The pain started last fall. After a cup of coffee with friends, I found myself curled up on the bathroom floor, unable to move and scarcely able to think. I’d had a mocha from a swanky espresso bar downtown, and some toast. That was it. What could possibly be causing this much pain?
After about four hours, the episode passed. I’d tried to induce vomiting, thinking it was a bout of food poisoning or something, but to no avail. I called my best friend crying, saying, “I think something’s really wrong, but I don’t know what it is.” After a day spent writhing in pain on the floor, and after that phone call, you’d think I’d have gone to see a doctor or Googled or something. Anything. But I didn’t. It took me six more months to seek any kind of help for my body.
When I finally walked into the doctor’s office, it was after almost a year of these intermittent crippling pain attacks, and almost five years of gradually increasing indigestion and stomach issues. The diagnosis? Gallstones, or rather, stone -- one huge stone revealed on the ultrasound, the size of a quarter, threatening to rupture the delicate duct between my gallbladder and my liver. It had been in danger of rupturing for about two years, according to my doctor, and had been slowly growing for five.
“I’m surprised it took you so long to come in,” he said. “Usually, a case like yours, I should’ve heard from you two, three years ago. You must have some level of pain tolerance, I guess.”
When I learned that this was the cause of my bouts with various illnesses and pain, and had been for perhaps half a decade of my life, I was shocked, to say the least. More than that, though, I was angry with myself. I’d ignored so many symptoms, for so long, and caused my body to get dangerously close to some serious damage because of it. Not to mention all the hours of work missed, all the times I couldn’t go out with friends because I was battling diarrhea and made some excuse, all the meals I threw up without ever considering how unlikely it was for someone to get food poisoning as often as I did. I’d been letting a treatable health issue fester in my body for so long that I’d assumed it was just part of me.
It’s been a little over six months since my surgery. The whole gallbladder had to come out. I was treated to lots of exclamations of “But you’re so young!” because at 22, I really am quite young to have gallstones.
It’s been six months of repeated doctor visits, different prescriptions, and varying food consumption and experimentation, because my body is still struggling to adjust to a gallbladder-less life. I don’t have any evidence that suggests that my recovery time would’ve been swifter had I been diagnosed sooner, but I do know that even going in six months earlier would’ve put me farther ahead on the road to recovery now.
I began asking myself the question: Why did it take me so long to seek help? For the first few years of my gallstone’s existence, I decided it was lactose intolerance inherited from my mother. Reasonable explanation, until it progressed into violent fits of pain on the floor.
The only thing I can settle on is a strange confluence of the traditions I was raised in. Fundamentalist Christianity left me with an all-encompassing sense of shame about my body, just because it was a woman’s body and it existed. I hated my body so much, for so long, that I didn’t know how to listen to it anymore, if I ever did.
Loathing the vehicle you’re living in is a prime recipe for neglect, and I mistreated my body horribly while also ignoring problems that would’ve sent anyone else straight to WebMD. This has been a pattern for me long before the gallstone made its demanding appearance -- when I was nineteen, I was diagnosed with Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome during an immunization check-up. The doctor was shocked to learn that between 17 and 18, I’d gained 60 pounds.
“You never realized that something was wrong? Bodies don’t just do that in six months.” I knew something was wrong, but I had assumed it was what was due to me. I’d felt hideous for so long, and my body eventually became hideous. The reality was that I had a cocktail of dangerous hormone imbalances, genetically inherited, most likely.
The same thing happened again when I was diagnosed with clinical depression. It had gone unaddressed for so long that I assumed it was just part of me, that I didn’t deserve to feel better.
My hatred of my body began when I was told it was inherently evil, bound to lead others into sin. It continued when I absorbed our culture’s obsession with stereotypes of beauty, and it resulted in years of me actively abusing my body through eating disorders. This is a truth I’ve come to terms with, one I believe I’ve worked through (most of the time, anyway). What I didn’t realize was that my body hatred caused me to passively abuse my body, through neglecting to heed clear signs that needed attention. In the end, the only thing that caused me to seek help for gallbladder attacks was that I’d missed so many days of work, my boss required a doctor’s note.
Therapy has helped me transition from an eating disorder to a healthy level of self-acceptance. But it took my gallbladder almost rupturing to get me to face my passive neglect of my body, and figure out that it stemmed from the same place. I think I needed a problem so big it couldn’t be ignored to call my attention to it, although I wish I hadn’t.
As my recovery continues, I’m becoming more and more aware of my body and the things it needs. I’m doing my best to give it the attention and care it deserves, and I’m learning so much along the way -- like how to dig out the deep roots of self-hatred and bring them into the light.