What the Hell Happened to my Body, Part I
This whole thing started in 2014. It really started earlier, but 2014 was when it got serious. If you could pinpoint the place where things started to go downhill again, it would be Thanksgiving.
Truth be told, Thanksgiving and I have been weird since I started going to school out of province. It wasn’t just me coming home to see my family. It was me coming home to something bad. First year, it was Dad announcing he was leaving my Mum and moving to the opposite coast. Second year, Nanny’s funeral. Fourth year, dead cat.
Third year? A well-timed breakdown.
Three years prior, I had surgery that saved my life at the expense of removing my colon and giving me an ostomy pouch. I was under the impression that, pending a medical miracle, I would have that pouch for the rest of my life. I was also under the — very misguided — impression that I would have no more medical problems.
That last impression meant that once the problems reappeared, I slipped into blissful ignorance. I was tired, but all students are, especially ones that work as hard as I do. I was weak, but I haven’t been eating much lately and I could probably lose weight anyway. I was passing blood from my rectum that didn’t even have a colon to attach to. Well, that would go away.
It was easier to work my problems away. I threw myself into every opportunity that came around. I ran an online magazine on campus; held meetings every week, scouted and edited submissions, and promoted the shit out of it. I wrote for extra money. I gave out tequila shots at the campus bar for extra money. I ran a personal blog because all good journalism students had an online brand.
I worked hard because I had a plan post-grad. Move to another city — a real city — and work my way up in publishing. Magazines were folding left and right. I had to stand out if I wanted a job.
Getting sick again was not part of the plan. But it was happening anyway. I didn’t want to believe it. Doesn’t the law of attraction work both ways?
I came home that Thanksgiving totally burned out. I felt like a fraud, espousing the virtues of a healthy mind and body on my blog while simultaneously ignoring my own failing health. Online I portrayed myself as a go-getter, but in real life it was exhausting. I didn’t want to do this anymore.
I was oversleeping. I had a constant headache. My bathroom trips lasted more than 20 minutes and I would come out feeling tired and weak. Even sitting down was painful.
I barely ate. I would choke down an instant coffee for breakfast, maybe finish a Quest Bar by 11:00 if it was a good day. Lunch didn’t always happen. Dinner was a bowl of spinach and feta cheese with lemon juice and olive oil, with some Triscuits if I felt like it.
Barely eating made me lose weight. My size 0 skinny jeans hung loose on my hips, my waist, my ass. I began to hate getting dressed. I looked like a child playing dress-up in mother’s clothes. Swallowed up by excess fabric.
I kept working. I carried around the heavy equipment for video assignments. I made sure the magazine met its weekly article quota, even when the writers bailed. I didn’t need help.
My Thanksgiving breakdown was just a harbinger of things to come.
The first full day of March Break I could have slept all day. I probably would have if I hadn’t been awoken by the recognizable buzz of my phone. A local number I didn’t recognize.
It was a doctor who worked in the blood lab. My latest blood test was alarming. My hemoglobin was low. Half the amount it should be. I should probably go to the emergency room.
No matter what they told me, it was obvious I wasn’t going back to school once March Break was over.
What I knew in my head all along was now a fact for others to say out loud: I was sick again. Really sick.
Treatments were ordered. Prescriptions filled. An iron IV at the hospital every few weeks. Medicated enemas. Anything to be able to finish out the school year. Then you can come back home. Solve the problem of your body.
Right now we just need a band-aid.
There’s a quiet shame in being sick.
Crying quietly on a city bus. Planning your home treatments around when your roommates will be out so as to not bring attention to yourself. Apologizing to your professor when he tells you to leave class because you look unwell.
Concealing every facet and function of your body. If normal bodies are a slight embarrassment, then a sick body is unacceptable.
Shame because society was not built for you. Shame when you’re too disabled to participate but at the same time not disabled enough. Shame because we only recognize two extremes of being.
Shame in being in flux. Occupying a liminal space. Staring into an unknown.
My five-year plan was doused in gasoline. My body threw the match while my mind wasn’t looking. Nothing was guaranteed anymore, but it never really was. Now my body and mind were looking at the same pile of ashes.