Why healing can be harder than being sick

You know that saying, ‘things get worse before they get better’? Well I’ve heard it a lot over the years. Part of me thinks it’s true, while the pessimistic side – which, not so coincidentally, is more likely to creep in when I’m faced with a mega obstacle – thinks it’s just something people say when things aren’t going as well as you’d hoped. But in any case, the road to healing from a chronic condition can be long and arduous: mine was (and still is) much more rocky than I’d anticipated.

For years I’d been told my illness (a severe digestive disorder, for anyone new to this blog) could be only managed, not healed. As shitty as my symptoms were, I wasn’t going to let them interfere with my life. I was in my 20s. I travelled. I ate. I coped.

Fast-forward to earlier in my 30s, when I learned that my issues could potentially be addressed. I was ready and willing to do anything it took: restricting my diet even further, trying alternative therapies and probiotic-and-supplement protocols, and eventually, undergoing fecal microbiota transplants (FMTs).

It’s hard to describe the feeling when something you never thought would go away finally starts to shift. Relief? Elation? Disbelief? These don’t cut it. And in some ways, it’s also even hard to remember how much pain you managed to work through – until it returns.

After a few stable months of bowel movements following my second FMT (which took a good number of months to really kick in), I came down with a violent stomach bug. Or at least I think that’s what it was. The first day, though, all I felt were my old symptoms returning: the pain, the long bathroom stints, the exhaustion. After a week, I was at my wit’s end. I called my doctor to see how long I should wait before acting on this. Ten days, I was told, before I’d have to undergo tests. And then on day ten, things settled slightly and improved from there.

I felt silly for worrying over a stomach bug and went back to where I was: testing certain foods, eating seasonally, including fermented goodies in my diet and restricting sugar and processed foods. But then, ten weeks later, the same thing happened. Another stomach bug? Again I don’t really know. And again, the fear returned. Were my old symptoms resurfacing? Did I eat something I shouldn’t have? It’s a bloody confusing mental game we chronic-illness sufferers play with ourselves. If you’re anything like me, you want to be out in the world when you’re feeling well enough to do so, but blame yourself if another bad spell follows – regardless of what triggered it.

While there’s no way in hell I’d go back to my pre-treatment state, I’ve though recently about how healing can be harder than being sick. Because when you’re sick, and you don’t think there’s a cure, you simply have to suck it up and live your life. But when you’ve seen a glimpse of the other side, you know it’s worth fighting for. And that fight can be so tough, tougher than you imagined, especially when you sometimes feel that you’re continually moving one step forward, two steps back. I simply have to keep reminding myself: there’s a reason why it’s called being a ‘patient’. It doesn’t matter how many steps there are; it’s about taking them one at a time.

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