Sunday, 31 March 2013

DON'T DO WHAT DAVE DOES, or, HOW TO LITERALLY WORRY YOURSELF SICK

Roughly seven years ago during the summer before my final year of college, I started to have trouble with my stomach.

At first it was simply needing to visit the throne more frequently. Then it started into a feeling of being bloated, and at times was a little painful. I noticed that certain foods would cause me to have to go to the loo very shortly after eating them, and as this continued I began to be more and more worried about being too far from a toilet for an extended period of time. This caused me more stress and my issue hit a boiling point when one night I was so backed up and unable to breath that I ended up in the hospital.

I saw my doctor when this first began, and his initial assessment was that I was overly stressed. At the time, I didn't feel any extra stress, and since there was physical pain I immediately wrote off the suggestion. I just couldn't believe that something physical could be caused by 'stress', especially when I didn't even feel stressed! Damn it all if I wasn't a huge fool for not looking into that possibility sooner. I mean, my 'safety' time in the blanket of education was coming to and end and I would have to get myself together and launch my career. Looking back, I realize there was a tonne of stress all around me.

Over the next two years I visited my doctor a bunch of times, saw various specialists that did blood work and took all manner of samples, I was scanned and rescanned and X-rayed and probed a bunch of times. And each time I came away with the same message: "We can't see anything wrong and you actually appear to be in very good health." However, my stomach problems persisted, and I got more worried.

Eventually I saw a gastrointestinal specialist who came to the conclusion that I had "Gastrostasis", also known as "Gastroparesis". Basically, my stomach wasn't processing the food at the normal rate, which was causing my issues. The worst thing about this verdict is that there is no known cause and no known way to treat it. The other great news was that for some people it just goes away and other people have it for the rest. of. their. lives.

This was as far up the Western medicine chain I could go regarding my specific situation and I wasn't very happy about it, but at least my beast had a name.

I did some research and found virtually nothing on the subject. It turned out that my mate at college had had similar issues and he suggested a few things that a Russian doctor had told him to do. My problem wasn't as bad as it had been, but it was still there all the time.

For years my life felt like a rotten hell, and I felt trapped by my own body. I was afraid to go places, I was embarrassed if I went out to eat with my girlfriend at the time, in case I had to go and spend 10 minutes in the washroom, leaving her alone at a table. I refused invitations from friends to go see shows, and other invites to go out for drinks or just to hang out. I was so embarrassed all of the time, and even at home I didn't feel comfortable, but there didn't seem to be any way to fix the issue despite all sorts of diet changes.

Early in 2012, my relationship fell apart, largely in part because of my stomach issues and how they made me grouchy most of the time and restricted where I could go. 

We were on a trip for her friend's wedding and on the evening before the wedding day my stomach problem reared it's head. I couldn't fucking believe it. I couldn't leave the hotel room. The wedding was in the morning and I wanted to be there but knew that I wouldn't be able to stand around for the whole ceremony. Still, when the time came, and still feeling god awful, I got myself together as best I could I headed down to the beach because I didn't want to let my girlfriend down. I wanted to be there for her. I managed to see the bit where they get married but then I had to make a bee-line back to the room.

I swore to her with all of my conviction that I would get to the bottom of this once and for all and never let it prevent us from doing what we wanted to. Heartbreakingly, it was too late. She was already out of the relationship in her mind.

Within a few weeks of being back from that trip, it was over. 6 1/2 years of dreaming of babies, houses, and living to see each other grow, gone in flash.

I had stopped drinking a few years ago because of my stomach, limiting myself to a bit of wine now and then at home with dinner, but with the emotions that were ripping through me I decided 'to hell with it' and started to drink again.

And guess what? It didn't do a damn thing to my stomach. I started working out, mostly as a way to release my incredible anger and confusion at the time, but also trying to get myself in shape so that I could either win her back somehow or at least be presentable to other women if that didn't happen. I started to push my body really hard, past all the comfort zones I had known, and coupling that with being a bit drunk a couple of times a week, my body seemed to be making a huge strides.

I wasn't eating awful fast foods either, but having nice 'home cooked' meals at pubs with a few pints, maybe 2 or 3 times a week. I thought I'd licked it once and for all! I enjoyed many months of not having to think about what I was eating or drinking, not worrying about being far from a toilet, and despite the wretched emotional state I was in nearly ever second of the day, I was no longer worrying about my stomach.

Oddly, as one of the most stressful times of my life, it still doesn't make sense that my stomach stopped acting up. Nowadays it's not bad at all, and I believe that a lot of that has to do with taking more chances and not worrying about what might happen while I'm out. I started to trust myself to be able to handle situations as they came, rather than getting myself into a worry before even leaving the house. ...It probably also helped that I was drunk or hungover a heck of a lot, therefore not really paying attention to my stomach.

These days I have a goal; to be able to travel and not have my stomach be an issue at all. I want to visit my distant relatives in Ireland. I want to see Mt. Fuji and the Cherry Blossoms in Japan. I want to visit the Himalayas and the Yang Tse, journey into the Amazon and see the Pyramids at Giza.

Taming some of my anxieties has allowed me to do more things which I prevented myself from doing for years. Here's what I have come to realize; I wasn't a good friend, I was an even worse boyfriend, and I am the only one to blame.

My quack doctor had it right straight from the beginning.

In reading "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living", there are just reams of examples of people who had various illnesses which were brought on by stress. Time and again they explain that they managed to overcome their issues by changing their thinking habits. 

It's not some sort of 'miracle cure' mind you, you do have to work at it. For nearly as long as I can remember, I have been anxious, nervous, shy, or afraid. And now it's plain to see the reward for over 25 years of worrying... 

As I told her in that hotel room, I'm going to fix this. And by Zeus' beard, I WILL FIX IT!

The difference now is that I'm no longer doing it for her but for me. 

-Dave 

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