Sunday, April 10, 2016

Ten Years

Ten Years. A decade. It turns a child to a teenager and a teenager into a young adult. It seems like a short time in the grand scheme of life but so much can happen.

A lot has happen in the world during the past ten years. There have been so many earthquakes. tsunamis, tornadoes and other natural disasters. There have been numerous terrorist attacks and school shootings. We have had our first black President. There have been 5 different Olympic games. Disney (and it's subsidiaries) have put out over 25 animated movies. My sister added three kids to her family. My brother served a mission, graduated college, live in Albania, and moved out of state for a job. A lot has happened and changed.

In the past 10 years I have: visited 7 different states, developed a love for hiking and running, ran a 5K, trained for a half marathon, lived in 4 different cities, 8 different houses, 16 different roommates, attended five wards, held numerous callings, broken my foot, had one major surgery, one minor surgery, a colonoscopy and a few endoscopies, worked in 6 different jobs, graduated from college, made so many wonderful friends and so much more.

Ten years ago today, on April 10, 2006, I was sitting in a Gastroenterologist's office after to see if I could get some answers to some symptoms and a sickness that I had been experiencing for the past six months. It has started while I was a missionary in Chicago. The doctors there seemed confused and couldn't seem to give me any answers. I was blessed that when I got home, I was able to find a doctor in Idaho, who knew what I had within ten minutes of me being in his office. That day I was given a diagnosis.

To be honest, the diagnosis confused me. I had never heard of the condition. I could not even remember the name. For the first few days, I told people I had a lazy stomach, because that was all I could remember. I decided to do some research and soon found the name. Gastroparesis. A paralyzed stomach. The diagnosis was confirmed later that week after multiple tests.

It's crazy to see how far I have come in the past 10 years. I remember getting to a low of 88 pounds, being so dehydrated and malnourished that I had to be put in the hospital and pumped with liquids before a procedure. I would eat and automatically need to throw up. I could not keep anything down, no matter how hard I tried. After being diagnosed, I was put on an all liquids diet but I struggled with that because with too much liquid, I would throw up. I would have to take a sip of something every 15 minutes or so. I was on a milkshake a day diet, which sounds nice, but gets old. We would lace my drinks with dry milk or Carnation Instant Breakfast, for added nutrition and calories. I was drinking protein shakes. We even discussed giving me a feeding tube.

I was unable to workout. I did not have stamina. I wasn't healthy enough to last. My hands and arms would tingle when I did too much and when my nutrition levels were low. I could do very little without that happening. It was difficult because working out had become a release for me.

There were emotional lows. I remember a few breakdown. One in particular where I lost it completely for weeks. I remember constantly feeling judged by people and them not understanding how difficult it was to live with something that you had no clue what it was  or having to live on a ll liquids and changing your whole lifestyle.

I struggled being social because most social activities involved food or exercise, in one form or another, and I couldn't do either. When I would go to things, I constantly felt like I had to explain myself and that no one really believed what I was going through, let alone understood how extremely difficult it was. There were times where people would have a barbecue and make a milkshake for me so I would feel left out. I was grateful for those times.

Ten years later, a lot has changed. I am much healthier than when I first began, which is interesting because my diet is not nearly as balanced. I can drink more than a sip of something and not get sick. In fact, liquids like 100% fruit juice, Slim Fasts, Chocolate Milk, etc., have become an important source of nutrition for me. I don't have to add extras to them either. I eat solids too. I enjoy cereal, breads, pastas, and other like foods that are easier to breakdown and process.

Because I am able to eat more and am getting more nutrients, I have been able to exercise and do more physical activities, which I have learned to love. A few years back, I pushed myself and ended up running my first 5K, by myself, to show I have power over my body. Since then, I have been determined to run a half marathon, which should be happening this year. At the end of a stressful day or week, I find running or working out, helps me to feel better and more relaxed. I am so grateful I can exercise.

I have learned to cope with it well enough that when flare-ups happen or hard times come, I usually know what to expect and how to deal with it. There are some realities that I have had to face throughout the years, with this condition. They hurt so much in the beginning but I am realizing that there are other ways to manage or that how others think or respond to this condition does not bother me nearly as bad. My condition does not define me. People can choose whether to accept me. It used to hurt to see how some people refused friendships because of this. Now I know that a true friend accepts me for who I am and what I have. There are always ways to receive blessings. They may not come in the way one wants or expects.

I would be lying if I said this doesn't affect my life socially, but I don't let it stop me as much. I still struggle going to dinner groups or linger longers where I can't eat to much because it draws attention to me and my condition, while I am really trying to fit and blend in. However, I have learned to bring something for me to eat to most places I go that may not have food I can eat. I have learned that you can say no without having to explain. In fact, when I hang out with some friends, they barely remember I have stomach issues.

As I have worked through the many ups and downs of this diagnosis, there are a few things that have remained a constant. First, the Atonement. It is the thing that has gotten me through the lowest of lows knowing that there is one who understand everything I was feeling and going through. One of my heroes gave me this advice, before I was diagnosed, to not let the Atonement be in vain. He has already suffered for all of our pains, imperfections and shortcomings. To not use him to help get through trials, is the not use the Atonement in it's fullness. Second, I have received so many prayers and support from my family and friends. Though it is difficult for them to understand how and what I am feeling, they have still done what they could to make this condition easier to live with. They have adapted meals, prayed as I struggled, listened when I needed to cry or vent and supported me as we sought for help and answers in one way or another. I am so grateful for the help that I have received from all of them. I could not do that alone. Third, I have always known that I was given this condition to help me gain empathy and as a way to be able to reach out and help others. It is incredible the opportunities that have come up where I have been able to talk to or share my experiences with others who are suffering. I have had family members and friends who have been diagnosed with similar conditions. I have had others reach our to me when a friend or acquaintance received a diagnosis. I am more than happy to help and assist how I can. I am not perfect in how I cope and live with this condition. I am continually learning better ways every day. Living with this condition has truly made me who I am.

Gastroparesis is still not a very well known condition. It is not an eating disorder. It is a real condition. Gastroparesis affects more than 1.5 million Americans. Up to 1/3 of the cases are idiopathic, or have no known cause. That is mine. The treatment varies for each person and, in most cases, does not cure gastroparesis. It is is usually a chronic and long-lasting. I encourage people to learn more about this condition. I hope and pray that someday there will be better treatments available or even a cure for this condition. I hope that more research and studies will be done to find out ways to prevent it as well. More than anything, I hope that more people become aware that this is a real condition and that is affects so many people daily.