Sep 6, 2007

making friends

So the thing I'm making friends with - yeah, it's a thing, not a person - is my own stomach. It seems a bit odd to only get friendly with your own internal organs at the age of 21, but what can I say... it's taken me a while.

Funnily enough, I don't think I've ever written publicly about this issue, which is odd because I've been dealing with it since I was 11. I suppose most of the time it's inconvenient or embarrassing to discuss, and nobody wants to hear about anybody else's stomach problem. (Additionally, the responses I get if I mention it are usually exactly opposite of what would be useful for me, not that it's any body's fault.) Not great conversation material. So if you don't know, I'll sum it up smoothly: my stomach is unpredictable, uncooperative, and generally causes me trouble, and the trouble is only compounded by my rather severe phobia. (However, the two problems are so intertwined that from here on out I will refer to them only as my general stomach problem.) The problem has ranged anywhere from a vague sense that I ought not to do handstands after eating (on my best days), to extreme pain and inability to eat for upwards of several weeks. The effect that it has on my life also varies a lot - these days, I don't have to think about it all the time, I can eat most foods, and I can do most activities. I still don't run or swim or sleep within several hours of eating, but that inconvenience is easily circumvented by planning when I'm going to run/swim/sleep and then not eating (duh).

But there are still bad days - even now. When I wake up feeling sick for no reason, or when I eat 3 bites of lunch, can't eat any more, and am immobilized for the rest of the day. If I get in to a patch of bad days, life suddenly becomes more complicated - I can no longer go anywhere without bringing a whole host of items (I think I am the world expert at curing stomach aches that have no apparent cause) with which to rescue myself from uncomfortable situations (like being at a meeting with 3 professors and being unable to concentrate long enough to form a proper sentence). It's awful to step out the door in fear, with the sense that I need a backpack full of rescue "tools" just to walk to the store or something - but it's a LOT better than getting there without it and suddenly needing those things.

It's not that I haven't tried to medically cure myself of this annoying bum stomach. I've seen at least 6 medical doctors about it, been poked and prodded and tested for a zillion things (no conclusive tests), talked to at least 8 psychiatrists, tried 6 major drugs, and tried at least 12 different natural stomach health products. While I've learned a lot, and I've picked up some "tools" along the way, none of these people or products has really done anything for me.

So, what the hell is wrong with me? Conclusion: nothing. It would appear that it's... "just me"**. Now, one might argue that this chronic nuisance is not something I should just accept - I've certainly been encouraged to try every possibly avenue of treatment - but frankly, the only one left is surgery and I'm not willing to go that way. So if I'm not trying to fix myself any more, I better start picking the good bits out of the lot - and that's what I mean by "making friends".

Now, I think that in general, the worst part of it is behind me, which makes the whole deal easier to make friends with; I don't think I'll ever spend another month desperately trying to eat a quarter of a banana while losing weight at a fast pace. I don't think I'll ever collapse outside the hospital again, or lie on the lawn outside the house for 3 hours until I feel well enough to get inside. I've got more control now than I ever did then, and heck - maybe someday I'll kick the whole problem.

Last year, a baffled psychiatrist told me that since I apparently can't be cured, I might start trying to figure out how this whole problem benefits me. A few weeks ago, I was at a talk by a Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, who themed his entire talk around an opening meditation: "Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I smile at my body". So, the signs are everywhere, and it's time to get thinking: just how does my little friend, my stomach, benefit me?

Well, for starters, it does sometimes do exactly what it's supposed to, so score 1. When it's misbehaving, it gets me to slow down and realize that I must sleep, eat well, and take care of myself. Because of it, I now know a jillion things to suggest to anybody who needs help with a stomach problem. I know what it's like to feel stuck in a pit, unable to dig one's way out of the wrong perception that life will never be easy or cheerful again. Because of my stomach, I've met some of the most accomplished meditators of the modern world and had a chance to ask them questions. I've learned a lot about the brain and how fear works. Perhaps above all, I've learned that when I see somebody sitting in a meeting looking distracted or unhappy, there are a thousand ways in which just being there, sitting in that chair, could be unimaginably hard for them. Actually, even if somebody doesn't LOOK distracted or unhappy, it still might be hard.

So.... hey buddy. Yeah, you, Stomach. I know you're tryin' hard. I'm getting someplace, I really am. Thanks for all the hard work. You can be quiet now. I'm paying attention.

**What exactly is it about me that causes this? For opinions from disparate sources, including my mother, a Buddhist monk-doctor, and my aunt, ask me.

1 comment:

David Glasser said...

It's good to be bold and talk publicly about what you're going through! Good luck coming to terms with this part of your life...