I am eating a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, and before you get ahead of me, it might not be what you’re picturing. I’m laying in bed, bra-less and still in my sleep clothes, seated on a heating pad to help ease the muscle atrophy in my buttocks, eating a bowl of well-boiled oats with nothing in them but water and a small tab of butter. I am chewing the mush, made without any kind of pleasing cream or sugar substance, the same way I have been for the last week, since I was able to eat again after “The Great Exodus.” Speaking of braless, I am starting to worry about my tits, in earnest. On this, day 11 of being almost-always without-bra, gravity has begun to take effect in the most cruel way. The upside is I’ve dropped weight without having to visit the gym, which can happen when The Great Exodus takes ahold of your body, claiming it, forcing everything inside to exit through all orifices in liquid form, oftentimes violently and all at once (picture me on a toilet, peeing out my butthole while simultaneously projectile vomiting into a bucket in my lap. Or don’t picture it, but that’s exactly what I did NINE TIMES in TWO HOURS the first evening T.G.E. began, and continued to do for a couple of days.).
What’s worse, The Great Exodus began on the heels of a crisis, at the end of a long weekend when Zion, our youngest, had yet another one of his atypical seizures which manifested with all the strange and terrifying warning signs, landing us in the children’s hospital and him on an EEG machine. By the time we got home that night I was so relieved that our baby was alright, and simultaneously wiped out, I decided to take a bath. I lit candles, dripped some essential oils into epsom salts, and dropped into the tub. I was so grateful for the luxury of a deep hot soak after a terribly long and scary day, I even took a picture on my camera phone. I look at that picture now and all I see is horror, the last moments of freedom for a body that was about to be wholly taken over by The Great Exodus. By 10pm on a Monday night, it had begun, and Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday followed in a blur, lost to the spewing of violent sick, to dehydration, and delirium. I phased in and out of reality, sleeping through entire seasons of Downton Abbey, waking only to hobble to the bathroom in time to let the toilet catch most of what my body was still trying to purge. Then I’d get back in bed under piles of blankets and, shiver, shake, and wish that my skin would stop hurting, that I could somehow shed it like a snake. These are the thoughts one thinks when overcome with a horrific flu and drifting off into another deranged sleep, “If I can find a way to crawl out of my skin, to pull my skin off, I think I’ll feel much better…”
I began eating on Friday, just in time for the worst of the flu to pass and for my period to take the cue. After days of lost nutrients and strength, I began losing blood. I don’t talk about it a lot or with many people, but I have a chronic condition called Endometriosis, and the pain, intensity, and blood loss get much worse with my periods. If you’re not familiar, Endo causes tissue, similar to the tissue lining the uterus, to grow and spread to other organs in the body. The tissue leeches onto the different internal organs and then leaks out blood, meaning I have a lot lot lot of blood loss each month and debilitating pain that keeps me in bed for at least 3 days a month, guaranteed, sometimes more. I always hid it well. Still do. Diagnosed at age 16, I had my first surgery to help manage the disease, then had second surgery after Jeremy and I got married. I’ve been on more pills, injections, and therapies to manage it than I can name, but it’s chronic and there’s no cure, so it’s a big, albeit hidden, part of my life. Being so young at diagnosis meant that I learned to keep it to myself. Who wants to hang out with a teenager who has a debilitating disease linked to her lady stuff, resulting in blood? Zero people. Periods were a “gross” topic among my peers, and so I made a decision to keep this condition as secret as I could, even if it meant I passed out on choir tour from the pain or curled up in the fetal position on the gym floor in cheerleading practice. I’d pop pain pills, go home and sleep it off for a couple of days with a heating pad, then get back up and try to look normal again.
The Great Exodus pairing up with Endometriosis (ah yes, and don’t forget the heart condition) left me weak, thinning, dizzy and depressed. Not only did I miss over a week of time with my family (Jeremy and I agreed I needed to be quarantined, and I was in a room with closed doors and no visitors) and the concert my high school son had worked so hard to prepare for with his symphonic band, but I also missed all these things around Christmas time. I got the first glimpse of my boys four days in, when they opened the door to my room and stood in the doorway, waving with looks of sympathy and concern at my hollowed-out eyes and flannel teeth. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year..” and yet there is no verse in the song about explosive vomit/rreah, being removed from your kids, and not being lucid enough to read a book.
