Monday, November 24, 2008

Last November

I know it's not quite that year-in-review time yet; I have another month until then. But I'm thinking back to last year at this time and realizing that I don't actually remember what I did for Thanksgiving last year. I remember being ridiculously overconfident about my fall classes (I guess I couldn't have predicted my catastrophic performance on my Evidence exam), and mostly being frustrated and worried about my health.

It's been about a year and a half now since I started having problems with my stomach. I won't go into details, or recount the long process of getting a diagnosis (which itself may or may not be right, and certainly doesn't explain everything). But my illness, which seems to be much more inconvenient than truly serious, has had a definite impact on my time in law school over the past year and a half. I have to miss classes sometimes, unpredictably. I always have to build in extra time to preparing for everything, just in case I get sick all of a sudden. And I've had to back out of more social obligations than I ever would have imagined. I've also lost about 40 pounds, which I guess is a sort of silver lining, but has also been disorienting and kind of expensive (lots of new clothes).

I've been better recently, overall, than I was a year ago, certainly. I have some medications that help a lot, and I've modified my diet and other behavior in an effort to placate my digestive system. And now I'd say 85 or 90% of the time, it doesn't bother me much, which is a vast improvement over a year ago. But I'm just sick of it. I never expected these problems to go on this long, and there's no way of knowing when or whether they'll resolve. And while I know a little bit about what makes my stomach work better or less well, there's still so much I don't understand. Sometimes I wish I could just have someone tell me what to eat, drink and do all the time, so I wouldn't have to try to figure it out myself.

But I'm so lucky. One of the conditions I've been diagnosed with can be so bad for some people that they can't eat solid food at all, or even drink anything but clear liquids. My doctor says that on a severity scale of 1 to 10 for that condition, I'm a 2 or 3. I feel incredibly lucky that I can go out to dinner with my family, or cook dinner for my friends, even if I have to eat less and be much pickier about what I eat. At least I get to have the experience.

I had a co-worker once at Starbucks, several years ago, who had dietary limitations that would make your head spin. I don't remember all of the specifics, but I know she couldn't have meat, dairy, yeast, wheat, refined sugar, honey... and on and on. And she was one of the sweetest, cheeriest people I've ever met, in a completely genuine way. Her husband was a chef, and she loved to cook. One night she brought in dinner for the rest of the closing team at Starbucks, a dinner she'd cooked for us even though it was full of things she couldn't eat. She just loved to cook and wasn't going to give it up.

So in a way I feel bad for even mentioning that this is going on with me, and especially for feeling frustrated and wishing it would all be over already. But I also feel like I have to explain. It's hard to figure out what to say to people who compliment me on my weight loss. I try the old standby, "Thanks!" But people are usually more persistent than that: they want to know what my trick is, so they can try it too. I haven't figured out a graceful response to that yet.

But in the meantime, I'm still doing all the things I love to do: knitting, crosswords, cooking and baking (mostly for other people, yeah, but also occasionally for myself), reading as much of the New York Times every day as I have time for, spending time with my friends, writing poetry, going out for walks when my stomach's in a good mood. And I'm keeping up with school, and I'm damn well going to get this J.D. and go work for my firm in Pittsburgh, and my stomach is just going to have to deal with it. I'm way too stubborn to do anything else.


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