Merry Christmas from the girl who’s not perfect

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PHOTO BY COLIN RIGLEY

In a couple of days I’ll be sending out my Christmas cards and it’s probably going to look, to the people who receive them, like I really have my life in order. Or, at least, under control. Because the holidays are the time for gratitude and cards with idyllic villages dusted with snow and families–according to the strictest definition of family–enjoying wholesome wintertime activities.

I’m also kicking off a month of blog posts–not quite one post for every day in the month of December as I have done in the past, but one every couple of days. And these conversations and photographs are going to create a particular impression of who I am. But nothing’s simple. It’s true that I am an overachiever who enjoys the holidays, but there are things I don’t share on Facebook or document on Instagram. Because social media is a double-edged sword; when you post about being happy and things going well you’re gloating or bragging but when you discuss the hardships or disappointments you’re ungrateful and whiny and lack perspective.

Of course my social media life is curated. Not necessarily to make myself look good–which I know is not the case when I discuss my 12-year-old-stoner eating habits and my cat’s habit of revenge pooping in the basement. The truth is, I’m better with some emotions (humor, outrage, more outrage) than I am with others (vulnerability, sorrow, uncertainty). But I don’t want my friends to receive my Christmas card and construct a false narrative for themselves.

Several months ago my doctor prescribed me anti-anxiety medication. Until that moment, I believed I had everything pretty well under control, mentally, at least. But my body was a mess and it turned out that mess was caused by my brain.

After a lot of testing and misdiagnosis, I was diagnosed with IBS which I have to admit I knew nothing about except that it was hilarious and that people like Ben Stiller made money off of pretending to have it in movies, which mostly meant really terrible gags about diarrhea. I didn’t know that IBS was linked to stress and anxiety, that a high percentage of people who experienced it had experienced some form of abuse, that IBS manifests in different ways in different people. In my case, that manifestation involved experiencing intense back pain when I was severely stressed, which would then lead to an all-night vomiting marathon. I’d vomit until there was nothing less to vomit and continue painfully dry-heaving into the night. What I experienced had no place in a romantic comedy. There were nights when I genuinely believed I was dying, nights when my boyfriend lay beside me in bed worrying and reminding me to tell him when I was ready to go to the hospital.

All because of IBS. Which really translated to: all because of anxiety.

I don’t consider myself an especially sensitive or delicate person. As I said earlier, I have a pretty classic A-type personality and like to have control over more situations than is probably realistic. I also don’t like to address emotional issues and have always believed that with determination and a good workout I could power through anything. Until my all-night vomiting marathons began, along with a host of other unpleasant symptoms such as feeling dizzy and lethargy. But despite how long it went on and how bad it got, I was not prepared for the answer to be that my brain was somehow broken; that’s a crude way to put it, I know, but that is very much how it felt, how it still feels, and I had never felt more defective.

I don’t know if I would have taken that pill the first time if I didn’t have a boyfriend who told me that it wasn’t a big deal, that my brain is not, in fact broken. That I couldn’t spend two to three nights per week vomiting anymore. I’m the type of person who resists taking an Advil when I have a migraine, in part because I don’t entirely trust that it will really work and in part because I really, genuinely fear that taking it is an indication of weakness. And if my body being weak wasn’t bad enough, the notion that my own brain had betrayed me was humiliating.

The pills helped. They still do. Since I started taking them I haven’t spent a single night sick. I also eliminated several foods–including my beloved coffee–that my doctor said might be contributing to the problem. I still see myself differently than I did before. I feel flawed in ways that I never did before and guilty because I couldn’t manage to pull this simple life together without a little help.

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

I saw this quote on a friend’s Facebook page the other day and however trite it may be, it actually felt encouraging, reminding me that it’s not the worst thing to be overwhelmed by the world’s problems to the point that they become my own. The things that bother me–poverty, animal cruelty, war, inequality, the decimation of our environment–should bother me. And the fact that my body processes that stress and anxiety in that particular way is my own bad luck. But I don’t think it makes me a lesser person.

I do not mean to be a downer during my favorite time of the year–a time I still believe is dedicated to companionship, joy, giving, and warmth. But I don’t want to feel obligated to shove all life’s untidiness under a Christmas tree skirt and pretend it doesn’t exist, or to encourage anyone else to sweep their obstacles away because they’re worried they don’t belong in the family Christmas card. The reality–mine, at least–is that I’m going to enjoy my Christmas dinner and eggnog and cookies, but my day is still going to start with that little white pill. And that doesn’t negate the rest of it–my own weird family with my weird boyfriend and charming-and-terrible-in-equal-measure cats and my incredible excitement over my first Christmas in my first house. It just means that life is sometimes a little rough and pretty much everyone is going through something they likely can’t or won’t talk about.

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Comments

  1. That was brave! Thanks for writing so well about something that affects so many

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  1. […] made: Turns out it wasn’t an ulcer. But, I did get a successful diagnosis and medication and am happy to report it’s now under […]

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