Chronic Illness is Not Enviable or “Cool”, And Gastroparesis is NOT an Eating Disorder

A few years back, a seemingly healthy friend of mine, expressed jealousy over the fact that I could have my dog in apartments that were, otherwise, not pet friendly. I explained that he had been an emotional support animal, before I realized he could sense my seizures and heart rate changes. At that point he was trained to be both a medical alert dog, as well as a psychiatric service dog. (Back then I was struggling with some major side effects from PTSD. Today they’re under control, though I do still appreciate my dogs waking me up if I do have a night terror.)

She would, eventually, announce that she had PTSD as well, and promptly run out and adopt a “service dog” of her own. All of it was whatever, until she started trying to convince folks with very little, or even no, trauma, that they too, could have PTSD. Ever feel anxious in social situations? You probably have PTSD. It was absurd, and I told her as much. It was suddenly this popular thing. Emotional support animals were getting scrutinized, but psychiatric service dogs became a loophole. They’re totally legitimate, but seem to be easier for some folks to sneak through the system, which is just sad.

The breaking point came when my struggles with gastroparesis became extreme. This was prior to chemotherapy, when I was really thin. My frailness, something that prevented me from going out and enjoying life, became this enviable thing. Someone with an eating disorder clung to it, and decided that they could eat whatever they’d like, vomit, blame it on gastroparesis, and gain sympathy.

It worked.

I still didn’t really think much about it at the time, or even now, because we all have our own battles. What I did think about, and what I still become aggravated with, is this idea that gastroparesis is an eating disorder. After years of being accused of anorexia or bulimia, finding myself in that viewfinder again, was beyond aggravating. I wanted to eat, desperately, and I wanted to drink even more, but I simply couldn’t overcome the nausea. It wasn’t worth eating just to be sick. Some people with GP, will eat, and get sick, either because they want to attempt to eat, or they miss the taste of food, and a small percent I’m sure, do have true eating disorders on top of the GP. Eating disorders can also cause GP, but it can be reversible in some cases.

I am not in the reversible category, and I need people to accept that.

I have good days and bad days with gastroparesis, but it never goes away. A good day can actually cause a string of bad days if I’m not fully aware of what I’m consuming. My behavior may look eating disorder like, but the reality is I can’t digest as much as I may want. A good day means I’m not as nauseas, or I may even have an increase of collateral blood flow, letting me digest…but my GP doesn’t go away.

There is a condition called median arcuate ligament syndrome, or MALS. With MALS, the arcuate ligament runs in an odd manner, and causes impingement of the celiac artery. This results in a lack of blood flow to the stomach, liver, and some other stuff in that area. It can also cause compression of nerves. In a nutshell, you get abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite, and all that fun stuff. Surgery helps some patients, but not all patients, and the theory behind this statistic is that patients who have nerve damage, will have continued pain.

I don’t have MALS…but I do have significant celiac artery stenosis. They can’t stent it, they don’t know what causes it, and it’s significant enough, that spasms from my vasculitis, could cause it to close off completely, worsening the pain, and gastroparesis episodes.

Except of course, doctors don’t love that conversation, because having your celiac artery narrowed to about 90%, like mine is, when you don’t have atherosclerosis, is weird. Also, even with atherosclerosis, the celiac artery would be an odd point of discovery. Some doctors agree, my celiac artery is the cause of the gastroparesis and other upper GI issues, especially when combined with my chronic gastritis. Other doctors refuse to even approach the subject. When MALS is understood, accepted, and still debated, being that one random patient with a bum celiac artery, tends to sort of become something that your doctors ignore.

I won’t wake up one day and be able to eat normally. I always have pain when I eat…always. Even friends who get excited to see me eat a meal, don’t understand the effort. I will have pain. I will have nausea. I may actually need to sit a certain way, use a hot pack, something, to alleviate the discomfort. Once we hit my intestines it’s really a toss up as to how that will go. There is always some pain due to dehydration, and the stool softeners and laxatives I’m required to take. Some sections don’t always work. Other sections are sometimes ulcered. It’s a fun time down there.

So when someone tells me that I will “heal” my gut as I move through my “eating disorder” like they did, I want to scream. 

Being sick is not something that gets you the kind of attention you might think you’ll get. I want love. I want to build a career and a life. Spending time in infusion chairs, ERs, doctors’ offices, it’s all just a lot of stuff that gets in the way of living life. Yeah, my wheelchair helps me get around, but now that I don’t live downtown, where will I go? You can’t put it in a car, so it leaves me stranded unless I take the bus, something I’ve yet to attempt.

I may start a day feeling good, go to an event, and end up with legs that won’t work. It’s funny how the people who seem to be disability envious, who suddenly find themselves with the same conditions, only have issues when they’re home alone, or want to hang out with friends who seem to have plans that they don’t have the ability to participate in for some reason other than their health. If you always feel healthy enough for parties, concerts, and other leisure activities, but suddenly seem violently ill to avoid obligations, or garner attention, I’m going to question your sincerity. I’m not talking about a recovery day (or week) because I know that one good day for me, when pushed to far, can definitely screw me up. It’s the people who seem to cling to the fringes of the disabled or “spoonie” communities, join somehow, but always seem to have luck when it comes to when their condition will flare up.

Today is a hard day, because I find myself bitter. I want this life I cannot have. This isn’t something positive thinking can fix. Most of the time I do accept my circumstances, and I work to find things that can make me just as happy, if not happier, than my original plans. It doesn’t mean I don’t get angry sometimes. When someone gleefully jumps into the sick people community, only to have oddly good luck in terms of when they’re actually sick, and when they’re not, I struggle to bite my tongue.

Be interested, be included, but don’t lie. Even a small illness deserves support. Hell, all people deserve support. You don’t have to fake being seriously ill to get it.

 

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Chronic Illness is Not Enviable or “Cool”, And Gastroparesis is NOT an Eating Disorder

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