They say the gut is like a second brain, an entire microbiome of life, and also that it dictates just about every area of our lives from our mood to our weight to our sex drive. Maybe that seems like a reach to some, but it makes sense to us, doesn’t it, Body?
I get it when people say their “stomach dropped” the moment they got bad news, or they aren’t sure why, but they just had a “gut feeling” about someone, or why as humans we tend to lurch for our middle whenever stricken with emotion.
You always know things first, don’t you, Body? It took me forever to realize that.
I wonder how many other good and true things I could’ve learned about you sooner, how many more years we might have enjoyed together if I’d only given you the simple courtesy of my full attention. A listening ear. An actual conversation instead of a loaded monologue.
I talked at you and over you and about you but never to you.
If I’d stopped even just long enough to consider you, as a person, (Do we call you that? A person? Ehh, that feels weird. Like we’re 2 different people and I’m a monster who ate my twin in utero or something awful like that. Like that crazy aunt in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.)
Look, I don’t care what we call it, as long as we live it.
I never stopped to consider THIS, whatever it is that lies between us, to be the longest and most intimate relationship of my life. I never even thought of it as a relationship at all…
Because if I thought about YOU for once, and what YOU’D been through, and what YOU needed, if I thought about you like that, then I’d have to own up to the way I’d been speaking to you and I wasn’t ready for that.
I wasn’t ready to face the meanest parts of me. What I didn’t know then was that doing so would also unlock the most compassionate parts of me.
This is where the rubber hits the road for us, Body. We have worked so hard and we have made such good progress towards loving each other well.
But now we need to ante up.
We’ve got to really start betting on each other.
Body, I’ll say it, I’m scared. Like, increasingly unsettled, deeply worried, and exhausted from constantly attempting to manage the digestive issues we’re having.
I am so tired. I am soul tired and body tired and I want to nap for a month. I want to lie down to rest and then wake up a week later with everything properly functioning again.
I wonder what it means, that the gut is our second brain. What do you know, Body? What are you trying to tell me?
Of course Anxiety is already conjuring tales about how this will turn out to be stomach cancer or intestinal cancer or some other kind of condition that will require me to redefine my sense of embodiment; like the kind that requires an ostomy bag.
Is this so dramatic?
Whatever. You already know that I’m dramatic AND CLEARLY SO ARE YOU, Body.
Which is why I took us to the doctor again yesterday. I thought maybe this time we’d do some more blood work, or maybe try a different medicine with a different approach, but instead he listened soberly as I replayed everything you’ve dealt with in the last 5 months.
When he finally spoke, it was blunt and to the point.
God, I love his efficiency! I mean, really.
In ANY other situation I would gladly entertain more banter, but when it comes to you, Body, I would like zero nonsense, thankyoudoctor. “Amber, I don’t like this one bit. It’s time to see a specialist.” And then he said a bunch of words that I didn’t fully register, words about Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, and then he tossed out IBS too, almost as an afterthought, a best-case-scenario consolation prize.
You had an immediate and visceral reaction to these words. I started sweating. Like really sweating. Everywhere. My legs almost involuntarily came uncrossed because they were suddenly slick and shaky.
I nodded too much. I cracked at least two jokes.
I asked him what happens next. He said a colonoscopy. Then he wrote that word down on my chart and circled it with a question mark that pointed both Ulcerative Colitis and Crohns, together in their own little category of torment. I noticed the color of the ink in his pen. It was a weird shade of blue. Brighter than most. Louder.
More sweating. More nodding. Too much nodding.
I cracked one more joke about the lack of dignity in these medical procedures and I should’ve known that going back in for a third was pushing it. Now he registered that I was worried so he cracked his own joke and began theatrically explaining how this procedure works, in what I’m certain was an effort to calm me (by way of keeping me well informed), but I’m sorry to report, Body, that it had the opposite effect.
I mean he was really getting into it, waving his arms around and being sure to tell me they will gently roll me over, not ask me to be “on all fours with your butt in the air”, or anything. This last bit was meant for levity, which I can (and do) deeply appreciate, but he doesn’t remember that being terrified while naked and on all fours with my ass in the air in a room full of strangers was a particular brand of trauma we’d already experienced.
You are a champion, Body, because in this moment you inwardly shudder, while outwardly you chuckle politely.
The whole apt took less than 7 minutes.
I walked back to the car, wondering if I’d actually sweated through my sundress, and then immediately not caring. I sat there and tried to eat my lunch. I always try, I do because if there’s one thing we are not going to do here, it’s become food-avoidant. I nibbled on a piece of pizza and poked at my salad but my stomach was in knots. On top of knots. It was all lukewarm by now anyway.
This is one of the most disconcerting elements of this whole thing.
I’ve always LOVED food. Like, so very much. I used to be obsessed about food. It’s maybe even been an idol to me at different points in life. Food was glory. I always enjoyed it, even when I *thought* I shouldn’t.
Now? Food is complicated for us. Not for mental reasons, but for physical ones. Whatever is happening inside of you, Body, it has taken this one thing we love so very much and almost weaponized it against us. Every time I eat now, I consider the cost. You might not be able to digest this. Or you might digest it a bit too earnestly.
You really seem to be unpredictable in that way.
But there it is.
