It’s my birthday. I haven’t been writing a lot lately because I have been going through a difficult time. Soon after making the move to California, I developed an interesting phobia, phagophobia, which is the fear of swallowing. I am still in the process of going through certain tests to “rule out” any physical reasons for my difficulty swallowing and I’ve been waiting weeks for my last test to be approved by my insurance company and then scheduled.
Meanwhile, I have lost a lot of weight as I struggle each day to meet my basic caloric needs in order to maintain. I’ve lost 47 pounds in roughly two and a half months to be exact. This sucks. It sucks because if someone had told me prior to this that I would develop a fear around eating, I would have laughed in their face, more than likely saying “I wish”. I have always struggled with being overweight and I love food. But, here I sit today on my birthday doing my best to force pancakes down as well as another ensure supplement as to not lose any more weight.
The reason I wanted to write about this today, on my birthday, is to honor not only my struggle with my mental health, but also to honor anyone else out there who is struggling as well. The reality is many of us suffer alone as others either are uncertain how to support us or they lack the understanding and sometimes the sensitivity to be helpful. In fact, many people, by being impatient and demanding, cause more damage and end up impeding the healing process.
I am 47 today. I look back at the years I’ve been on this earth and I acknowledge that I have always struggled. I was diagnosed ADHD in 1978 during a time when the diagnosis was uncommon. Following that diagnosis in my teen years were the diagnoses: OCD, Bipolar 1, GAD, Panic Disorder, Schizoaffective (at one point), BPD (at another point), PMDD, and replacing BPD later was the diagnosis C-PTSD (this occurred in the past 5 years or so). I would say out of the above, my greatest struggle is with fear and anxiety as it is pervasive. My OCD is primarily somatic and I go through periods where I ruminate about one thing for awhile, for instance my breathing or heartbeat, etc. and will eventually “wear it out” until some other fear takes it place. Most of my fears have some grounding in reality and that is why they seem so powerful, but the amount of attention and focus given to the fear is what makes it irrational. I will often have ways of managing those fears by compulsions that I feel make me safer on some level. Those close to me are often confused by my thoughts and behavior, and admittedly, I am as well. I personally cannot “think” my way out of the web I have trapped myself so tightly within and it is beyond frustrating. Oh my GOD! How I have tried! From praying to meditation… to exercise to therapy… I am 47 years old today and still suffering. Ugh! I often wonder if I will ever be completely free. I will not give up trying.
When I think of my current suffering, where I have lost nearly fifty pounds, I remind myself again to respect my illness. Often, people dismiss mental illness by saying, “it’s all in your head”. The medical field downplays mental health by nearly expressing relief when it is nothing “physical”. But, I know better. Sometimes, I actually long for a physical diagnosis. Not anything serious, of course not, but something I can manage with a pill or have corrected by a surgery. I know how dangerous my own mind can be and am often more afraid of it than some structural entity that can be fixed with a surgery or an illness that is relatively easy to manage. I expect my last test for the swallowing to be within normal range and although that brings a certain amount of relief, it also brings a certain amount of dread, as I know that it will be me fighting alone to feel comfortable eating again. I hope this one “wears out’ more quickly than the others. I really do not have too much more weight that I can lose.
And so for my birthday, I wanted to honor your struggle. If it is physical in nature, I honor it as well. For some of us, we are fighting a silent war. We might not be able to fully grasp why we are stuck right now. We might be paralyzed in fear or anger, unable to move forward and those around us are becoming impatient. It appears easy to those on the outside to just “get over it already”, but for whatever reason we simply can’t. Sometimes we are able to give ourselves the same rational reasons that others provide, and yet, we are still unable to move. It’s okay. Cry it out. Yet, accept the struggle. Make peace with it.
I have been struggling for nearly three months with the ability to comfortably swallow. I haven’t had my favorite foods and there have been times I have been really hungry. So much so, I hurt. I have literally sat alone in my room crying while I stare at a plate full of uneaten food. Still, I was unable to push through and make myself it. I would use all the reasons loved ones had given me and many more that they did not come up with and still, my fear was greater. And so I am choosing, on my birthday, to honor the struggle. To make friends with it. To talk to it. To see what it has to say.
Mostly, it tells me that I am sad. That I wish I were closer to my family. That I wish I were more successful and able to work. That I wish my past relationship had worked out as I had dreamed and that we were happily married. Or that I had children and a family of my own. It tells me that my fear and inability to swallow is just a metaphor of my grief that is screaming: “No More! I cannot ‘swallow’ anymore!”
And, perhaps it is telling me to change. Often, we become paralyzed, I believe, so that we can change course. I’ve not been laughing enough, nor have I been connecting with the people that I love or participating in the leisure I most enjoy enough. Fear and paralysis has taken hold during the grieving process and perhaps this final “wake-up call” is telling me that it is time to not only perceive differently, but to act differently. I admit, I was “stuck” and have been “stuck” trying to swallow the “bitter pill” that life had offered me. In ways, my grief more than likely caused a psychogenic dysphagia: a fear of swallowing.
I will continue to go forward, swallowing as much as I can, and pacing myself as I continually learn to better cope. For my birthday weekend, I will be camping at a nice beach here on the California Coast. I plan to try a little harder to listen to the rhythm of the ocean, reminding me that as each wave rises, crests, and falls it breaks and collapses back into the ocean, surrendering and releasing….. letting go. In this way, I won’t get so hung up on a single wave or “thought” and give it so much power. I look forward to the sun and sand as well as playing in the waves for awhile. Although, I probably won’t partake in any BBQs, I will do my best to relax and honor where I am at right now at this point in my lifetime. I am 47. For all the fear that I have lived in, I have made it this far and it is something to celebrate. I want to relax and just be happy that I am here, in the moment for now, taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of the ocean.