Lesson #1: Keep your eyes closed.
I am awake. I can hear fluorescent lights humming above me. Even if I did have the energy to open my eyes – which I don’t – they would burn from how bright it is in this tiny little room. So I keep them closed. My roommates whisper softly about me in the corner. They are discussing which of them should stay here and which should let my boss know I won’t be coming in for the next two weeks. I shift slightly and feel the hospital-issued barf bag crumple next to me. The movement releases the smell of my stomach bile, which is the astonishing color of a green highlighter. Despite all that, whatever is in this IV has me feeling good. I am still nauseated, as I have been without ease for the past five days, but the need to throw up isn’t tearing at me so insistently that I am willing to stick my finger down my throat to make it stop. The nausea has subsided into a subtle afterthought that only comes to the front of my mind when I move. Or when anyone speaks above a whisper. Or when the lights are too bright, which is why I’m keeping my eyes closed. I’m fairly certain the nurses suspect me of bulimia.
I spent the better part of two years making trips like this one to the hospital – flirting with depression and failing nearly all my classes in my downtime – before my gynecologist tentatively diagnosed me with endometriosis last year. Endometriosis is a disorder that affects my reproductive system. Basically, my uterus lining grows outside of my uterus. Every month when I get my period, I’m also getting it in places that I shouldn’t. The result is extreme pain and nonstop nausea that knocks me out of work and school for weeks.
Lesson #2: Doctors are (mostly) useless.
I was swiftly prescribed a birth control that halted all physical symptoms, which left me with a lot of questions. Why hadn’t this been caught earlier? Why had every doctor who treated me in an urgent care room told me they had no idea what was causing my illness? Will I be on medication for the rest of my life? I had lost over 30 pounds and two jobs in the time that I was sick. Who would replace all that? Will I be able to have children? My listlessness did not leave the mind as quickly as my physical ailments left the body. They lingered, as those types of things tend to do. After seemingly endless months of being confined to a bed and letting filth build up around me while I battled for control over my body, I could not find the will to start living my life again. I had synthetic hormones pumping through my veins to mask my body’s condition, but no doctor had prescribed such a remedy for my mind. Nor was it something I felt I had the right to bring up in a cold hospital room, sitting on butcher paper while the physician asked questions without even looking up at me from his notepad. Fed up, I began my own regimen of treatment.
I searched on Google with phrases like “natural tips for depression” and “vegetarian benefits.” Instead of continuing my hearty chicken nuggets addiction, I cooked things like eggplant burgers and roasted chickpeas. I read books with titles like “Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive”—without a hint of irony. I began doing yoga and to understand, for the first time in my life, what all the hoopla was about focusing on the breath: It connects the body to the mind, and that is a beautiful thing.
Lesson #3: “Hippies” are actually onto something.
The craziest part to me was that it actually worked. These were all things I had openly mocked in the past, and they honestly still sound a little silly to my ears when I share them with new people. And while I may not be 100% cured, these lifestyle changes were the right path for finding myself again. It seems to be part of American philosophy that unless we have a physical wound to heal from, we shouldn’t complain. We shouldn’t talk about our emotions or how they are affecting our quality of life. Even more peculiar is that we can’t talk about the positive energy we feel in the universe unless we want to come off as a granola-crunching, sandal-wearing “Sister of the Light.” But the honest truth is that I have started to live my life again, and that is something medicine just couldn’t do for me. I’m not promoting that anyone eschew all modern treatments or medications in favor of essential oils and wheatgrass, but I am saying that I think we all need to pay a little more attention to ourselves. That includes the body, the mind and the soul.