I haven’t posted every day this week and I do apologise. I confess, I’ve been exhausted. You see, I’ve been at work, pretending to be a normal person (shh, don’t tell anyone!) and juggling day-to-day living with the strict requirements of the GAPS Intro diet. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not easy! I’m extremely fortunate to be working part time at the moment in a very flexible role… I really don’t know how or if I could cope doing this with a full time job, but it’s still a highly time-consuming lifestyle. What with all the boiling of broth, peeling of vegetables, detox baths and dishes, dishes, dishes, GAPS ironically really eats into your time. I can only imagine how hard it would be for those doing the daily enemas because of course that’s another hour or so in which you simply cannot do anything else and another hour of the day that you lose. It is lack of time in this modern world that led to the consumption of all the over-processed convenience foods that made us sick in the first place, so it’s no surprise that making quality, whole foods, starting from scratch, is going to take a long time. Truly, Being on GAPS could be a full time job in and of itself.
It’s a funny thing, but I have often said to people that having a chronic illness is a bit like the job from hell. Your hours are very long and unpredictable. You are always on call and your boss will and can ring you and demand that you do lengthy shifts at the most inconvenient of times with no notice whatsoever. The job is dirty and hard and always leaves you mentally and physically exhausted but you get no regards or rewards for your efforts. The only difference really is that you don’t get paid and you can never quite and that only serves to make it all the more frustrating. My partner would say to me, after a long week at work, “you must have so much time on your hands, what do you do all day long? Surely you can work part time at least?” To which I would simply reply, “I already have a full-time occupation, I’m sick.”
When you have an invisible chronic illness, you face so many more trials and tribulations than just your physical ailments, you also have to deal with the constant suspicion and mistrust of the people in your life: partners, family, employers, friends, co-workers and even ignorant GPs.
When this whole saga began, I’d just finished studying a graduate diploma while working part time. I was working full time as a personal assistant while searching for my first full time job as a professional. A stomach virus hit the office and for some reason, knocked me around a whole lot more than anyone else, but it didn’t actually start having an impact on me until I got my first job as a professional, as a legal advisor for legal aid.
When you work in admin, if you’re feeling sick or in pain you can still do a pretty good job. You can slink into your desk, slouch down in your chair, make yourself a cup of tea and just bang away at the keyboard. When you work in a high pressure environment, trying to balance the department’s need for efficiency and the desperately high expectations of stressed out and emotional clients, many of whom have mental health issues, you really can’t be off your game. Trying to listen to everything someone is telling you, taking note of the relevant parts, thinking which legal principles apply and how you’re going to solve their problem, all the while responding to the story appropriately is hard enough at the best of times. When your body is screaming at you, it is near impossible.
There were times I was in so much pain it was all I could do to keep smiling and for a long time, I had daily diarrhoea. My first office was mercifully close to the bathroom, so my frequent visits went unnoticed but when I was promoted to a bigger room, closed to the manager, that dash to the bathroom after every half-hour interview became my own personal “walk of shame”.
And then the nausea started. I don’t know why the nausea started, nobody does. I’d felt sick like this before since the dreaded virus and queasiness was a daily occurrence that accompanied the bowel issues, but all of a sudden I started getting violently nauseous every single day. I would wake up feeling fine, get ready for work and then it would hit. A hot, churning, gurgling like vomit rising up my throat. Nothing made it go away.
I tried peppermint tea, ginger tea, ginger tablets, sea-sickness tablets and migraine tablets, both medicinal and natural. I tried relaxation, meditation, eating crackers, even taking a walk, but it just would not ease up. I tried ceasing and experimenting every variation of my supplements, even going off them altogether for a week but still the nausea would not stop. My doctor was stumped. On a couple of occasions I did actually throw up and that only made it worse. Now I was anxious about being sick and as we all know, anxiety is not good for the stomach.
All this time I was trying to work, pushing through the discomfort and embarrassment but quite regularly having to go home early or call in sick. It was embarrassing to admit illness in the first place and I felt people’s curiosity begin to grow as my absences continued.
To cut a long story short (yeah, I know, too late!) I ended up getting to a point where I was waking up nauseous every day and simply could not go on working. I went on sick leave.
I cannot tell you the excrutiating shame, guilt, fear and worry that come from being on extended sick leave. As every day passed and I did not recover, the level of curiosity from my employer increased and, I have no doubt, the frustration. I knew I was sick, but did they? Did they realised I was rocking back and forth on the bathroom floor, clutching my stomach? Did they know I would run to the bathroom to dry wretch over the toilet only to have nothing come up? Did they know the agonising pain that gripped my belly, like a demon’s claw, twisting my innards? I told them, but more to the point, did they believe me? I can’t say.
As time goes by, people expect things of sickness. Basically, they expect you to either get better or die. That is the normal pattern. But chronic illness does not follow that pattern and therein lies the difficulty. You get sick and you stay sick. There is no treatment, no medicine and for me, there was not even a diagnosis at this time! All of this makes your illness look dangerously suspicious to the outside world and most patients are perceptive enough to sense this. It creates an ugly knock-on effect as the outsiders feel suspicious, the patient senses this and thus feels self-conscious and then the outsiders sense the self-consciousness and misinterpret it as guilt.
In any event, this went on for some time. About 8 weeks in total. And to add insult to illness, my contract was up for renewal. I had only been employed as a 6 month contract which had been extended to 12, but that year was nearly over and it was time for my employer to consider whether to keep me or not. When I was too ill to work with no proper diagnosis, no treatment plan and no definite return date, it was decided I was not a promising prospect and my contract was not renewed. I do not blame my employers for this decision at all. Yes, it was disappointing but business is business and for all they knew, I could have been on sick leave for another year! It would not have been sound practice to renew my contract.
Embarrassed, ashamed, anxious and nauseous, I snuck in with my staff pass after hours to clean out my office, kicking myself over how many comforts I had brought from home. I actually filled 2 small suitcases and a box with all my personal effects (Blankets, jumpers, snack foods and a whole drawer full of medication) which took 2 painstaking trips to the car to remove from the building! I was invited to come in for farewell coffees and even an office lunch afterwards but the daily nausea still gripped me and I could not face the prospect of sitting white-faced at a table of my peers, shaking while they tried to engage with me, pushing them out of the way as I ran for the bathroom. The very idea made me queasy and I am sad to say I have not seen those co-workers since.
What happened next was when I discovered I had no money and no way of getting any.