My Rare Disease Part 2: A History of Anxiety

Back to Part 1: Sick ~

It started again, one week before Christmas. At first I wasn’t so worried about shedding a couple of pounds since I’d gained so many of them after moving back from Utah. August 30, 2001—that’s the date I came home. I’d lost a few pounds in a six-month battle with bronchitis before leaving Utah, but I regained them all, and then some, after moving back to Pennsylvania and in with my parents. I hadn’t lived with my parents in twelve years, the last two of which I’d spent 2000 miles across the country in a failed effort to make a life with my dream-chasing boyfriend. He wanted to be a dog musher. I wanted to see a dream come true.

My parents never wanted me to go. They couldn’t have been happier to have me home. It seemed, in fact, that my mother was on a mission to fatten me up—a mission she accomplished with her usual brand of tenacious enterprise. My new-found parental dependency as a thirty-year-old woman lasted for three months and twenty additional pounds before fate intervened in the form of a “For Rent” sign, newly posted in the yard of a charming yellow house I’d noticed upon returning to the area. It was just the right size for my dog, Katy, and me, I’d thought at the time, unaware that the house was a rental.

Though I still hadn’t found a job, I was more than ready to relocate and, if all went well, to revive some semblance of independence. I relied on my meager savings to pay for the first month’s rent and security deposit. The job offer came the week I moved in to my perfect, three-room rental home. Shortly thereafter, I got sick, one week before Christmas.

It wasn’t that stomach trauma was a new experience for me. Over the years, I’d struggled with problems ranging from days to weeks of stomachaches that never quit and the inability to eat without becoming ill. I’d grown to think of these “episodes” as normal. Apparently it started when I was just a baby. My mother once told me she’d put me on a starvation diet when I was nine months old. She was only doing what the doctor told her to do. I had been ill for weeks, and nothing she did seemed to help. After a full week on nothing but Pedialyte, I still wasn’t getting any better. At that point, the very same doctor informed my mother she was now starving me.

I once saw a photograph of me taken during that time. It was a photograph of a baby with an ethereal presence—a delicate porcelain doll with ocean-blue glass eyes—a doll that might break if you touched it. My mother’s sheer will saved me that time. After being told, in so many words, of her own incompetence as a mother, she was determined to make her baby healthy again. And miraculously, the force-feeding worked. I was back in good health and an even healthier baby weight within weeks.

I grew to have not only an inordinate number of stomachaches, but also skin rashes, eye twitches, enamel abnormalities, and other such inexplicable maladies. “Is she an overachiever?” the doctor asked my mother. And upon hearing that I was, informed her that we overachievers were well-known complainers. It was normal for me to say my tummy hurt when I ate Hillbilly wheat bread. “Best to ignore it,” the doctor assured her.

I remember lying in bed at night, looking up at the ceiling where my dragon friend, cast by the shadows thrown by the nightlight watched over me. “I’m going to die of stomach cancer,” I predicted, holding my protruding potbelly as I said it. I couldn’t have been more than six years old at the time.

I later learned that anxiety was a common affliction of the women on the maternal side of my family, and it often expressed itself in the form of intestinal distress. I suppose I suffered no more anxiety than any other child, but since I was one of those sensitive “overachievers,” life events seemed to take on different meanings for me—usually darker than those that were likely ever intended. Melodramatic, was the word my mother used to describe me. That and Sarah Bernhardt, though, for some reason, she only invoked Sarah Bernhardt when I was dangerously close to hysterics.

Next ~ Part 3: Stomach Virus

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply