Before my illness, I used to take my health for granted. I was a vegetarian. I only ate organic. I avoided additives and preservatives and drank eight glasses of water daily. I mostly ate raw mono meals, with little to no salt or sugar. I have pressed for all the health tips I have read or heard about in a very strict lifestyle that focuses on maintaining a ‘clean body’.
I should have appreciated that my body was unharmed and that I rarely got sick or needed to see a doctor. Being healthy was like having electricity – it was a luxury that I thought I would never be without. Frankly, I couldn’t imagine the nightmare that was waiting for me.
I’ve been sick now for over two years. On my journey to diagnosis, I heard everything – pancreatitis, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes. Even cancer was mentioned as a possibility. I’ve dealt with extreme fatigue, frequent sore throats, low-grade fever, body aches and chills, nausea, food intolerance, gastrointestinal distress, rashes, eruptions, menstrual irregularities, brutal periods and anxiety. Simple tasks such as cleaning, washing, washing dishes, and sometimes dressing, were cumbersome.
Finally, I tested positive for the Epstein-Barr, or mono, virus. At first I felt relieved to hear such a seemingly innocuous diagnosis, but two years later, the joke seems to be upon me.
Long-term mononucleosis, or chronic EBV, is associated with cancers and a large number of other autoimmune diseases. Some people get less EBV and pass it off within two to four weeks. I happened to be unlucky and developed a stronger bloodline. It is rare, and there is no cure for chronic EBV.
Doctors have given me advice similar to what they would say if I had the flu. Rest, avoid stress, eat well, drink fluids, and “listen to your body.” They warned me that it could take months, maybe even years, for the virus to leave my system and my body heals. I have good days, when I’m a ball of energy, and bad days, and all I want to do is rest.
I think his understanding is irrelevant at this point. I may not know why the important thing is to recover, physically and mentally.
The first thing that happened when I got sick was my digestive system. It has developed viral irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and micro-intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) from the virus. Eating almost anything can lead to a buildup of blocking gases in my lower intestine, as well as vomiting, diarrhea and constipation. I struggled to find foods that I could tolerate.
She quickly went from 5 healthy feet and 110 lbs. To 88 lbs. I feel ashamed to say that my primary motivation was to welcome the weight loss. I was sure it would eventually stop, at which point I could eat cookies to gain weight again. It was a very naive idea that I quickly regret it.
When the Libra didn’t stop holding back, when I got too weak to get dressed and had to start buying baby clothes, I started to panic. I was seriously underweight, and looking in the mirror was scary. My body was stripped, my eyes and cheeks sinking, and my legs are like a bow. I used to jog daily, but now I sleep about 10-14 hours a day and woke up just to get from my bed to the couch.
But I didn’t really realize the seriousness of my situation until I ran into an opportunity with an old boss on a busy sidewalk in New York City. She looked at me straight and didn’t recognize me. I stopped her, and when she finally recognized me, she lightly grabbed my elbows, as if she was touching a little bird.
I was wearing my most conservative dress, trying to cover the bones protruding from my chest, but she still stared at me in shock as she asked me about my health. Her expression stayed with me for a long time after “farewell” and “take care of yourself.” It was the first time I saw myself through someone else’s eyes.
Weight loss is usually a choice we make for various reasons. But losing weight in spite of yourself is something I do not wish for anyone. I’ve had friends joke that they wished they caught a virus and lost a few pounds. It pissed off me because I knew they wouldn’t wish it if they felt what I felt. If they can feel the fear, uncertainty, and loss of self-esteem that comes with involuntary weight loss.
Our body weight is greater than ours; It is the block that protects and covers us. After I completely lost it, I felt naked and vulnerable. I was scared.
Having said that, at one point I wasn’t very different from my friends who made those jokes. When you’re not sick, keeping your weight off can seem like a constant battle – having to choose between chips at a party versus veggies or going to the gym versus watching a movie. The idea of losing weight without having to work towards it seems like an easy way out. The real problem is in a society where we feel so much pressure to be thin that even feeling sick to get there feels like a relief.
Currently, I am back to my healthy 125 lbs. SIBO is controlled and viral IBS fades. While my body is slowly fighting the virus. I am able to enter and eat more foods.
Now, when my body craves carbohydrates, sugars, or salts, I don’t think twice about giving it what it wants. I would choose organic, local, and vegan products if I could, but I don’t write anything “unhealthy” anymore. I know what it means to suddenly not be able to enjoy a bowl of ice cream, and to lose the privilege of choice. I enjoy what I can handle instead of setting limits on myself.
My body is now more muscular and more full than lifting weights instead of doing cardio, which is a little stressful. I can feel myself getting stronger every day, and I love it!
I recently met an old friend. The last time we saw each other, I was at my worst. Being the outspoken person, she didn’t hesitate to comment about my new, curvy self. I was not disturbed. Even when I hinted that I looked fat, I’m so glad I just laughed and joked, “You mean I’m looking Fat? ”
This experience forced me to change the way I think and the choices I make. I cannot stress enough how important it is to appreciate your health and the body you currently live in. How important is his reward!
If I could give me some advice a couple of years ago, I’d say, “Stop working hard, focus on the things and people you love, the fact that you are healthy enough to enjoy.”
This and: “Eat the biscuits! Eat all the cookies.”
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