Things have taken a very slow, gradual upswing. I got up yesterday; showered, went to Target (I was the one walking like an eighty-year-old woman), and went to my youngests’ concert, where he stood with a hundred other kindergarten and first graders singing songs about snow and Rudolph and waving a scarf around to a song from the Nutcracker. I successfully sat up and walked through the little part of the world I inhabit for twenty percent of the day. But Things have changed. Everything aches, as though the weight of my sick bones pressed into the bed has turned the entire backside of my body into one long bruise. My taste buds are altered. I’m eating oatmeal with nothing in it because that is what sounds edible. I’m drinking green tea each morning. If I’ve slept over at your house in the past few years, toting my own coffee beans and traveling french press, you know how odd this is. Yes, mother, I’m as surprised and concerned as you are. My daily diet consists of oats, rice, and the occasional half cup of applesauce to spice things up a bit (no sugar added, because it tastes way too sweet). The past couple of nights I’ve begun adding a few bites of meat and a vegetable to the list, as Jeremy has been graciously cooking all the family meals and is convinced, “we need to get you protein and nutrients so you can get your strength back.” I’ll admit my inner former teenage-girl-with-eating-disorder perked up a bit when he saw me naked as I was changing a few nights ago and said, “Holy cow, babe, you’ve lost so much weight.”
I have spent the time wisely. I’ve perused pinterest and considered buying either a set of triple bunk beds or a soaking tub made out of wood. I’m leaning towards the bunk beds since I have complicated feelings about bathtubs at the present. I have tried to write, to get further on my book, and to no avail. I usually just end up writing about the night the chicken got murdered and woke me up. It was night two of the flu and I was only strong enough to pull my curtain back and see a creature attacking it ‘s body, wings flapping as she screamed for her life, but not strong enough to go save her. I believe there may be some legit P.T.S.D. going on as a result of hearing those noises but not being able to help. I have been able to read some, but end up re-reading the same paragraph over and over in order for my nutrient deficient brain to pick up the crumbs of the text. I have cried and felt sorry for myself for a grand total of about four minutes, which is impressive, since I am what you would call “a crier” but I am wondering if the tear shortage might be linked to dehydration. I have looked at Instagram and admired everyone living their lovely lives, then deleted the app when I realized none of them were peeing out their butts or watching their lovely lady lumps drop a centimeter lower per day. In short, it’s been one hell of a week and a half, almost two. Could it have been worse? Of course. It could also have been better.
The old neighbor lady across the street called me a few days ago, wondering how we were doing as the holidays drew closer, and when she might be able to deliver some Christmas treats to our door. She and her husband run a tea shop downtown on the charming town square, and they host fancy tea parties out of their three story historic brick house a couple Saturdays a month. The entire street lines with cars parked tight against the curb, and women pour out in bundles, wearing hats and fancy clothes. Last time I even saw a couple of men in tophats, which I assume must have been some Charles Dickensonian themed tea party. In the spring, they have something called “fairies in the garden,” where they invite dozens of small darlings to come in tutus and wings, with bouncing curls and their overtired mothers to have a treasure hunt followed by tea and treats in The Secret-Gardenesque plot behind their house. On the phone, I told her what the past two weeks had held for us, that I was currently answering my phone from my bed, and was hoping to regain strength before Christmas. “Oh goodness gracious,” she exclaimed in her wavering voice, “you all just always have something to deal with over there, and I wish I could help more or know when these things are happening.” She said they’d been too busy, all wrapped up in the business and the tea parties, in the bustle of the holidays, but that she wanted to bring the treats over as a peace offering, a thank you for the ways we put up with the traffic and inconvenience of their business. She said she’d leave them on the front porch or by the door. It’s been several days and the treats have not yet arrived. I’m beginning to lose hope.
Here’s the part where it all gets inspirational and worth the while to sit here and digest these words I have put on the page: I don’t have the happy ending, the Christmas-bow-with-six-inch-ribbon-curls to tie all of this up. I have been here for more hours than I care to count now, in the supine position, thinking my way around the illness and struggle that hit these past couple of weeks, from Zion’s first signs of seizure when I whisked him out of church two weeks ago, to the hospital, to The Great Exodus, to this morning, waking up finally over my period with a horrific sore throat. No joke, I woke up with what I can only assume is either strep or, at best, a sinus infection. Tonight I am supposed to go on my Christmas date with Jeremy and, damn it all, I am laying here in bed willing my body to heal itself because I bought an outfit for the occasion and if I can’t wear it, I’m going to be pissed and sad. I have asked God “why? And why now?” and I don’t even have cancer or something awful, just the ongoing weakness of a damaged immune system and the prolific ability to lose all power over my body to illness.
So it turns out the big shiny bow is this: If your holiday feels a bit bleak and missing something, a bit lonely or sad or out of control, if you have wondered “why” more than five times this season or “why now, of all times?” you are not the only one. That’s the comfort I can offer. The comfort that my faith tradition and that of my foremothers offers, that this season leading up to Christmas, called Advent, is all about longing, for all things that feel wrong to be made right, for things that are fractured to be joined, empty things to be filled, and half-fixed things to be whole. I can offer the hope I continue to glean from in the traditional Christmas story, that through the human body, the body of a woman – frail and weak and tired as it may have been – God decided to visit humanity in the form of Love and neverending grace. So here I am, surrounded by so much shit I might as well be lying in a cow barn, eating oatmeal, waiting for the miracle.