You seem unpredictable.
Which in and of itself isn’t too terrible, but it is dangerous ground for us, isn’t it?
I’m nervous about what’s happening inside of you, Body, and what it means but mostly I think I’m scared that I will revert back to the old ways with you. Of not trusting you.
I cannot do that. I am telling you right now, we cannot go back there. No matter what happens, okay? We do this next part together.
My instinct whenever things get difficult with you, or painful, or scary, is to simply check out. To disconnect from you and pretend like we are two separate entities with two separate existences.
That stems from fear. I can see that now. I am scared to fully inhabit you, even when you are clearly in duress. Especially then.
I want to run for the hills and leave you to figure it out on your own. I want to come back later from my little vacation and then pick up the Cliffs Notes version of how you’ve changed. Leave you a casserole in the fridge and a Dear John letter on the mirror, sealed with a kiss and a reminder that you’ll be fine without me.
But I know that disconnecting from you causes even deeper pain and even more discomfort than facing whatever this is that you’re going through.
As I pulled out of the doctors office and drove past the hospital, the same one where I delivered both of the kids, I told myself, “Don’t google. We will NOT google this shit. We will wait until we have more information about what is really happening before we start worrying about causes and effects and treatment plans.”
Well you know how that ends don’t you.
We got home after 3 hours of running kids around and trying our best not to mentally spin out. We were brittle and emotional and wanted nothing other than to lie down when we got home.
Put me in bed, you said.
So I did.
I pulled the covers up to my chin and you immediately released a few tears that meandered down the side of my face and tickled my neck. I felt like I should probably get up, I should try to think about dinner, get it going. You politely declined the invitation.
So then I did it. I grabbed my phone and I googled that shit. Then Nate came home to find us in bed at 4:55 pm, in the fetal position, looking like we’d seen a ghost.
Here’s where this gets tricky, for us, Body.
We are intuitive. We feel things, know things preemptively sometimes, deep down in our knower. This is real and true and I don’t care how woo-woo it sounds anymore, I am just going ahead and quietly honoring that part of you now.
We also have Anxiety. Yes, “with the capital A”.
Sometimes we worry about things *we think* we know preemptively. It’s tricky, because more often than not, we are right. But when we’re wrong?
It’s the most capital, tragic waste of energy in the entire world.
Until that appointment I was able to tamp down the reality of our situation. I was able to tell myself that we were fine, that it was getting better. And both of those things are true on some level. But if the spectrum is Well on one end and Sick on the other, I am barely in the middle. I am subpar, most days.
What does that mean for us?
Well, it means some days I feel great and we operate like normal (these are such good days) but some days you are in flare which means I have a very low capacity. Mentally, emotionally, but physically too. I cannot push you, Body. I did that for so long, but you require gentleness in this season. You ask for comfort and tenderness instead of force.
I will give that to you.
I will not deny you that any longer.
I will nurture you like a mother. I am good at that, too. I like to take care of my people when they are ill. It feels good and right. I guess I just have to remember that you are my people too, first and foremost.
I have bruises everywhere, all the time. I have no idea how I got them. They just appear like magic. My hair is brutally thin. Thinner than it’s ever been. I’m self conscious of it. I’m afraid it is getting so thin that I will have to cut it off short like all the other women in my family and while I think it looks super cute on them, I know that I will cry big alligator tears if I have to cut mine off. It feels important to me, like it’s a tiny but specific part of who I am in the world.
As a kid, I always thought it was so random the way my mom would comment on other women’s hair and skin. What a weird thing to notice, I thought.
Now I get it.
Listen, I would do a lot of things, unspeakable things, to have smooth, creamy, golden skin and a THICK ol’ head of hair.
It’s weird the things we unwittingly assign as important.
For most of my life I was super annoyed with you for not being WOMANLY enough. Your breasts were too small. Your nose was too big, too pointy. But now it’s the subtle stuff like skin and hair that really gets me. Makes me think nonsense thoughts like, “I wish I could trade skin with Jessica Alba and hair with Jennifer Anniston.”
Like I’d rather be some kind of Frankenstein than just be myself?
But I digress.
What else does this season mean for us, what does it feel like, in you, Body?
It feels like a Homecoming and an Odessy all at once.
It feels like a panicked free-fall and like sticking the landing, at the same time.
After doing so much work to learn you, to trust you, to understand you, it suddenly feels like I CANT again. And that is scary to me. I don’t like it. But it also feels like I’m landing back in you, Body, and really partnering with you for the first time in forever.
Look, I don’t know what happens next, here. I don’t have a map. I am nervous and jumpy and resistant. But here’s what I do know: we will do this next part together. And we will be okay.
Hey! We might even be better off!
Either way, I’ll do my very best to stay connected to you, to keep trusting you, to learn this new language, even though it is harder than any language I’ve ever learned, and honestly, I want to throw the curriculum through a window.
Not OUT a window. THROUGH a window.
I will stay humble and remember that you are wiser than me, Body. I will trust that whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it FOR me and not TO me.
I will not rush ahead of you or hold you back or oppress you with all my big feelings about this.
I will be FOR you, at every turn. I will stay. Even if it gets difficult.
I will ask you what you need and then honor it.
Hey Body, what do you need today?