How Illness Taught Me to Trust My Body Again
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Issue 13 of Holl & Lane Magazine.
I was seventeen years old when my life was turned upside down on me. But this wasn’t your average "life-changing" moment. It was stealthy and unconventional.
Up until this point in my life, I felt very safe living in my body. I felt like physically I was normal. I felt strong. I can honestly say that I was happy with my body and I loved it, both internally and externally.
And on a warm April evening in 2004, the body that I took so much comfort in started betraying me.
I began experiencing random episodes of intense abdominal pain and uncontrollable vomiting. The pain came with waves of nausea, drifting in and out of consciousness and endless, relentless retching. This first attack landed me straight into the emergency room, as would every single attack thereafter.
I saw multiple specialists including: gastroenterologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, dieticians, and more. Every single test came back normal. I had countless procedures to probe and investigate what the problem could be. I had my gallbladder removed on a doctor’s whim. I was so desperate for answers, I had a body part removed. It’s a little nuts when you think about it, but at the time, it was all I had.
Many potential diagnoses were thrown around: Pancreatitis. Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome. Abdominal Migraines. Sphincter of oddi dysfunction. All very uncertain. My life became an unpredictable roller coaster of these attacks. And with that, I developed a very unique case of anxiety. This situation quickly developed into full mind-body chaos. On the outside, I looked normal. But inside, something was obviously very wrong. Physically, I was a mess. Emotionally, I was broken.
UNCONVENTIONAL METHODS OF HEALING
Over time, I completely lost trust in my body’s ability to function as it was meant to.
Food became a really strange space for me, since much of the time I was throwing it up. I developed a ton of anxiety around eating, and this quickly transformed into a very physical thing. Even when I didn’t think that food was an issue, my body took over and quickly told me that it was. I thought of myself as sick, but more importantly, I felt so sick.
And then doctors started prescribing me medications. First up, pain medicine to help me try to manage my attacks at home along with nausea meds to counteract the side effects of the pain medicine. Then came the anxiety medications to help me stay calm before, during, and after my attacks. Next up: the “special” meds, the ones that I was told to use a little unconventionally in order to attempt to get things under control. These included tranquilizers, antacids, and muscle relaxers. And then there was Adderall, prescribed to me by a psychiatrist because I was having so much trouble focusing on anything.
By this time, almost seven years in, my body was such a mess that if you were to sit down and ask me today what exactly it was that I had, I would have a really hard time telling you. I know now that it started as Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome, but then over time, it morphed into something unrecognizable. Toward the end, Sphincter of oddi dysfunction seemed to be taking over, but that isn’t really relevant anymore. I ended up seeing an addiction specialist who opened my eyes to the fact that now, the medications were my biggest problem.
RESTARTING MY BODY
So, I had to do the work to clean my body up. It took almost 2 years and it was hard. I went through withdrawals. I had some major complications. I spent a ton of time feeling pretty gross. But I dove into my health and embraced a really holistic approach to how I took care of my body. I started to get excited about eating well and natural remedies and everything else that comes along with this space.
I finally realized that that night in April, my body was not actually betraying me like I had thought. Instead, it was crying out. It was completely out of balance and it was asking me for help. It took me seven years to finally listen. Once I tuned in, I was finally able to start healing.
And with that, I found the ability to trust my body again.
What does this trust look like? For me, it’s being able to eat without discomfort, pain, anxiety, and the dreaded emergency room visits that I had grown so accustomed to. It’s knowing that my body can only function at its best when I take the best care of it that I can. It’s real food, regular exercise, meditation, and chiropractic visits. It means that medications are always a last resort, chemicals are minimized (in food, beauty products, etc.) and that I pay very close attention to triggers like stress and overwhelm.
Above all else, trusting my body means that I listen to it.
Life is messy and loud, so it can be really hard to do this. Tuning inward takes practice. It takes determination and a real, true commitment to living in the body that you are given and respecting every inch of your flesh and bones. It takes persistence and willpower. And it takes grace. As fierce as we must be when it comes to taking back our health and empowering our bodies, we must also let ourselves soften and relax. This is where the trust takes over big-time.
Trust means that I respect my body and never, ever take it for granted. I wake up every single day and recognize how lucky I am to have been given the opportunity to live in my body, right now. I think about how fortunate I am to have been given this awful experience and turned it into the catalyst for my best physical and emotional life. There was a time when I hated my illness. But now, I love that I walked such a crazy path to find health.
Trust takes time and it takes work. But it is so, so worth it.