Plan A is always my first choice…
the one where everything works out.
But more often than not,
I find myself dealing with
the upside-down version
where nothing goes as it should.
It’s at this point the real test
of my character comes in…
Do I sink or do I swim?
Do I wallow in self-pity
or do I simply shift gears and
and make the best of the situation?
The choice mine.
Life is really all about
how you handle Plan B.
My life was turned upside down when I was 23 years old.
I had recently graduated from Dartmouth College with lots of plans and few worries. I lived with my boyfriend (who would later become my husband) and worked for a local not-for-profit organization planning large fundraising events. I loved being physically active and was getting serious about running, with the goal of completing a marathon.
I’d been having digestive issues for a couple of years, but was told it was stress-related after initial testing was normal. Over time, I started to notice that I felt full very quickly, regardless of how hungry I was when I started a meal. I also had nagging stomach aches and frequent nausea. It took nearly a year, but I finally ended up with a diagnosis: gastroparesis or delayed gastric emptying. Gastroparesis is a condition in which the stomach no longer empties food properly. It sits there for hours longer than it’s supposed to, causing chronic and often severe nausea, vomiting, pain, reflux, and/or bloating. In many cases, mine included, the cause is unknown. Unfortunately this condition is poorly understood, difficult to treat, and truly life altering.
The next several years were rough. Really rough.
I spent most of my mid-twenties searching for an elusive cure or all-knowing expert to rid me of this horrible condition. While I was outwardly optimistic, frequently declaring that there was an answer and I would find it, I was inwardly full of resistance, guilt, and anger. I felt as if everything I worked for and dreamed of — having a successful career, a fulfilling relationship, a comfortable lifestyle — was being taken away and I had no control over the outcome.
By the time I was 26, I was jobless, depressed, and more symptomatic than ever. I was newly married but not happily married. Our relationship was bending under the strain of constant stress and mounting debt. My social life consisted mostly of frequent trips to the ER. I wore sweat pants all day and slept on the couch at night since I slept only 3 or 4 hours per night due to the chronic nausea and growing anxiety. Things were a mess. My Plan A was in shambles.
But then I made a choice. A choice to make a change.
At some point in 2008, nearly 4 years after I’d been diagnosed, I began to realize that I had a choice. Lots of choices, in fact. Everyday. And based on those choices, I could either continue down this path of misery and resistance or I could begin to accept my situation and make the best of it. I also began to realize that I had far more control than I was admitting. I had control over my attitude and the way I chose to approach this unexpected and difficult challenge in my life. I still don’t know where these realizations came from but they started to bring about changes.
At first the choices were small — wear real clothes today, cook dinner for my husband, eat a banana instead of a 100-calorie pack — and the changes were barely noticeable. But one thing led to another and soon I was practicing yoga, getting acupuncture, nourishing my body a little better, spending some time outside of the house, making an effort to re-establish a connection with my husband. I was still quite ill, undernourished, sleep deprived, and emotionally overwhelmed, but I was starting to see glimpses of healthier, happier days ahead.
About a year later, I decided to have a gastric neurostimulator implanted in my stomach. The device isn’t a cure for gastroparesis, but can have a significant impact on the frequency and severity of nausea and vomiting associated with the condition. The option had been presented to me two years prior, but I was so resistant to having gastroparesis that I couldn’t even begin to consider the surgery. Now that I was choosing to practice acceptance, with the goal of doing everything I could to live as well as possible with this condition, it was a no-brainer.
That’s when I found my Plan B.
On September 19, 2009, I had the gastric neurostimulator implanted. One week later I enrolled at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Those two choices changed my life.
Recovering from surgery, managing a health condition, and studying holistic nutrition/health counseling was no easy task. But between what I was learning at IIN about better nourishing my body and mind, and the symptomatic relief I was experiencing from the gastric neurostimulator, I was getting stronger and stronger. While I’d initially joined IIN with the goal of improving my own nutrition and wellbeing — becoming my own expert in living well with gastroparesis since I couldn’t find anyone else out there to help me — I soon realized that I had to share what I was learning and the impact it was having on my health and happiness.
I started a blog, not knowing if anyone would ever read it. They did. I quickly gained a steady following. I started offering individual health counseling to others with gastroparesis, not knowing if it would help them. It did. I started to see their lives change, as well. I wrote an eBook to help others better understand how to eat for gastroparesis management, not knowing if anyone would buy it. They did. And they soon asked for it in hard copy, too. Things just kept rolling. This wasn’t the life I had set out to lead…but it sure beat the life I was leading a couple years prior.
Today my life so much more than my circumstances.
Today, at age 30, I have a successful career as an educator and author. I published my second book in December 2011, which continues to garner 5-star reviews. My husband and I are thankfully still married and now very happy. I’m pregnant with our first baby (due in September!). I still have gastroparesis. In fact, repeat testing has shown no improvement in the condition…but my life? Night and day. And when I look back, it all came down to a choice. A choice to make a change. A choice to accept my situation, learn from my challenges, be grateful for the gifts in my life, and rock my Plan B.
Today my work and my life have transcended far beyond my circumstances. Though I still have gastroparesis, I’m not a gastroparesis patient. I’m a mama-to-be, wife, daughter, author, educator, speaker, advocate, and dreamer. My challenges are a piece of my life but they do not define my life and they certainly do not dictate the quality of my life. Now it’s my goal to empower and inspire others to live well, too, whatever their own challenges may be!