THE SHORT VERSION: After 3 years of my health spiraling out of control, I’ve been diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases: ulcerative colitis and Hashimoto’s disease.
THE FULL STORY: It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, and truth be told, the last few posts weren’t exactly painting a true picture of what’s been going on.
But do any of us ever really tell complete truths? As a writer, I’m often at odds with myself on what I’m thinking versus what I write (fiction-wise) versus how much to reveal in blog posts, Facebook statuses, and Twitter. The naked truth is never pretty, but in my case, I’m finally beginning to heal after dealing with some serious chronic illnesses that have made me pull back from interacting with the world (both the literal and the digital).
About three years ago (right after Epilogue finished production), I began to have some serious stomach issues. My energy levels took a nose dive. I had difficulty focusing. I went from one doctor to another — from Missouri to New York and then finally Houston –and was misdiagnosed so many times and thrown on so many different treatments that the symptoms just kept getting worse. All the while, I existed in a state of denial. I knew I was sick. I just thought I could push through and eventually things would get better. Instead, they got worse.
Then — this late January, I found myself curled up one night with knives stabbing at my gut. The next day, I felt better. The next day, the pain was so bad that it wasn’t a case of feeling like I was going to die.
I wanted to die. The pain was just too much.
I knew that was a bad thing so clearly, I went to a GI the very next day. Like most doctors, he threw a bunch of tests at me and a ton of medicines to boot. Out of those test results came one big answer: I have ulcerative colitis – an autoimmune disease that boils down to seriously inflamed intestines. The doc wanted to put me on steroids. Have me consider surgery.
Yeah, no thanks.
Fortunately for me, my daughter is a personal chef whose focus is on creating meals and diets to HEAL people. The concept of food as a path to healing isn’t new, but it’s been making a big comeback and with Ariana’s guidance, I went on the autoimmune protocol diet, which avoids any and all foods that cause inflammation (no sugars, no dairy, no nuts, no legumes, no potatoes, no tomatoes, no grains, no alcohol, no seeds — including mustard, pepper, etc). I also had to stick with a low FODMAP diet (which cut out a ton of fruits and vegetables). She also recommended that I meet with a Functional Medicine doctor — one who would pull in the tests results from everywhere, have me do a few more, and then figure out the best approach for ME — not what the textbooks say.
The AIP diet began to help, but while I waited for yet another round of test results, I became weaker. I lost pretty much any ability to focus for more than a few minutes at a time. The Stargate novel that I’m working on had to be put aside. I love that story too much to just muddle through and make a mess. That’s probably one of the hardest decisions I made. All around me — friends, colleagues, etc. — were creating wonderful things and for the first time in a long time, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t put words together to make a creative sentence. I couldn’t put sentences together to make a page. I couldn’t put pages together to make a chapter. Sure, I could teach — I can do that in my sleep. But the creative process had shut down.
They call the stomach the second brain. Clearly, my second brain had pretty much shut down and not just on the critical thinking front. Your gut affects your emotions. And while stress can lead to a lousy gut, there’s other factors that can do it too. Several thousand tests later, my newly found doctor has determined that I have Hashimoto’s (which includes hypothyroidism) and that basically all my hormone levels are on the floor. The cure is medicine, but thankfully not steroids.
Don’t get me wrong, the cure can be worse than the disease. The past two months have been a lot of trial and error to discover how much of certain medicines and supplements I should take and how much is too much. In my case, too much meant feeling like I had drunk 20 cappuccinos in sixty seconds flat. For the first time in my life, I found myself craving alcohol. Couldn’t do it, obviously, but it made me understand how biochemistry really can lead to self-medication of that sort.
The good news is that I think we’re honing in on what works (and what doesn’t). A few meds have been dropped, a few supplements added. I’m still on the AIP diet (which makes Paleo look easy). I’m having to learn to pace myself better. I can’t go at a million miles an hour and for those of you who’ve known me well, you know that’s my default state. It doesn’t sound half as hard as it really is — my instinct is to DO things. I’m a human doing. Not a human being.
To this end, I’ve backed off on obligations. (Truth be told, I disappeared from some circles for a while and I apologize tremendously for that). I’m only going to do two conventions this year – Houston’s Comicpalooza and the Chicago Stargate Creation Con. I’m going to only one writer’s conference this year — In Your Write Mind at Seton Hill University (my grad school alma mater). I wish I could do more. I hated saying no to Shore Leave because those people are just awesome.
Last bit of good news… I’m working on the book again. Slow going. Building steam and momentum. My goal is to deliver the first draft to Sally Malcolm (the editor) no later than August 15th. With my health very slowly on the mend (I would KILL FOR A PIZZA though, really), I’m putting one foot in front of another. I’ve had amazing support from family, Sally, and my closest friends.
It’s hard to admit our limitations. What I’m finding, however, is that accepting those limits can be freeing. For the first time in my life, I’m appreciating the little things in ways I never would have before. A friend’s laughter. My kid’s wonderfully absurd Facebook posts. My husband’s snoring (yeah, isn’t that crazy???!!!). The sound of my keyboard as it clicks and clacks.
Yeah, especially that last part. I want to hear more of that now. Much more.