Follow your pain as if it were a candle in the night, leading you to a place of decision. – Caroline Myss
I couldn’t swallow. No, this is not a sexual thing, but glad to know where your mind went. I had developed dysphagia, which is a condition where for one reason or another your swallowing mechanism is affected.
It all started with sandwiches. Eating a simple sandwich was taking me longer than everyone else at the table. People came in and left, satisfied, and I was still only halfway through. I was drinking so much liquid to get it down quickly, that I soon felt completely full with just a few bites. Weight started falling off, and with it came depression.
People talking to me when I was eating became my ultimate fear, as I needed full concentration to consciously initiate a successful swallow. Food stopped tasting of anything. It became a way to get enough nutrients inside my body so I wouldn’t die.
Backing up, the first few symptoms were indigestion and a strange taste in my throat. Doctors attributed it to acid reflux without doing any studies to ascertain this. I took the medications they put in my hands without researching them. I trusted science.
I blindly took these pills on days I felt the weird taste on my mouth. The more I took these, the better I felt, but the worse I felt when I stopped. So I continued taking them, on and off for a few months. Then, after one sleepless night of reflux, nausea and other sensations I decided to put the name of the pills on trusty ‘ol Google. The search results were shocking, from personal blogs to medical journals. Everything and everyone was against them. So why even prescribe them? A future blog post will further explore that question.
I stopped taking them overnight. This was the first of a few futile attempts that spanned almost two years, combined with many doctor visits, three endoscopies, three ER visits, one manometry, changes in medications, miracle potions and homeopathic solutions. It led me to psychologists, meditation, yoga and everything under the sun and moon. It convinced me that no one knows anything about anything when it comes to being healthy. You get thrown everything at you until something sticks, but there is no one definitive cure to definitive ailments.
After a year of this, I didn’t feel sick anymore because it became my routine. My “normal”. My square one. Pulling up my pants to keep them from falling down was casual. Carrying bags of groceries to a second-floor apartment was a lot more interesting. I went to medical studies and doctor visits like I was taking out the trash, or getting the mail. Another thing to do. Doctors didn’t seem to care, so I stopped, too. “Anxiety”: the lazy doctor’s solution to everything. I took pills for that, too.
When you go to a doctor, you expect someone like Dr. House. Someone who will stay with you until they find out what’s wrong with you and provide a cure. Either doctors are not as brilliant, or just not as interested as Mr. Gregory in solving a puzzle. Getting to the next patient, to comply with some quota, seems like a better deal. When they can’t figure something out quickly, they just stick “Anxiety” on your forehead and move on. It’s easy, and after taking the pills you get docile, sleepy and forget the whole thing. Try getting off of them after a while, though.
My parents came to my city to visit, and I took them to tourist spots. Whenever we stopped at a restaurant I wouldn’t eat anything. I would bring my own shakes and smoothies and drank them in the car. My family felt as if saying things like: “If you don’t eat then we won’t eat either,” would help. It was harder to accept for them than it was for me.
I had stopped fighting and just learned to survive. I stopped comparing myself to when eating a meal took 5 minutes, and I started comparing myself to the time when I couldn’t even drink a smoothie without it feeling strange. That’s when I realized that we, as human beings, just get used to things. We learn to survive. We adapt.
Our life is malleable. It is ever-changing and we change with it, like a surfer finding his perfect wave. Our first reaction is to pull back, throw tantrums, be angry with the world and think the darkest thoughts about life. I saw firsthand that if we just stick with it long enough, our bodies and mind will create the antidote, the answer. A new path will be forged. We become alchemists.
Months after living like this, I began eating at restaurants. Soups and easy stuff, at first. Continuing with the things I felt worked for me such as meditation, not eating or drinking anything hours before bed and giving myself an 8-hour sleep opportunity (as explained on Why We Sleep). I trained myself how to be a social person again.
You get used to your situation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t evolve in some way. Adapting is merely to create a ground zero from where you can rise again. It is a defense mechanism to stop you from falling further. Think about the thrusters on a rocket. Eventually, you have to propel yourself upwards. Adapt, survive, but eventually live.
This post is to remind you, and myself, to not be shell shocked when something bad happens. Instead, let it sink in, float on it for a while. Don’t ignore your pain. Follow it. Allow your mind to build a new path in front of you.