paleo, Sulfur/MS diet, Vegan, Vegetarian, Autoimmune Protocol Diet, assorted Detox Diets, and FODMAP diet
Supplements: (omg there were so many, but these are just a few) Ginko Biloba, Milk Thistle, Garlic, Vitamin D, B12 Shots, Cognium, Ginger Root, Lysine, Probiotics, Echinacea Elderberry, Colloidal Silver etc.
Home remedies: Epsom Salt Bath, Himalayan Salt Bath, Dry Brushing, Facia Blasting, Massage, and Essential Oils
Workouts: Yoga/Meditation, HIIT, Crossfit, Pilates
Other: Massage, Ayurveda, Acupuncture, Sauna Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Meditation
Autoimmune Protocol Diet – discovered lactose intolerance
Cognium – helped with my brain fog
Yoga/Meditation – lots of benefits, too much to name here…even if you’re fatigued, try to fit in daily yoga
Acupuncture – helped with migraines and stomach pain
Massage – helps when I get muscle cramps from dehydration
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – helps build up your mental immunity towards negative thoughts/feelings about your disease process
But through all of this, I’ve come out on the other side on top. I don’t know many 26 year olds who frequent the hospital as much as me or take a handful of pills each day, but every day I walk into my hospital I see kids fighting harder than me. I see that I have a place in this world. I feel the overwhelming urge to connect with my patients and to recognize their suffering because I’m living it too. What a beautiful connection to be made. In the book titled, “The Book of Joy” by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (thanks Sara!), there is a chapter titled, “Nothing Beautiful Comes Without Some Suffering”, the Dalai Lama begins to recount how he once had a gallbladder attack when he was about to teach to a great crowd in India. He was rushed to the hospital and along the road was an old man lying on the ground and appeared to be dying. All the way to the hospital, he was thinking of this man and felt his suffering, and then he completely forgot about his own pain. By simply shifting my focus to another person, which is what compassion does, his own pain was much less intense. This is how compassion works even at the physical level. He went on to say,
“A self-centered attitude is the source of the problem. We have to take care of ourselves without selfishly taking care of ourselves…We should have wise selfishness rather than foolish selfishness. Foolish selfishness means you just think only of yourself, don’t care about others, bully others, exploit others. In fact, taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life. So that is what I call wise selfishness.“
This is why, even on the darkest of days, I feel truly happy. Pour me some bubbly, because I’m not finished yet!